Eggs, a constant staple in cuisines around the world throughout history, are a significant contributor to climate change (along with animal production in general). Now, some of the world’s most powerful men are making big bets that plant-based substitutes will make our taste for developing embryos obsolete.Li Ka-shing, widely billed as Asia’s richest man, announced a $23 million Series B investment in Hampton Creek Foods through his fund Horizon Ventures on Monday, bringing the food technology startup’s total take to $30 million after initial investments by people including Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Bill Gates is also an investor and fan.
Image: Hampton Creek Foods
The egg replacement still requires fine-tuning, according to Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick, but the company’s mayonnaise replacement is already on shelves at stores including Whole Foods and some of the largest retail brands in the country. (Mayo is usually made with eggs and vinegar.)“I’m excited about Hampton Creek's technology and its promise,” said Li. “Everyone wants a clean and sustainable world and we love that Hampton Creek is committed to that goal—egg by egg.”
It’s little wonder that Hampton Creek’s most prominent investors have links with emerging economies like India and China. Even Gates has well-publicized interests in Africa.My parents immigrated from mainland China in the 80s. One of six children, a story my mother would often repeat, was about her favorite birthday moment, when my grandfather, a humble superintendent for the local school, brought home a single egg as a present.China’s economic situation isn’t nearly as grisly these days, but the production of animal proteins still remains vastly inefficient (to say nothing of the ethical quandaries of battery farms), which makes these particular foodstuffs a luxury for the many billions living in developing countries.“You’re going to have 9.5 billion people on the planet by 2050,” Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick told me over the phone. “And 80 percent will live in emerging economies. We like to think of ourselves as a big powerful country in America, but the need for feeding people around the world is happening much more intensely outside of our borders.”
Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick with Li Ka-shing. Photo: Josh Tetrick
As it happens, eggs make up a huge part of the world's dietary needs. In 2009, 62.1 million metric tons of eggs were produced by 6.4 billion hens, according to recent estimates.
“Thirty percent of the world’s eggs are produced in China,” said Tetrick. “Mayo is one of the fastest growing condiments there because of the rise of fast food.”He believes that plant-based substitutes could have a profound impact on a region experiencing “insane population growth.” “You have an enormous amount of people climbing out of poverty and eating protein for the first time,” he said.And since the beginning, the company’s goal has been to develop a product that is, by many accounts, better than the real thing. There’s little overt politicizing here that often accompanies vegan-type movements popular among eco-hipsters. While “going local” and purchasing expensive free-range alternatives can provide a faux sense of moral superiority, Hampton Creek’s offerings appear to be a scalable real-world solution. The reason to use Beyond Eggs, as they’re called, is because they’re simply healthier, cheaper, and taste better.“People are starting to realize that if you can save money and provide the same thing or a little better, it doesn’t have to be a political fight,” said Tetrick, who pragmatically explains that this is the only way to fix what is by most accounts a broken and problematic machine.“I run into good people that are operating in a system that is enabling them to do things they don’t want to do,” he continued. “They purchase things that aren’t exactly aligned with our body or aligned with our planet. They’re not doing it because they wake up in the morning because they want to do it. They’re doing it because they’re a publicly traded company in a competitive marketplace. They’re doing it to survive in a capitalist society.”“What would the world look like if we helped you save money and gave you really good products?” he added. “And if we just so happened to do it, without having to degrade the environment and animals? You don’t have to be angelic to do it.”@sfnuop