Just Egg will become available to thousands of foodservice establishments through a partnership the company is entering with Michael Foods, a division of Post Holdings.
Michael Foods is one of the largest providers of egg products to restaurants and foodservice in the United States. The deal represents a significant expansion of Just's mung bean-based egg substitute to restaurants, cafeterias, hotels and stadiums nationwide.
Just CEO Josh Tetrick told Food Dive there are no exact figures detailing how much Just Egg will be sold in foodservice businesses through this deal, but the opportunity for expansion — and bringing plant-based egg substitutes to millions of consumers — is immense. While Just has concentrated on expanding its egg-replacing product to grocery retailers so far, this deal brings it to a new channel.
"It's even more meaningful for us to build the long-term infrastructure that I hope will far outlast me. ... How do we figure out a way to make protein [to make Just Egg] for the next 50 years? And how do we figure out the companies that have the largest scale to turn [the protein] powder into liquid?"
Tetrick has long said he wants Just to concentrate on improving its products and technologies, but make strategic operational partnerships for widespread manufacturing and distribution. The company currently has similar partnerships in Europe, Latin America and Asia.
"It's even more meaningful for us to build the long-term infrastructure that I hope will far outlast me," Tetrick said. "That's what it means to build a company that's going to be around for a long time. That's really going to do a lot of meaningful good for a long time. How do we figure out a way to make protein [to make Just Egg] for the next 50 years? And how do we figure out the companies that have the largest scale to turn [the protein] powder into liquid? And how do we become partners with them?
"...Those questions are the most important questions to answer if we're going to fulfill our mission," Tetrick said.
Michael Foods and Just started talking about 18 months ago to determine if a partnership between the two companies was feasible. Josh Nissen, vice president of marketing with Michael Foods, told Food Dive his company looked carefully at the ingredient to ensure it had similar characteristics to an egg in terms of how it would respond in food, but enough differences that it would complement its offerings and be attractive to customers.
"We've been aware of the work that they've been doing for some time,” Nissen said. “Like anyone claiming to sell egg products in the marketplace we keep a close eye on, and when the opportunity popped up we were excited to have a conversation with them."
'A little skeptical'
Tetrick said the Post division was really the only partner that could give the company what it was looking for in the United States. Both Post and Michael Foods have long histories in the food business — Post was founded in 1895 and Michael Foods in 1908. Adding to that, Tetrick said they’re also “breakfast people” with a deep understanding of the first meal of the day.
Nissen said his company did its “due diligence” after being “a little skeptical upfront … to make sure we fully had a product we could stand behind."
"There's been a lot of imitators out there before, but we've been very impressed with what Just has been able to do in their formulation around this mung bean product,” he said.
Under the partnership, Just will extract protein from mung beans at its plant in Minnesota, which it acquired in December. That protein powder will go to Michael Foods’ plant to be hydrated and turned into both liquid and cooked folded products, similar to what is sold at grocery stores now.
"We didn't rush into" this deal with Just. "We had a lot of conversations with consumers, doing our own research to make sure that there was a market for it."
Josh Nissen, vice president of marketing with Michael Foods
Vice president of marketing, Michael Foods
Not only will Michael Foods make the Just Egg product, but its sales and distribution team will work to get it into more foodservice entities across the nation. Under the agreement, it will be branded as Just Egg every place it is sold.
“They know how to sell eggs into foodservice. We're all right at it, but we're not as good as they are,” Tetrick said. “We take advantage of the manufacturing piece, which is all of that scale. We're also really fortunate to be able to leverage all of their selling expertise in the foodservice. All of that, all of that scale, too. And that's why this model really works for us.”
Currently, 90% of Just Egg sales in the U.S. are in grocery stores. It's available at a few chain restaurants and grocery buffets, including Tim Hortons and Whole Foods Market, but Tetrick said this partnership will extend that farther.
Tetrick said he’s also counting on Michael Foods to use their expertise to give him feedback about how Just can deliver a better product and what potential improvements could be.
“This is how we’re going to win in foodservice,” Tetrick said.
Michael Foods also sells eggs as an ingredient to food manufacturers. Tetrick said the partnership will eventually also entail ingredient sales, but will concentrate on foodservice in the beginning.
By adding the egg alternative to its portfolio, Nissen said it would give his customers a broader range of ingredient options to use in their products depending on the food, increasing their interest in working with his company.
“What's the point of differentiation? Can it extend our reach in the marketplace? With this plant-based offering, it's going to reach a consumer that we've never been able to reach before," Nissen said.
Michael Foods plans to approach the rollout of Just Egg starting this fall like it would any new product, launching slowly at first before doing a broader launch as demand for the item increases, he said. Unlike retailers, adding a new product to foodservice takes time because Michael Foods is working with a lot of different restaurants or cafeterias that have to determine if the plant-based egg is right for their operations.
"We didn't rush into” this deal with Just, Nissen said. “We had a lot of conversations with consumers, doing our own research to make sure that there was a market for it."
The last seven days have been eventful for Just. Last Wednesday, the company announced a manufacturing partnership with Germany-based Emsland Group, which is a world leader in plant-based protein extraction. This partnership will help Just scale in Europe.
Tetrick said he’s working with more companies in other parts of the world to come to similar manufacturing and distribution agreements, which will increase Just Egg consumption across the world.
“There's something about focusing on the upstream portion, plugging that into installed infrastructure — you don't need to build it. It's already there — and allowing those companies to do their work — what they've done for, in some cases, over 100 years,” Tetrick said. “And you can you can hang back and make the technology better, and build the brand, and trust them to to make a really efficient, high quality scalable product.”