A lot changes in 100 years — unless you're a mayonnaise with a secret to success.
Hellmann's, which is celebrating its centennial birthday, remains the country's top-selling mayonnaise with a formula almost identical to the one its inventor, Richard Hellmann, started selling at his New York deli in 1905.
While it may seem as American as the Fourth of July, mayonnaise originated in France in the 1700s, when a chef seeking to make a creamy sauce combined oil and egg yolks. People created their own mayonnaise for centuries, whipping up oil, vinegar and eggs before Hellmann, a German immigrant, began selling his wife's version.
The Dutch company that has owned Hellmann's since 2000, Unilever, has a huge marketing campaign for its 100-year-old star of the dressings. It includes TV, print and digital ads, a Facebook page and YouTube videos featuring chef Mario Batali, who went through 10 decades of recipes to come up with 30 for its Facebook page and smartphone app (his favorites are chipotle deviled eggs and a dressing for grilled corn on the cob) and an event Labor Day weekend in New York with what the company says will be the world's longest picnic table.
"It's part of the culinary heritage of America," said Brian Orlando, Hellmann's senior marketing director. "After 100 years we decided it was worth going out and revisiting this brand and what it is today."
Today, Americans spend $1.87 billion on mayonnaise each year, with Hellmann's capturing a 31.1 percent share of that, according to research firm Euromonitor International. That jumps to 45.5 percent if you include the Best Foods brand. Kraft Mayo holds a 23.8 percent share, while Kraft's Miracle Whip has 15.6 percent of the market.
Hellmann's major advantage is that it was first, said John Stanton, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Kraft's Miracle Whip, which, according to FDA regulations, isn't technically mayonnaise because it doesn't contain enough vegetable oil, was introduced in the 1930s. Kraft Mayo wasn't launched until 1988.
Marketing has helped the brand name's popularity as well, with the well-known ad slogan "Bring out the Hellmann's and bring out the best" coined in 1987.