Hampton Creek Foods’ products may be vegan, but that’s not the point. Founder and CEO Josh Tetrick started the company after his best friend, Joshua Balk, told him about some of the problems with eggs—high cholesterol, the cramped conditions the chickens that lay them are kept in, and the environmental impact of big agriculture.
“The more he told me, the more I thought he was telling me about the horse and buggy,” Tetrick says. “We look at this as landlines before cell phones or lighting our homes with a gas lamp instead of electricity. We have a world that’s growing really fast—it’s supposed to hit 9.5 billion by 2050. It’s going to be hard to sustain all those people.”
Maintaining that kind of population growth while meeting the demand for protein means the world needs a new substitute for eggs—and not just to fit the vegan market. Hampton Creek’s products are meant as an alternative for everyone.
Tetrick does happen to be vegan, but he thinks it’s important that Hampton Creek avoid the label, even if its products do fall under that category. “We find that no one calls bread vegan,” he says. “No one calls hummus vegan. An apple you call an apple.”
Similarly, it’s not the “eggness” of eggs that people are in love with; sometimes they just want the things you can make with eggs. “People aren’t buying mayo because they love eggs. They’re buying it because they love mayo,” Tetrick says.
So you won’t see the word vegan on any of Hampton Creek’s creations—several flavors of mayo and yet-to-be-released cookie dough and scrambled egg substitutes.
Instead, the company is playing up what Tetrick believes are their products’ biggest selling points: they’re cheaper than the real thing, more environmentally friendly, cholesterol-free, and just as tasty.
For Tetrick, price point is key. “I personally think the extent of suffering and environmental degradation is beyond the pale,” says Tetrick. “But the core reason we’re getting traction is people are busy and they have bottom lines to attend to.”
That’s why Hampton Creek worked to make its mayos and eggless cookie dough cheaper than the equivalent products you would buy off of store shelves—about 10 percent cheaper, in fact. And the company’s egg substitutes are about 48 percent more cost effective to produce than conventional eggs, he says.
“We see a world in which my dad goes to the Piggly Wiggly in Birmingham, Alabama and he sees eggs for a $1.99 and he chooses our product because it’s 99 cents,” Tetrick says.
The company’s products are entirely plant-based. For two years, Hampton Creek’s scientists scoured the world for plant matter that could take the place of eggs in various products. Tetrick says it was important to create a product that could not only no take the place of an egg in a scramble or an omelette, for example, but that would also work in foods that normally have eggs in them, like mayonnaise and baked goods. After all, the 1.3 billion eggs laid by American chickens every year serve many different markets. Mayonnaise is alone an $11.2 billion market globally, and one third of U.S. chicken eggs aren’t eaten whole but become ingredients in other foods like cookies and cakes.
So far, the company has tracked down 11 plants that “are better than the chicken egg at doing what the egg does,” Tetrick says. The “egg” ingredient in Hamptom Creek’s Just Mayo products is the Canadian yellow pea, for example.
At this point, only the original flavor of Just Mayo has gone to market; chipotle and Sriracha flavors are on the way. All will be available in Whole Foods stores, both as jars on the shelf that shoppers can pick up and in dishes sold behind the prepared foods counter. So that potato salad you bought at Whole Foods might have actually been made with eggless mayo—and you had no idea.
The good news is, the mayonnaise tastes pretty close to the original. I’m no big fan of mayo—no cole slaw or potato salad for me, please—but I would happily spread some of the chipotle stuff on a turkey sandwich.
The cookie dough also rises like the real thing. I ate it in both dough and cookie forms and the texture is very similar to the real deal. A bitter taste came through in the dough and the cookie, but fellow testers couldn’t detect it, so maybe I just have a picky palate.
The company’s Just Dough product will be on store shelves in 2014. Good news for raw cookie dough eaters: there’s no chance of picking up salmonella, as with your standard egg dough.
The scrambled egg substitute, Just Scramble, won’t be ready until sometime in 2014—Hampton Creek has a whole science-lab style R&D department working out the kinks in flavor—but the texture is pretty close to your standard scrambled egg.
Eventually, with some more R&D out of the way, Tetrick hopes to bring more eggless products to market—everything from breakfast sandwiches to cake mixes to maybe even one day a hard-boiled egg.
So far, Hampton Creek has raised a total of $6 million in venture funding over three rounds, from investors including Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund, and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.
The 40-person company includes a scientist from cookie purveyor Otis Spunkmeyer and and a former HIV researcher to help make sure that the egg replacements are just as tasty as the real thing. So far, the hardest part about bringing Hampton Creek’s products to market has been “making sure that we don’t release anything that isn’t better than the status quo,” Tetrick says. “We could have released the products six months ago and vegans would have been excited. But we created this for people like my dad, who pronounced vegan ‘vay-gan.’”
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