The Egg-Free Food Revolution Is Here—and It’s Happening at Target and Walmart
Talk about a rebound: Hampton Creek, the visionary food-tech start-up that had the audacity to imagine a food system without eggs, has announced the rollout of dozens of new vegan products, making it clear that the company is determined to put last year, which marked something of its own annus horribilis, firmly behind it.
The new product launches make it clear the company that stormed the market—and stoked the ire of big food companies—with its flagship egg-free spread Just Mayo isn’t, well, just about mayo anymore. Or as Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick put it to Fortune, “Our ambition has never been to be a mayo company. Mayo opened a door that said this is who we are, this is what we stand for.”
Early on, Hampton Creek scored something of a retail coup by getting its mayo-esque spreads onto the shelves of retail giants Walmart and Target in addition to numerous other stores. Now, 38 non-mayo products—including pancake, brownie, and dessert mixes, as well as salad dressings—are slated to hit the shelves of the two behemoths in the coming months. Walmart will start carrying Hampton Creek’s Just Ranch and Just Italian dressings starting March 14, while SuperTargets will stock the company’s peanut butter cookie dough alongside the chocolate chip cookie dough the stores started carrying last month.
It’s been something of a wild ride for the San Francisco–based start-up. Tetrick launched the company less than five years ago out of his apartment, and his ambition to disrupt the food system by getting rid of eggs quickly attracted scads of venture capital funding and glowing media coverage.
Tetrick’s vision may have never been just mayo, but that was easy to forget by last year, when the company found itself the target of a lawsuit from Unilever, maker of the world’s best-selling brand of mayonnaise. A PR backlash caused the food giant to drop its suit, but then the Food and Drug Administration stepped in, warning Hampton Creek that its marketing of its egg-less spread as “mayo” ran afoul of federal labeling guidelines. The FDA dropped its complaint after Hampton Creek agreed to make some revisions to its product label—but not before news leaked that the American Egg Board had been engaging in a stealth campaign to undermine the company as well.
Phew! It all seemed a lot for a young company to handle, no matter how many famous friends (Bill Gates!) or accolades (World Economic Forum “Technology Pioneer”!) it had managed to rack up.
With so many unwelcome distractions now seemingly behind it, it appears Hampton Creek can now return to focusing on its radical vision, which is to mine its reportedly extensive database of plant-based ingredients to simulate the taste, texture, and baking properties of eggs to create a host of egg-free alternatives.
Why does that matter? It seems going eggless may not just be healthier for you, it’s arguably healthier for the planet too. Although egg production doesn’t quite hog the amount of natural resources or create as much pollution as, say, raising beef does, it still contributes more than a comparable amount of plant-based protein. And in trying to eat more sustainably, conscientious consumers face an unfortunate paradox: According to an analysis published a few years back, organic, cage-free, or free-range eggs actually require more feed to produce the same number of eggs as do conventionally raised egg-laying hens, who typically spend their sad lives confined to cages with floor space smaller than a sheet of letter-size paper.
Even so, the total number of cage-free hens represents a mere fraction—less than 9 percent—of the total number of egg-laying hens in the U.S., according to industry figures. While Americans’ per capita consumption of eggs has dipped in past couple years, it remains high at more than 258 eggs per person annually, suggesting there’s an ample number of ovotarians out there just waiting to be converted.