SAN FRANCISCO — Hampton Creek, Inc., the maker of Just Mayo, posted explosive growth in the wake of its standard-of-identity crisis, a year-long ordeal that included a lawsuit from Unilever U.S. and a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration, both of which challenged the company’s name for its eggless spread. In the past year, Hampton Creek’s sales have soared roughly 350%, headcount has doubled, and the company has significantly outgrown its headquarters, said Josh Tetrick, founder and chief executive officer. During that time, Hampton Creek was developing dozens of new products that will launch this year.
|Josh Tetrick, founder and c.e.o. of Hampton Creek|
“It gave us a chance to tell our story over and over again,” Mr. Tetrick said of the Unilever lawsuit, which was filed in 2014 and withdrawn about a month later. “It opened the eyes of lots of folks who hadn’t heard about us to the things we’re trying to do. And the things we’re trying to do really have little to do with chicken eggs and more to do with reimagining food in a way that is more connected to who we are.”
At the end of last year, the F.D.A. agreed to let Hampton Creek keep the Just Mayo name, which the agency previously stated was in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act because the product doesn’t meet the definition of the standard for mayonnaise and may be misleading to consumers. As part of the agreement, Hampton Creek changed the labels on its Just Mayo products to remove a cholesterol-free claim and include the words “spread and dressing” in capital letters.
This year, Hampton Creek is introducing 43 new products, including dressings, pancake and muffin mixes, brownie and cake mixes, and new varieties of spreads and cookie dough. The company’s products are sold in more than 18,000 stores, including Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, Whole Foods, Safeway and the Dollar Tree.
“If there was a more effective way to enable good people to eat better, we’d probably do that,” Mr. Tetrick said in an interview with Food Business News. “It just so happens that lots of good people end up going to their local Wal-Mart or Target or Whole Foods and buying stuff. We just want to go where people are buying food and hopefully give them a choice a bit more in line with who they are.”
Mr. Tetrick launched the business in 2011 with the purpose of creating healthier, affordable food. Early products included Just Mayo and Just Cookie Dough, using ingredients such as Canadian yellow pea and sorghum as sustainable, functional, cheaper alternatives to eggs. Billionaire investors, Fortune 500 food companies and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius have all gotten on board with the mission so far, according to the company.
“I’ve met with lots of conservative Republicans and lots of progressive Democrats, people who hang out at Donald Trump rallies and people who would never go to a Donald Trump rally, and the one thing they all have in common is they all believe that food that uses less land and less water, food that is a little healthful should also be food that tastes delicious and is more affordable,” Mr. Tetrick said. “No one disagrees with that. People can disagree on G.M.O. or non-G.M.O., organic or not, and whether the government should be involved or not. But no one disagrees with that core premise, and that’s been incredibly helpful to us to be able to communicate our message constantly in a way that’s not alienating anyone.”
Products launching this year include Just Pancake mixes in such flavors as birthday cake, banana bread and blueberry lemon; Just Brownie mixes in chocolate and mocha flavors; and Just Cookies in chocolate chunk, maple banana nut, lemon snickerdoodle, double chocolate espresso, and peanut butter varieties. New Just Dressings varieties range from ranch and Caesar to Wild West and Miso Yuzu. There are also five new Just Mayo products, including wasabi, truffle, sesame ginger, light, and Awesomesauce. Additionally, the company plans to launch Just Scramble, an egg-free alternative to liquid eggs.
“We have eight Michelin star chefs here, probably the best culinary talent in the world now, and it’s just been awesome to watch them work along with our other team members with their talent and abilities to see where things go are second to none,” Mr. Tetrick said. “We don’t want people to experience boring food. We want it to be fun and vibrant and a little bit different.”
In the future, Hampton Creek plans to expand its portfolio with plant-based pasta, ice cream and high-protein snacks, as well as food products that address nutritional deficiencies in children and people without access to refrigeration, Mr. Tetrick said.
“We started with this idea that if we could start over with the food system and to remove the habits and the preconceptions we have in our head about what our food should look like today… our answer to what would food look like if we started over is food that isn’t bad for the body, isn’t bad for the planet, would actually be the food that tastes the best and is really affordable,” Mr. Tetrick said. “The world of food is so massive and so diverse, that there’s no one singular company that’s going to figure out how to do it.”
Global food companies and small startups alike must get involved in making significant change in the food system, he added.
“For example, we have a really great relationship with General Mills,” Mr. Tetrick said. “General Mills has been on the forefront from the major food company side in making some important changes, and we sell ingredients to them.”
Hampton Creek also has partnered with Compass Group, the largest food service company in the world, to bring its Just Cookies line to millions of customers, and has expanded its international presence with distribution in one of Hong Kong’s largest grocery chains.“Our competition is, if there’s bad food out there — and we characterize bad food as not being good for the planet and being bad for the body — if a company’s doing that, then we consider them to be a competitor,” he said, “Although, a competitor, in some cases, we wouldn’t mind working with to help them make better food.”