Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick has a message for the industry — his company is not for sale. Period.
"I could care less about any of that," Tetrick told Food Dive. "And this is no offense to any company in the food space that has been acquired for whatever they’ve been acquired for."
But a recent Bloomberg report sparked speculation of Hampton Creek’s future — including what kind of company it would become. Hampton Creek was reportedly attempting to raise about $200 million at a $1.1 billion valuation, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. While such actions generally mean a company is positioning for acquisition or a sizable stake, Tetrick would not discuss the report with Food Dive.
Tetrick illuminated the company’s ideals in a recent interview, and clarified how the company wants to fundamentally change the food system and work across the industry to do so.
Let’s start from the very beginning
Tetrick’s humble upbringing brings insight to his goals. He grew up in Alabama, and for a time his family was on food stamps.
"For a period of time in my life I ate a lot of shitty food," he said. "And I remember asking my mom why we’re eating like this, and I remember my mom saying because we can’t afford anything else. And I remember being very bothered by that."
He tried college football at West Virginia University before transferring to Cornell University, and later graduated from University of Michigan's law school. He traveled to Africa and learned about the intersection of food and how its systemic impact can be positive or negative. He began thinking of food as a system when back in the U.S. five years ago.
Now, Hampton Creek, particularly its Just Mayo product, has gained industry notoriety. Hampton Creek’s industry shake-up really began toward the end of 2014. Unilever — the company behind Hellmann's — first sued Hampton Creek on false ad claims because it didn't contain eggs, though it dropped the suit following customer backlash.
Through it all, including a labeling tweak, new competition from Unilever, and even a reported salacious scandal, it’s come out the other side. In fact, Tetrick welcomes competiton and said so in The New York Times.
How to work at (and with) Hampton Creek
Tetrick still interviews everyone the company hires, now at approximately 140 employees. He told Food Dive exactly what he tells all employees during the interview process. It gives a clear picture into what the company’s goals are and likely wards off those who don’t support its mission:
If someone gave me a 100% guarantee that we could be a nice publicly-traded company, I would say no. If someone right now wrote me a check for $4.5 billion for the company, and I own a significant equity stake in the company, and it’s a 100% guarantee right now, I would say no. And if someone said there’s a 30% probability doing something more transformative, to have a deeper impact on society, on single moms, on poor kids in Africa, on farmers in the Midwest, on our food system, even if it’s lower probability, I would say yes. And if you join this team, you’ve got to know that that third option comes with a lot of stuff. Comes with a much, much different kind of environment than most companies. There’s a speed, there’s an approach that we take things that’s just different. It’s not saying it’s good or bad. It’s just saying it is different and it's uniquely us. If it feels like something that energizes you, then be a part of it. If it feels like something that’s annoying, if it feels like something that’s overwhelming, if it feels like something that’s not you, then don’t be a part of it. I want you to opt out right now.
Tetrick said the company maintains culture by aggressively promoting young leaders, and values those who get the job done over experience.
He also encourages collaboration both internally and with other companies. For instance, Hampton Creek sells to cereal giant General Mills.
"It requires an urgency to be able to move this food system to a better place," he said. "And that isn’t done by just one company, us, that’s for sure. It’s done by all these companies coming together."
Has the greater industry received Tetrick's message? Stay tuned.