Firm Aiming to Crack Egg Business09 December 2013
US - Funded by prominent Silicon Valley investors and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Hampton Creek Foods seeks to disrupt a global egg industry that backers say wastes energy, pollutes the environment, causes disease outbreaks and confines chickens to tiny spaces.
Clarion-Ledger.com reports that The company, which just started selling its first product — Just Mayo mayonnaise — at Whole Foods Markets, is part of a new generation of food-tech ventures that aim to change eating habits.
"There’s nothing to indicate that this will be a trend that will end anytime soon," said Anand Sanwal, CEO of CB Insights, a New York firm that tracks venture capital investment. "Sustainability and challenges to the food supply are pretty fundamental issues."
Venture capital firms poured nearly $350 million into food-linked start-ups last year, compared with less than $50 million in 2008, says the firm.
Plant-based alternatives to eggs, poultry and other meat could be good for the environment because they could reduce consumption of meat, which requires large amounts of land, water and crops to produce, backers say.
They could also benefit people’s health, especially in heavy meat-eating countries like the US, and reduce outbreaks of diseases such as avian flu, they say.
"The biggest challenge is that people who consume a lot of meat really like meat, and to convince them to try something different may be extremely difficult," said Claire Kremen, faculty co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.
The American Egg Board, which represents US producers, said eggs can’t be replaced.
"Our customers have said they’re not interested in egg substitutes. They want real, natural eggs," Mitch Kanter, executive director of the board-funded Egg Nutrition Center, said.
The industry has reduced water use and greenhouse gas emissions, and hens live longer due to better health and nutrition, he said.
Hampton Creek’s quest to replace the ubiquitous chicken egg is also backed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and Khosla Ventures, a venture capital fund started by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla.
In its food lab, biochemists grind up beans and peer through microscopes to study their molecular structure, looking for plants that can fulfill the culinary functions of eggs. So far, the company has analyzed some 1,500 types of plants from more than 60 countries.
The research has resulted in 11 "hits," said Josh Tetrick, the company’s CEO.
While Hampton Creek takes aim at the egg, another Gates-backed company is targeting the chicken itself.
Beyond Meat, located in Southern California, sells "chicken-free strips," which have the taste and stringy texture of poultry but are made from plant protein. It is sold at Whole Foods and natural food stores. The company is also working on a product that mimics beef.ThePoultrySite News Desk