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Natural food substitutes finally have a hope of taking off with today’s appetite for alternative diets. Hampton Creek, a startup with its roots in San Francisco, came up with a plant-based egg after years of research and development. While the invention aroused the interest of prominent investors (led by Bill Gates), it did not gain any disciples amongst food service professionals and had to content itself with a few trendy restaurants in Silicon Valley.
Hampton Creek makes an omelette without breaking any eggs
Eggs that don’t come from chickens are the latest thing amongst newcomers in Silicon Valley that aim to finally fulfil a promise made by many an entrepreneur since the mid-1990s. And it was Hampton Creek, a San Franciscan startup specializing in food innovations, that pulled off the feat of making an omelette without breaking any eggs. After four years of R&D, punctuated by nine-digit fundraising activities, the company at last achieved a kind of vegan scrambled egg that a hand-picked group of consumers had the chance to taste during a breakfast held at Café Flore in San Francisco’s Castro neighbourhood. The product looks like scrambled eggs. It has their characteristic texture and light yellow colour. And all you have to do is heat it to see it steaming like a real omelette. The “recipe” is of course jealously guarded, although Hampton Creek did reveal the main ingredient: mung beans nicknamed “Jack”.
Struggling sales in spite of marketing efforts
When it launched its research in 2013, Hampton Creek hoped to dominate the vegan niche and, more generally, become a favourite for anyone who has decided to consider ethics and animal welfare in their dietary choices. This was expected to be a growth market, given the interest of investors: the startup had a successful financing round that raised €105 million for their vegan products Just Scramble, Just Mayo and Just Meat. But the marketing for these accomplishments did not garner the hoped-for response from consumers, beyond the effects of the hype created by cleverly orchestrated announcements. Not to mention the fact that, despite receiving the approval of the FDA (the US Food & Drug Administration), these “alternative” products drew criticism regarding their healthiness, leading a number of major retailers to pull it from their shelves. Most notably, Target stores stopped selling their 20 Hampton Creek products (including cookies, mayonnaise and meat) in June 2017, citing health issues without going into further detail.
Clearly, the response to consumers’ ethical expectations will not be found in foodtech R&D labs but rather at farms.