- Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick announced Tuesday night on LinkedIn that his company is working on producing lab-grown "clean meat." The company expects to sell these products before the end of 2018, Eitan Fischer, the company's director of cellular agriculture, told Food Dive in an email. The startup has so far been best known for its vegan mayonnaise, cookies and baking mixes.
- Fischer said Hampton Creek will be able to produce clean meat sustainably and relatively inexpensively through its plant discovery platform, which the company uses to screen plants and find functionalities in their proteins. Other companies working on clean meat have used expensive ingredients like fetal bovine syrup to feed their cells, he said, but Hampton Creek is working on finding plants that can also produce proteins to do the same thing.
- Tetrick's announcement touted the company's plan to license its R&D to other food companies. "We’ve started the process of licensing our discoveries to the world’s largest food manufacturers and, in the years ahead, we’ll do the same with the world’s largest meat and seafood companies," the announcement said. Some Hampton Creek ingredients are currently being used in General Mills baked goods, but a company spokesman would not go into detail about other current or pending partnerships.
Judging from the company's recent rebranding and website redesign, there have been signs that Hampton Creek was planning to make a large-scale announcement. Their website was recently retooled to focus on using science to examine plant proteins to sustainably solve problems of global hunger and poor nutrition — heavy topics for a company that previously only made condiments and desserts.
Hampton Creek has been working on clean meat for longer than a year, progressing to the point where the company can talk about expected timelines and has produced prototypes, according to Fischer. "Our discussions around potential partnerships are also maturing, so it made sense to share this publicly," he told Food Dive about the timing of the announcement. "We're expecting some announcements about these collaborations in the near future."
In statements provided by Hampton Creek, third-party experts raved about the taste, health benefits, and global sustainability of their work. "Clean meat is the answer to some really big questions, including both how we feed 9.7 billion people by 2050 and what we do — as a species — about climate change," Good Food Institute Executive Director Bruce Friedrich said in a written statement. "Fortunately, the science of growing meat without animal slaughter has been demonstrated. We just need to scale up production and bring down prices to make this product commercially viable for the mass market. We are very excited by the entry of Hampton Creek into the clean meat market sector, and we have no doubt that their decision will accelerate the development of this planet-saving food technology."
Hampton Creek is not alone in its pursuit of clean meat. Memphis Meats is also working on production and development. The company's senior scientist Eric Shulze said this week at the International Food Technologists expo that the company can currently produce one pound of chicken for $3,800. It expects to sell its products in high-end restaurants at a higher-than-average price point by 2019. It hopes to reach cost parity with grocery store meat products — at about $3 to 4 per pound — by 2021.
While Memphis Meats has been working publicly on clean meat for longer, Hampton Creek has a significant financial advantage. According to CB Insights, the company had raised $240 million as of 2015 and Memphis Meats is just at $3.05 million in funding, according to Crunchbase.
Looking at the science, cost and sustainability of clean meat overlooks one major question: Will consumers want to eat it in the first plan? Tetrick is bullish that they will. "Imagine choosing between a similarly priced pound of clean high-grade bluefin tuna belly or conventional tilapia from underwater traps. Or clean A5 Kobe beef versus conventional sirloin (corn-fed and confined)," he wrote. "Our approach will be transparent and unquestionably safe, free of antibiotics and have a much lower risk of foodborne illness. The right choice will be obvious."
It will be interesting to see how this new development is received, as Hampton Creek has faced no shortage of controversy in recent years. A Bloomberg story last year that reported the company ran a large-scale operation where contract employees would buy Just Mayo and other products from retailers in an effort to drive up its popularity. However, a recent Security and Exchanges Commission inquiry into business practices at Hampton Creek recently found no wrongdoing in the case.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also found that the company was wrongfully targeted by an online ad campaign by the American Egg Board. And just last week, Target pulled the company's products off its shelves chain-wide, citing food safety concerns that the company says are false.