Five questions for Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick

Just Mayo Walmart deal just another step in 'making food better': Hampton Creek CEO

Josh Tetrick: "This is not about eggs, or plant-based products, it’s simply about using plants to make food better. Today it’s eggs, tomorrow might be sugar, or trans fats, or even food dyes. We’re simply making it easier for regular people to make better food choices."

It’s been a busy summer for Hampton Creek. After just six months on the market and $30mn raised in funding from the likes of Bill Gates and Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang, its plant-based mayonnaise brand Just Mayo is the No. 1 selling mayo at Whole Foods Markets nationwide. 

But the brand isn’t stopping with the natural foods channel, securing distribution at Safeway, Dollar Tree, Kroger, and Costco. On Sept. 24, pea protein-derived Just Mayo will hit Walmart shelves nationwide.

It’s all part of the plan to bring Just Mayo to mass markets, according to Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick, who says the company mission is to make plant-based egg replacers effective and affordable enough to be widely adopted by food companies in common products ranging from mayonnaise to cookie dough. Indeed, Tetrick is even careful when using the term “plant-based” in conversations about the future of our food system—noting that it “sounds too vegan”.

Having approached formulation through systematic analysis of hundreds of plant varieties to determine the ideal replacement for each function, Hampton Creek has also launched a new initiative to build the world’s largest plant database. The firm tapped the former head of Google Maps to catalog the vast—and growing—amount of data it’s already amassed for use down the road on expanding existing product lines and adding new ones.

Tetrick caught up with FoodNavigator-USA this week on its progress in making better food choices easier and where it might take its mission next. (Sugar, trans fat and food dyes: beware.)

FoodNavigator-USA: Did Hampton Creek approach Walmart or vice versa? How much product will you be supplying them from a volume standpoint?

Josh Tetrick: Walmart approached us, having read about Hampton Creek so much in the press, and asked to come visit and learn more about what we are doing. They felt the Hampton Creek mission and philosophy aligned with the Walmart ‘Save money. Live better.’ philosophy, and felt this could be a great fit for them.

We’re anticipating a very large volume with Walmart, as they are the world's largest retailer. However, until we’re actually on the shelf it's hard to say what the actual volume will be.

FNU: Do you think more consumer education on your product will be required at Walmart? How have you approached that in the different retail channels (e.g., supermarket, dollar, club) where Just Mayo is sold?

Tetrick: We’re planning on demoing as we have in Costco and Whole Foods, but for us, as a company, it’s about having a delicious product at an affordable cost, not having a product that requires explanation. We’re not really calling it out for being anything different than just a really tasty mayo. We never call it eggless or vegan because that is not what it is about. It’s about using plants to make food healthier, more affordable, and well, just better.

FNU: Given that Hampton Creek has experienced such fast growth in such a short time, how are you handling scaling up? Any challenges you had to overcome there? 

Tetrick: We’re ramping up production with our manufacturing partners. We work with three across the US [in Seattle, Southern California and Tennessee] and have been kicking production up tremendously to meet our increased demand. We’ve definitely been pretty lucky with how smoothly things have been going and are grateful for all the support we have received. People have gotten behind us as a company, because it’s not just products, this is a movement.

FNU: Can you talk about your plans for the world's largest plant database, how the idea came about and how you will build the database?

Tetrick: For over two years now, we have been gathering all this information on the plants we have been screening from all around the world.  And now—we’re  sorting, categorizing and making them very easily searchable into the world’s first library of plants. This will allow us to expand and build upon our current and future product lines to make more healthier and affordable food for everyone.

FNU: What in your view is the future of food and where does Hampton Creek fit into that future?

Tetrick: I think, that if we are going to have enough food to feed the 9 billion people that we will have on this planet by 2050, we have to find a better way to produce food than the models we are currently using. And that is why we use plants to improve upon food.

But this is not about eggs, or plant-based products, it’s simply about using plants to make food better. Today it’s eggs, tomorrow might be sugar, or trans fats, or even food dyes. We’re simply making it easier for regular people to make better food choices.

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