Re-imagining the World’s Food Supply

Hampton Creek’s Josh Tetrick is leading a new movement around the future of food. It’s science with an Iron Chef twist.

Josh Tetrick, Founder and CEO of Hampton Creek in his test-kitchen-slash-lab-slash-office

Tucked away in a non-descript building in downtown San Francisco next door to a massage supply store and across from a car repair shop sits a small kitchen where chefs are serving up french toast and scrambled eggs. There are stoves, refrigerators and blenders just like most kitchens, but if you look closer you will also see beakers, centrifuges and microscopes — and computers. Lots of computers.

This is no ordinary kitchen — it’s Hampton Creek’s food laboratory — and the chefs here, led by Ben Roche from Chicago’s Moto Eatery and Chris Jones from Top Chef, are working alongside data scientists and biologists to come up with novel new ways to replicate the flavor and nuanced texture of foods including whipped chicken eggs using plants such as the Canadian Yellow Pea.

Hampton Creek, the maker of Just Mayo, Just Cookies and Just Cookie Dough (and many more products to come), is challenging the world’s assumptions about where our food comes from, how it’s made and what healthy food tastes like. Its approach is environmentally conscious and foodie friendly. The company’s founder and CEO, Josh Tetrick, has a bold, audacious mission to remove the barriers for everyone around the world to consume healthy, delicious, sustainable food.

Said simply: He wants to feed more people better food.

“We live in a time where the unhealthy choice is dirt cheap and convenient. And the healthy choice is pricey and inconvenient. Our goal has always been to build a company that brings healthier and affordable food to everyone, everywhere.”
— Josh Tetrick, Hampton Creek CEO and Founder

Feeding the world is a vexing problem. Many countries struggle to feed their people, yet one third of Americans are obese, costing the U.S. economy nearly $1 trillion a year. We have a rapidly growing global population, yet our planet is running out of resources. We have less land than ever before, limited water and a fragile ecosystem. We need to find a way to produce healthy food at low cost, even in times of drought or extreme weather.

We need a solution that cuts to the core of the problem: an OS-level solution.

What do I mean by OS? In the same way that computers have operating systems at their core — dictating the way a computer works and serving as a foundation upon which all applications are built — everything in life has an operating system (OS). It is at this OS level that we most frequently experience a quantum leap in progress.

Hampton Creek is rewriting the OS of food.

Tetrick demonstrating a test of molecular characteristics of a plant protein.

How the company is doing this is revolutionary. Its interdisciplinary team of biologists, food scientists, chefs and data scientists are using new tools such as software, structural biology and big data to learn and record everything possible about the makeup of food, all the way down to its molecular structure. They are uncovering the secrets of biology and re-purposing them for the benefit of humanity by breaking down plants to a fundamental component — proteins — and employing them in novel ways. It’s natural food science with an Iron Chef twist.

Beginning with the humble chicken egg — of which we produce 1.8 trillion globally per year — the company is tackling some of the most difficult problems we are facing related to our global tastes and demands and their impact on sustainability and global food supply. Our appetite for meat and animal-derived products such as eggs places enormous strains on our environment. Providing land, feed and care to chickens and cows, for example, increases carbon emissions and consumes massive amounts of land, forests and water. Hampton Creek aims to replace the need for such foods in our diets by creating viable alternatives through non-genetic engineering techniques that are not only affordable but also taste great.

As part of this effort, Hampton Creek is working to build the world’s largest database of plant proteins. They aim to look at the entire world of plants: 400,000 species or so. The database will catalog hundreds of thousands of proteins as well as information about how each of them tastes and behaves under a range of conditions including heat and pressure, and in different combinations. It has already indexed more than 4,000 plant proteins from 41 countries around the world.

The goal is to create predictive models that will identify new tools for their chefs to use in creating tasty, affordable and healthy food. These models are much like those being used in the medical and health industries to find new ways to treat disease and extend life.

The company’s first products are on grocery store shelves across the country, including those at Costco, Dollar Tree and Walmart. They are affordable (half of the people who buy Just Mayo make less than $30,000 a year), healthier (free of cholesterol and partially-hydrogenated oil) and safe (free of antibiotics). And because they do not contain eggs, there is no risk of salmonella, even if you eat the cookie dough raw.

“Today, the easy choice for a shopper — the one that tastes great and is more affordable — is generally also the choice that is less healthy and less sustainable, such as fast food,” says Lee Chae, Hampton Creek’s head of R&D. “The right choice — the product that is healthier and more sustainably produced — is usually less palatable and often more expensive. We are rewriting the system so that the right choice is also the tastier and more affordable one.”

This is a much bigger deal than a jar of mayo. Hampton Creek is reinventing how food is sourced and made, as well as who has access to it.

At my investment firm, the OS Fund, we’re looking for Meaning. We invest in quantum-leap developments that promise to improve the lives of billions of people for generations to come.

Hampton Creek aims to do just that.

Because of this, I am proud to support Josh Tetrick’s vision and invest in Hampton Creek, along with other investors including Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, Collaborative Fund, Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures and Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing.

Just Mayo and Just Cookie Dough: Cult favorites selling out at grocery stores near you
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