Hampton Creek has made a huge splash in the food industry with irresistibly delicious sandwich spread, salad dressings and cookies - all free of animal products. In the meantime, the company has become a Silicon Valley darling with a valuation of over $1 billion dollars.
Now the San Francisco-based company, which has gone mainstream as it now sells the popular Just Mayo product line at not only Whole Foods, but Walmart and Target, says it is aggressively venturing into the laboratory meat sector. For Hampton Creek’s CEO, Josh Tetrick, this product line is both about business and a vision for a better future. “The mission of the company is to take a look at this broken food system that we have today, which is abusive to animals, is abusive to people, and is degrading to the planet," Tetrick said during a recent interview with TriplePundit.
Bringing laboratory meat (or cultured meat) to market by the end of 2018 is part and parcel of Hampton Creek’s five-point plan. First, the company says it is determined to “scale discovery.” Tetrick does not want his company catering to solely a wealthier niche consumer base. The goal is to make meat alternatives affordable for everyone, and that means finding plant-based ingredients. So far, the company has sourced and researched plants from over 50 countries, and intends to harvest those ingredients to make new products including egg substitutes, baked goods and “micronutrient-rich” foods.
Hampton Creek’s research ties to the second pillar of its plan, “expand discovery.” The company claims its plant cell research can allow animal cells to grow efficiently and sustainably without animal cruelty. Touting statistics that the world would have to double its meat production to 1.2 trillion pounds by mid-century to feed a growing population, Hampton Creek insists that the math just does not add up. At the same time, the growing middle class, combined with that stubborn factor called human nature, means animal protein will not go away anytime soon, no matter how many statistics are cited or moral arguments made.
But Hampton Creek says it is not hoarding and hiding its research. By taking steps to “enable others,” this third pillar involves making its plant discoveries open-sourced so that other entrepreneurs can pursue food innovations that are healthful and can help save the planet.
Finally, the company says the final two pillars of this plan will be to both “share” and “preserve” its mission. As Tetrick summed up during his interview with 3p, “In my vision, it will be accomplished when the factory farm is no longer here, and it will be accomplished when we don't see 2.1 billion people suffering from micronutrient deficiency.”
Tetrick recently disclosed to Quartz that Hampton Creek’s researchers have been secretly working on laboratory meat technology for the past year. And if they can beat other alternative meat startups such as Memphis Meats, which says lab-grown duck and chicken protein are in the works, we could see a huge transformation in the global food sector – not to mention the path towards reducing emissions and environmental degradation worldwide.
Hampton Creek’s announcement shows that the company is ready to recover from some of the hard knocks it has taken since its founding. The company never had been granted the easy road in landing its products on coveted shelf space. First, Unilever sued the company over its “Just Mayo” branding, arguing that the product was anything but as it lacked real eggs – public ridicule and legal maneuvering eventually nudged Unilever to walk away from that litigation. Then it turned out that trade groups including the American Egg Board had a collective freak-out over Hampton Creek’s success, which included suggesting tactics that seemed more appropriate for an episode of The Sopranos than letting free market play out.
Recent struggles at Hampton Creek have been more self-inflicted. Last year, Bloomberg accused the company of dodgy tactics in order to boost its sales, which led to inquiries by government agencies including the Securities and Exchange Commission. In the past month, the company had to fend off rumors of a “planned coup,” which in part motivated Tetrick to bolster the company’s corporate governance policies and focus on a long-term strategy. Meanwhile, fans of the company’s products were furious that Target removed some Just Mayo products from store shelves based on unsubstantiated allegations of contamination. The company seems to have as many detractors as fanatics - but to Tetrick's credit, he has kept pushing forward despite all the distractions.
“I can tell you, we will factually not achieve our mission if we don't see the end of the factory farm,” said Tetrick. “I know that to be true.”
So is Tetrick and Hampton Creek the symbol of a wayward Silicon Valley “bro,” or a global sustainability game changer? His bold announcement that laboratory meat will soon be in supermarket shelves crowns Tetrick as the Elon Musk of the global food industry. Like Musk, Tetrick is bold, quick to articulate a vision that many crave, yet make others uncomfortable; and he also places his company at significant risk if his promise falls short. No matter how this turns out, however, Tetrick’s food “moon shot” undeniably be a fascinating story to follow in the coming months.
Image credit: TheImpulsiveBuy/Flickr
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked and lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.