JUST Egg cracks the substitute category wide open
The mung bean-based vegan breakfast item is taking grocery shelves by storm, reinvigorating the category and aiming at new markets with big manufacturing and distribution partnerships.
If 100 chickens were laying JUST Egg, it would take them more than 12 years to produce the same amount of mung bean-based egg replacement that has sold in the United States, Hong Kong and Singapore in four months, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.
JUST Co-founder and CEO Josh Tetrick told Food Dive the company recently crossed the benchmark of selling the equivalent of 3 million eggs. The equivalent of the last 1 million was sold in the previous 30 days, he said at the beginning of February. The strong consumer desire and the transformative possibility of a vegan egg substitute have driven rapid growth of the product, Tetrick said.
"It's pretty fun to see because, the truth is, you never know (how popular an item will be) until it's out there," Tetrick said. "You can do all sorts of consumer studies and tests and invite people to your headquarters and try. But, actually, until it's out there in the wild, you don't actually really know."
After appearing on restaurant menus for a few months, the San Francisco-based food tech company's JUST Egg first appeared on grocery shelves in September. The product has already been picked up by Aramark, which serves the egg substitute in patty form at some hospital, college and corporate cafeterias. Late last month, it rolled out nationwide at grocery stores owned by Albertsons.
But all of the growth isn't just in the United States. Earlier this month, German poultry provider PHW Group announced it was entering into a partnership to sell and distribute JUST Egg to retailers and foodservice providers across Europe. Last summer, JUST entered into a partnership with Italian egg company Eurovo to manufacture and distribute the product in Europe.
"It makes me really optimistic about the food system generally, not just about what we're doing, that one of the biggest poultry companies in the world and the biggest egg processor in the world are the building blocks of what we're trying to do in Europe. I think that's a pretty extraordinary thing."
Co-founder and CEO, JUST
Tetrick, who has focused on international partnerships as a necessity in scaling and expanding JUST Egg — and eventually, he says, cultured JUST Meat products — said he's glad to see these agreements coming to fruition. He wants JUST to focus on the technology to create products as well as its own branding, but not spending time and effort trying to figure out things that are already done well by partners, like supply chain and distribution.
"It makes me really optimistic about the food system generally, not just about what we're doing, that one of the biggest poultry companies in the world and the biggest egg processor in the world are the building blocks of what we're trying to do in Europe," Tetrick said.
He said the company is working with other manufacturers and distributors around the world to establish similar partnerships. If there are enough of these partnerships, he said, JUST Egg could become ubiquitous on the grocery shelf, just like the product it is designed to replace.
According to marketing statistics compiled by JUST, the mung bean-based egg substitute has enlivened the category and drawn sales growth. IRI reported statistics for December, noting that 12-oz bottles of JUST Egg had the highest dollar amounts of sales in stores where it is sold, beating out category stalwart Egg Beaters in five different sizes. SPINS data showed that JUST Egg had the most in both monetary and unit sales in the natural channel in individual stores in November. In fact, the SPINS data revealed JUST Egg's growth rate zeroed out the year-to-date declines in refrigerated liquid eggs.
Tetrick said the sales data has been interesting. A lot of consumers who aren't vegans are picking up the JUST Egg bottle. Some of them, he said, are buying cartons of eggs and bottles of JUST Egg at the same time. He chalked that up to the expanded interest consumers have in alternative proteins, as well as the long run-up to the product, which was announced years before it was sold.
The company is on its way to receiving a patent for the production method of JUST Egg. Tetrick said he got a Notice of Allowance from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which means the process for making the substitute has cleared the internal review at the office and a patent will be issued. This will be the second technical patent for the company, which received one in 2017 for its method of combining robotics, proprietary plant databases, artificial intelligence and predictive modeling to scan and identify useful plant proteins.
While JUST has other products, including mayo, salad dressings and cookie dough, Tetrick said he wants to spend the majority of the company’s energy right now on products like JUST Egg and JUST Meat, which can be scaled and make a larger difference in nutrition and sustainability on a global scale. While the mayo and dressings have been successful in several stores and foodservice locations, Tetrick said the egg substitute moves more quickly and can have more of a global market impact.
And he's not yet finished developing JUST Egg, he said. Tetrick is hoping to bring production costs down to half that of conventional eggs. Worldwide, Tetrick said this cost is about 8 cents per egg, while the equivalent amount of JUST Egg costs more than twice that right now. He's also working to improve the taste, so JUST Egg is better than a farm fresh egg, and wants to make the product more nutritious, with additional protein and potentially more micronutrients.
All of these continual improvements, he said, not only make the JUST Egg product better, but pay dividends for the companies who have manufacturing and distribution partnerships with JUST.
"Because when we can figure out a way to make these kinds of products better, healthier, ultimately more affordable, it will really drive purchase intent," Tetrick said. "The reason that these companies have done what they've done isn’t because they disliked animals in the environment or human health. It's simply the most efficient way to be able to bring in additional dollars. And I think they're beginning to realize they can simply make more money doing something better. And then you're gonna see a drive that's just as aggressive the other way. And that's just part of the reason I find that dynamic awesome."
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