Eat JUST, Inc. expands internationally amid COVID-19 crisis: 'We’re treating this as we should, which is as an emergency'

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

JUST, Inc. expands internationally amid COVID-19 crisis

Related tags JUST Egg COVID-19 plant-based egg Mung bean

While there may not be a handbook on how to carry on with international expansion amid a global health pandemic, CEO and founder of Eat JUST, Inc. Josh Tetrick is compartmentalizing the endeavor into near- and long-term priorities while taking a page from Coca-Cola's global operations playbook.

JUST announced several new global partnerships this morning, which will bring its proprietary, mung-bean-based vegan egg alternative to new markets across North America, Latin America, Europe, and East Asia with the goal of having JUST Egg for sale in these regions by the end of Q2 2021.

“In the near term, the most important thing is making sure our own team and partners are protecting themselves and their family members, that’s more important than getting set up to sell in the fourth quarter,”​ Tetrick told FoodNavigator-USA.

Yesterday was JUST’s first full day of all employees working remotely as the company’s headquarters of San Francisco announced a mandated shelter in place for all residents.

For ‘mission critical’ team members such as JUST R&D team, remote work away from the lab may not be ideal but is another shift the company has had to make to keep its employees and their families safe.

“What we’ve told them do is take a step back. They now have time to take their head out of the experiment and look at it from 10,000 feet instead of up close… Take some time to write the reports, to see where things connect that maybe they didn’t see before.”

Tetrick hopes that when the world emerges from this health crisis, that a commitment to building a more sustainable food system will prevail.

“In the longer term, the most important thing is we’re treating this ​[COVID-19 crisis] as we should which is as an emergency. There are things that we can do long term to mitigate the probability of things like this happening in the first place,”​ he continued.

“My hope is once we handle the understandable urgency of today is that we’ll have even more of willingness to build a food system that is secure, significantly safer, healthier, and sustainable.”

Tetrick added that companies such as the ones it is partnering with to produce and launch JUST Egg in their respective markets are committed to such goals.

International expansion

New partnerships include:

  • South Korea’s SPC Samlip
  • Betagro Group, one of Southeast Asia’s largest food companies
  • Grupo Bimbo, the world’s largest bakery company
  • Alianza Team, one of Latin America’s largest edible oil and fat producers
  • Delivery Hero, the world’s leading local delivery platform based in Berlin

The added infrastructure builds on a previously announced manufacturing and distribution partnership with Eurovo Group, a leading European egg producer with large-scale operations in multiple countries; and a sales and distribution deal with Germany’s largest poultry producer, PHW Group.


Taking a page from Coca-Cola's playbook

While JUST may not have a crisis guidebook to reference, the company is benefiting from the business strategy of beverage giant and global CPG force, Coca-Cola.

Along with its international expansion announcement, JUST has added Jacob R. Robbins, CEO of Emeterra, to its board, who formerly served as managing director of the largest single area of Coca-Cola’s global supply chain, spanning over 120 active countries.

The business model JUST has developed is similar in many respects to Coca-Cola, wherein a protein or concentrate is sold to a global network of partners who then package or bottle and sell the finished product.

Robbins’s knowledge of and experience with this scalable model has informed how JUST has developed its own operations, the company said.

JUST's production facility in Western Minnesota​ will handle 80% of the protein that it sells globally and supplying to its new manufacturing partners in Thailand, South Korea, and others. 

"In this model the gross and net margin are virtually the same because the partner is taking care of buying the lids, buying the oil, buying the turmeric, taking care of the distribution and trade spend, etc. The cost that we’re handling is buying the bean and separating the protein, research and development, and then the brand related activities,"​ Tetrick explained. 

"It’s inherently more profitable than trying to do it on our own. It’s fewer thing to focus on which means we’re increasing the probability of getting the most important things right."

Emphasize production to keep up with demand

The image of empty shelves at grocery stores is now a common one as consumers stock up on food items to get them through the next few weeks of quarantine and social isolation.

“Customers are trying to make sure that all the products are staying on shelf, and there’s just a flurry of activity that’s happening right now,”​ said Tetrick.

According to Tetrick in the last two weeks, sales of JUST Egg are up by almost 30% compared to the year prior at a top five retailer

“We’re ​[experiencing] the fastest growth in the category in plant-based food, outselling cold cereal and one-third of all the eggs sold, but almost any retailer that you go to, it’s not on the shelf right now,”​ said Tetrick.

“It’s why we’ve got to continue to emphasize production and keep up with demand.”

It seems, that the opening of JUST’s dedicated 30,000-square-foot facility in December, that has the capacity to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week to produce the company’s mung bean protein, couldn’t be better timed.

Importance of backups

"The most important ingredient we’re sourcing is the bean. And we source from more than one location so in case there’s an issue in one, we have a backup in other,"​ said Tetrick.

“Converting the bean into the protein is the fundamental item that fuels the company.”​ 

Currently, JUST sources its mung bean from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. However, as the ingredients supply chains are pressure and challenged during an unprecedented outbreak such as COVID-19, JUST is currently working on adding new sourcing locations to its business.

“As the world continues to react to this and you have different countries placing different restrictions on the movement of goods, the movement of people…. We’re continually trying to make sure that we have not just two places that we’re sourcing from, but four places that we’re sourcing from,”​ noted Tetrick.

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