[US] Venture capital funds meat and egg replacements
Venture Capital Sees Promise in Lab-Created Eco-Foods
By Brad Stone <http://www.businessweek.com/authors/411-brad-stone> on
January 24, 2013
Nestled among Internet startups in the bustling South of Market
neighborhood of San Francisco is an innovator of another sort. The
year-old Hampton Creek Foods' 2,400-square-foot office is home to a
state-of-the-art lab, with a stainless-steel triple-shaft mixer,
restaurant-grade dishwashers, and 17 employees milling around in white
lab coats. They're developing a plant-based substitute for the hen-born
egg that's indistinguishable in taste and price from the real thing.
That, it turns out, is hard work. "We definitely have a new respect for
eggs," says Megan Clements, a research scientist, as she watches a
fellow food scientist squeeze oil into a vat of company-made eggless
mayonnaise. "Every day we are challenged to get better to make up for
what is not there."
Hampton Creek is one of several venture capital-backed startups trying
to engineer dietary alternatives that are better for the planet and
healthier for people---not to mention animals. The so-called clean-food
movement follows in the wake of the high-tech industry's disastrous bet
on clean energy, which resulted in a crop of solar, wind, and fuel-cell
companies whose fortunes fell dramatically amid the proliferation of
cheap natural gas and low-cost competition from the Chinese.
Over the last year, two of the most esteemed VC firms on Sand Hill Road,
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Khosla Ventures, have backed nearly
a dozen startups trying to engineer healthier and cheaper alternatives
to eggs, chicken, cheese, salt, and candy. The companies, whose
creations are subject to FDA regulation, "are trying to replicate the
sensory experience of proteins that we have all eaten," says Amol
Deshpande, a general partner at Kleiner Perkins who joined the firm from
the agriculture giant Cargill. "It's not just fake meat. The goal is to
have a no-compromise solution."
At a Khosla Ventures conference for investors late last year, Josh
Tetrick, the 32-year-old CEO of Hampton Creek, gave Bill Gates and Tony
Blair a blind taste test. He pitted muffins made with real eggs against
those made with his egg replacement, called Beyond Eggs. Neither could
tell the difference (nor could this reporter in a later test). The
ingredients in the faux egg mix include peas, sunflower lecithin,
canola, and natural gums extracted from tree sap.
The company's food engineers laboriously test combinations of their
ingredients, trying to match the egg's taste and its functions as a
thickening agent and emulsifier in baked goods while also making the
substitute healthier and with a longer shelf life. Tetrick says he's
talking to a Fortune 500 company that he won't name about using
plant-based eggs for its sauces and dressings.
Beyond Meat, a two-year-old company based in Los Angeles, is making
soy-based chicken strips based on formulations developed by two
professors at the University of Missouri. Unlike previous soy-based
substitutes, Beyond Meat's come remarkably close to replicating the
taste and texture of the genuine article. Last summer, the company
received an undisclosed investment from Kleiner Perkins and Obvious
Corp., an investment vehicle started by two of Twitter's founders, and
the meatless strips went on sale at Whole Foods Market (WFM
outlets in Northern California.
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