Hampton Creek Foods: ‘When you ask people why they use eggs, it’s not because they love eggs, it’s because they love what they do’
By Elaine Watson
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Perhaps the most inspiring presentation of the day was delivered by Shweta N Rao, head of bakery innovation at San Francisco-based Hampton Creek Foods, which is on a mission to make egg alternatives so effective that the world’s biggest food manufacturers will use them - not because they want to save the planet (or chickens) - but because it makes practical, and economic sense.
“When you ask people why they use eggs, it’s not because they love eggs,” said Rao. “It’s because they love what they do: emulsification, binding, coagulation, aeration and so on.”
If you can replicate all of these things at a lower cost (without raising millions of chickens), you should be onto a winner, she said.
“The key driver is price. We are 48% more cost effective than liquid egg.”
So Hampton Creek - which has convinced some of the world’s wealthiest people that it is worth a serious punt (click HERE) - has been rapidly and systematically screening hundreds of plants to identify those that might be able to replicate the function of egg in any given application.
To date it has identified 11 plant proteins with significant promise, including yellow peas, sorghum and beans, said Rao.
“The surprising thing is the difference between the same types of plants. So not all Canadian yellow peas are the same.”
For some plants, the process of extracting and isolating the protein is something that we’ve developed in-house
Some Hampton Creek products have just one ingredient - notably an undisclosed ‘bean’ native to Asia that coagulates with heat and can make a perfect scrambled egg (minus the egg) , while others may have a combination of plant proteins, fibers, and other ingredients, said Rao.
“In some cases the proteins are commercially available, but in others, the process of extracting and isolating the protein is something that we’ve developed in-house and we’re working to build a supply chain around the ingredients.”
The company's first retail product, Just Mayo, is now available nationwide at Whole Foods Market, has just launched at Costco and will soon be available in Walmart, a clear reflection of founder Josh Tetrick’s commitment to affordable innovation ( he did not set up Hampton Creek Foods "just to sell products to vegans in Northern California”).
We’re a young company and our CEO had a sense of urgency
Its next retail offerings include ‘Eat the Dough’ (a sorghum-based refrigerated cookie dough) and ‘Just Scrambled’ (like Egg Beaters - minus the egg), said Rao. However, the primary goal is targeting industrial users of egg.
“When we started, we thought we’d just be an ingredients supplier, but the product development cycle at big food companies is very long.
“We’re a young company and our CEO had a sense of urgency, so we thought we’d test the waters with our own retail products, and we’ve had amazing feedback - we’re beating our own expectations.”