San Francisco based Hampton Creek Foods - which has already secured $30m from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, and Sun Microsystems founder Vinod Khosla among others - has also impressed Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff, who have both contributed to the latest financing round.
Previous investors Horizons Ventures (founded by Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing) and Khosla Ventures jointly led the latest round along with new investors including Benioff; Saverin; the co-founders of artificial intelligence company DeepMind (now owned by Google); and Bryan Johnson, founder of online mobile and payment company, Braintree.
Hampton Creek founder & CEO Josh Tetrick, who told FoodNavigator-USA last year that he didn’t go into business “just to sell products to vegans in Northern California”, has global ambitions for his plant-based foods empire, which encompasses food ingredients, retail products such as egg-free Just Mayo and foodservice products via partnerships with firms including Compass.
The cash injection would help the company expand geographically, but also enable it to “plug into the brains, skills, distribution networks of these people; it’s not just about the money“, Tetrick told us.
Just Mayo has gone from zero to 15,000 locations in the US and Asia in a year
Hampton Creek’s retail products - Just Mayo (yellow pea-based mayo), and Just Cookie Dough (a sorghum-based refrigerated cookie dough) - were initially envisaged as a kind of shop-front for the firm, which expected the big bucks to come from supplying its plant-based ingredients to global food companies.
However, they have been so successful that Hampton Creek Foods is now a very different kind of beast than the one bosses imagined in 2011, said Tetrick: “We’re still in discussions with four major food manufacturers, but everything takes so long and we got a little bit impatient, which is why we launched the retail products.
“We started thinking of ourselves mainly as an industrial ingredients supplier, and then we realized we could move so much faster if we started making our own [finished] products as well.”
What we’re doing is really resonating in Asia
And the numbers speak for themselves, added Tetrick, who says he's not anti-egg, but anti-industrialized egg production, which he believes is cruel and environmentally unsustainable.
“We just want to make it easier for consumers to do the right thing.”
He added: "We've seen massive growth. Just Mayo has gone from zero to 15,000 locations in the US and Asia in a little over a year.
"We’re in Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, Dollar Tree, Publix, Tesco, H-E-B, Costco, Safeway, Kroger, and ShopRite, and we’ve just done a deal with Tesco that is going to see Just Mayo rolled out across Europe in the first quarter of next year.
“We’re now in ParknShop in Hong Kong - what we’re doing is just really resonating in Asia because of resource scarcity, food safety and affordability.
“Just Cookie Dough is now in Whole Foods and is about to go national at Kroger. Just Scrambled [like Egg Beaters - minus the egg] will launch sometime next year.”
The branding uniting all the retail products is the Hampton Creek name and the word ‘Just … ‘(mayo, cookie dough, scrambled… etc), he said. “The word ‘Just’ is about simplicity, but also has an emotional symbolic meaning about being right and fair. It’s interesting, amid all the debate over the lawsuit, more people were asking us about the word ‘Just’ than about 'mayo'.”
A hyper affordable, really efficient and nutritious source of protein
So what’s next for the company, which has been systematically screening thousands of plants with a ‘laser-like focus on functionality’ to identify those with properties from coagulation, emulsification and aeration to coloring and sweetening?
Lots of things, says Tetrick, whose ambitions go far beyond egg substitutes and now extend to plant-based food colors, fat- and sugar-replacers, among other things.
“We’re working on a pasta, but on the ingredients side, we’re pretty excited about a particular cultivar of a plant that is just a hyper affordable, really efficient and nutritious source of protein.”
The Unilever Just Mayo lawsuit
Hampton Creek Foods has yet to file a motion to dismiss the case, which has generated a lively debate about corporate bullying, industrialized egg production, but also whether Hampton Creek thinks it can play by different rules than everyone else - as Unilever alleges.
But it will do so shortly, said Tetrick, who says he still believes that “the outcome will be Unilever stepping back and realizing that this is not the company that they want to be or the company that they are.”
*EDITOR'S NOTE: A few hours after this story was published, Unilever announced plans to drop the above lawsuit. Click HERE for details.