New Hellmann’s Mayonnaise with Olive Oil . . . has only 5% olive oil!

The food equivalent of homeopathy?

hellmansThis product recently caught our eye. Since the current evidence supports the cardiovascular health benefits of olive oil we were keen to explore things further. The headline hype was exciting — new Mayonnaise with “Olive Oil”. prominent green branding and packaging further accentuate the health intentions supported by a £5 million marketing campaign by Unilever . . . but the reality is hugely disappointing.

We want to start by saying that we do no blame the Fast Moving Consumer Goods Industry (FMCG) — although they do have some responsibility we have to accept they are a money making business industry and their priority is to generate profit. Seems common sense. This is their primary motivation — they have no interest in offering healthy options if not financially attractive and vice-versa. The best way for us to encourage change in the FMCG industry is to become more savvy as consumers.

Despite the prominent branding and marketing this product contains only 5% olive oil and 64% rapeseed oil as compared to original Hellmann’s mayonnaise which contains 78% rapeseed oil. Lets put this in context — we are talking about 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil per 400g jar. This is the food equivalent of homeopathy — you may end up consuming a few molecules of olive oil per 14g serving. The other things to highlight is that the quality of the olive oil is uncertain (certainly no mention of ‘extra-virgin’). However, as compared to original Hellmann’s mayonnaise across the big supermarkets you will pay 20–50p extra for 400g which translates to 10–20% cost mark-up (‘added value’).

Now, we are not specifically picking on Hellmann’s but this product is a perfect illustration of FMCG industry tactics. Within the FMCG industry there is a lot of talk about food “innovation” (a favourite buzz word) and our experience is that they are all obsessed with opportunities around health (health is certainly big business and the next growth area). The problems is there is no actual innovation, imagination or desire to do things differently in FMCG as this entails too much risk. The focus is to repackage, recycle and rebrand familiar products which fit within existing manufacturing infrastructure and use the investment on marketing and branding. Ultimately it’s difficult to compete with the ‘added value’ margins of cheap, low-quality foods which are well branded and marketed.

To be completely open and balanced, we think that original Hellmann’s mayonnaise is a reasonable convenience product when used sensibly. The ingredients seem reasonable and they use free range eggs. However, Hellmann’s could have made a higher quality mayonnaise with a higher proportion of extra-virgin olive oil (we accept 100% would be too strong for most palates) but this would not be as attractive financially (and would we buy a more expensive product as consumers?). Our major issue is that they are still indirectly exploiting the health angle and misleading consumers through the association with olive oil.

At Cardiologist’s Kitchen we want to move away from the blame culture when it comes to public health and externalisation of responsibility. We need to accept that FMCG has its priorities and as a business industry they need to thrive. As doctors we need to take responsibility of the bits which are within our control — to objectively guide , encourage and support our patients to make positive choices at the point of risk factor or disease diagnosis. As consumers we can affect the motivations of the FMCG industry by becoming more savvy in our purchasing, even within financial constraint. Perhaps this should be the start of an ongoing ‘product-watch’ series at Cardiologist’s Kitchen?

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