Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick says the company is not planning on changing the name of its flagship product Just Mayo despite allegations by the Food and Drug Administration that the product name is misleading.

“There’s no reason for us to rename the product,” Tetrick tells Inc. He says the company was in touch with the FDA today and that he’s hopeful the federal agency will agree with the company’s arguments for keeping the name.

The federal agency notified the food startup earlier this month that its mayonnaise-like products Just Mayo and Just Mayo Sriracha don't fit the definition of mayonnaise because the products don’t contain eggs.

The Aug. 12 FDA warning letter addressed to Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick and posted online Tuesday  says the company has 15 business days to respond with a plan for how the company will correct the violation and other violations mentioned in the letter.

Tetrick says it is not necessary to rename the product because “it says egg free right there on the label, and anyone can look at the ingredients on the back and see what the ingredients are.”

He says he gave Unilever the same reasons for keeping the label the same when the company sued Hampton Creek over the branding of Just Mayo. Unilever, maker of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, had made the same argument as the FDA, saying mayonnaise without eggs was not mayo or mayonnaise at all. The company dropped the lawsuit in December.

“Unilever has decided to withdraw its lawsuit against Hampton Creek so that Hampton Creek can address its label directly with industry groups and appropriate regulatory authorities,” Mike Faherty, Vice President for Foods of Unilever North America, was quoted as saying in Forbes.

Generally speaking, renaming a product sounds like an easy change. However, such a move can impact a company as a whole. At stake for Hampton Creek is the identity of its first product and the one most associated with the company’s brand.

One peril of changing the name of a product is that it can confuse customers looking for the familiar product by its old name on the shelves after a renaming. If Hampton Creek lost otherwise loyal customers because consumers didn't recognize the renamed product, it could result in lost revenue. 

The FDA at this point in time does not have authority to enforce a recall of the product because the alleged violations don't pose safety risks, according to Nathan Beaver, an attorney on the food and beverage regulation group at international law firm Foley & Lardner LLP. He said that were Hampton Creek to change the name of the product, the company could probably just alter the next batch of labels to reflect a new name. Beaver does not represent Hampton Creek.

However, Hampton Creek could still face repercussions from the federal agency.

"It is your responsibility to ensure that your products comply with the Act and its implementing regulations. You should take prompt action to correct the violations cited in this letter. Failure to promptly correct these violations may result in regulatory action without further notice, such as seizure and/or injunction," the Aug. 12 letter states. 

FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Dooren says the agency cannot comment on how it might respond to Tetrick’s stated plans.

“We can’t speculate on any potential or future action,” she wrote in an email.

Published on: Aug 25, 2015