Best known for:
- Just brand condiments and desserts
- Plans to bring clean meat to market by 2018
- Science-heavy R&D processes, staff and facility
- Rumors of tumultuous internal politics
Most food companies don’t have a year where they come through federal inquiries into business practices, announce a relatively inexpensive expansion into lab-grown meat, lose and gain most of a board of directors, post sales growth and have all their products pulled from the shelves of a major retailer because of vague food safety concerns.
But then again, most companies are not Hampton Creek.
From its founding in 2011, the vegan condiment and dessert company has seemed to attract controversy — and flourish in spite of it. The year 2017 has been a rollercoaster for Hampton Creek. However, CEO Josh Tetrick doesn’t necessarily see it that way.
“Some of the stuff out there doesn't really reflect the kind of thing that we're focused on,” Tetrick told Food Dive in an interview in August. “But I always tell my team that if there are really good things written, put your head down and do good work. And if there are bad things written, put your head down and do good work. At the end of the day, if more people are buying our stuff today and are eating a little bit better because of the stuff we're putting out there and the world is using less land and less water and less carbon, you've done your job.”
SEC probe into the buyback scheme closes with no recommendationsRead More
The Guardian reports three execs fired in conjunction with a planned coupRead More
Target pulls all Hampton Creek products, citing food safety concernsRead More
Announces entry in lab-grown "clean meat" business, expects to have products for sale by the end of 2018Read More
Bloomberg says all board members – except the CEO – have resignedRead More
Target says it will not sell Hampton Creek products, regardless of the FDA finding no food safety concernsRead More
Protein scanning technique receives a patentRead More
Board is reconstitutedRead More
Just Scramble launches for foodserviceRead More
Hampton Creek making headlines in 2017
The company, which is worth more than $1 billion today, has been in the spotlight, both for its achievements and its inner workings, for much of this year. The seemingly unending stream of news — and the intense interest surrounding it — is why Hampton Creek is our most-talked-about food company of the year.
Lab-based triumph and big plans for the future
As a company, Hampton Creek has always been oriented to creating a sustainable and healthier food system that tastes good and is affordable. Its plant-based condiments and cookies were on shelves before the segment was trendy, and the company has concentrated on using sophisticated chemistry to improve what people eat.
“We have a degrading food system. How do we make it sustainable?” Tetrick told Food Dive in August. “Most people are not eating well. How do we work our asses off like our hair is on fire, throw everything at [the problem] and try to build a world here where everyone's eating well?”
A comprehensive rebranding in the beginning of 2017 changed Hampton Creek’s image from a scrappy startup to a team of visionaries with a commitment to reshaping the entire food system. Videos and photos on the company’s website showed off the technology and scientists — much like what can be found in pharmaceutical or analytical chemistry labs — at the company’s San Francisco’s headquarters.
It seemed a bit heavy for a company that sold sauces and desserts until Hampton Creek’s biggest announcement of 2017: The manufacturer was entering the lab-grown “clean meat business,” and expected to have products to market by the end of 2018. These meat products would be raised using functional plant proteins, making them affordable to consumers.
“In the last year and a half, I've had this realization that plants are extraordinary but they're not sufficient,” Tetrick said. “If we really want to transition the food system, we have to figure out a way to solve particularly the processed meat issue. … We need a culturally relevant way, an identity connective way to be able to solve that. That's why we eventually started getting into clean meat.”
With only a few companies working on clean meat — and their production cost estimates currently running in the thousands of dollars per pound — Hampton Creek’s announcement hit the food world hard. And while Hampton Creek hasn’t released much more news about its clean meat program this year, it has pursued partnerships to license its technology so the company can scale up production and keep costs down.
While clean meat is Hampton Creek’s biggest announcement from the lab this year, it certainly isn’t the only one. In September, the company received a patent for its plant protein scanning process, which is what it uses to research plant proteins, breaking them down to the molecular level and searching for desirable properties — like emulsification, protein content and thermal stability. This system powers Hampton Creek’s discovery engines, letting the company quickly analyze different plant proteins for use in its products.
And the news will keep on coming. Last week, Hampton Creek launched a vegan egg substitute called Just Scramble. At the beginning, it will be available for chefs and foodservice near the company's San Francisco headquarters. Not only is it highly anticipated, but it also won the “Best Plant-Based Food” award at the 10thBridge2Food Protein Summit in France in September. A version of Just Scramble for home consumers is expected later in 2018.
While Hampton Creek continued on its successful business track in 2017, high-profile investigations and personnel actions kept people talking.
The year started with a federal investigation into Hampton Creek after Bloomberg reported in 2016 that the company was involved in an elaborate scheme to buy its own products from stores to make them look more popular. The company had been known previously for honest business practices, and the story sent shock waves through the industry.
The Justice Department and Security and Exchanges Commission looked into Hampton Creek’s business practices, and concluded in March that there was no action to be taken.
While no further information about the investigation was released, Hampton Creek continued to be in the news for its internal practices. A June story in The Guardian outlined the dramatic firing of three execs who were accused of plotting a corporate coup.
Tetrick didn’t talk to Food Dive specifically about the supposed drama, but said that every high-growth company — including Tesla, Apple and Pixar — had hired people in the beginning that did not work out. Hampton Creek is no exception.
“We've learned that [we need to do] a better screening for some of those characteristics that end up being really good for us: a grit, a tenacity, a deep purposeful intent about why they're here,” Tetrick said in August. “So people have left. I've asked people to go. People have decided in some ways that the pace is not right for them. This is totally OK.”
Another bit of boardroom drama kept the conversation on Hampton Creek’s inner workings this summer. In July, Bloomberg reported that all members of the company’s board had resigned — except Tetrick. By September, the board was fully reconstituted. Members now include founding chairman of KBW Ventures Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, former Executive Vice President of DuPont Jim Borel; and longtime food industry veteran and President of California Microbiological Consulting Inc. Cliff Coles. Some of the former board members, Tetrick told Food Dive, had transitioned to advisory roles — meaning they are still involved with the company’s direction.
And if those developments weren’t enough to keep the intrigue going, Target abruptly decided in June to pull all of Hampton Creek’s products from its shelves. The retailer cited unspecific food safety concerns, even though no consumers got sick and no other retailers followed suit. The Food and Drug Administration investigated, telling Food Dive in August there were “no significant safety concerns” about the products. However, Target decided not to bring the products back, telling Bloomberg, "There were multiple reasons we terminated our relationship with Hampton Creek and all of the reasons were clearly communicated to Hampton Creek."
Tetrick told Food Dive that he can let the negative stories about the company “drip away” relatively easy because of what they are.
“[I] think about the foundational things at the company,” Tetrick said. “Are you making products that are better from a social and environmental perspective that more people are buying tomorrow than they're buying today? Are you getting better about doing that?”
Hampton Creek's Just Scramble will add another dimension to the company's offerings as 2018 begins. If the company can meet its lab-grown meat deadline, it could truly shake up the industry at year's end.