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updated 5/21/2014 7:16:28 AM ET 2014-05-21T11:16:28

Modern Food and Drink
How we consume today

It doesn't matter whether the chicken or the egg came first. What matters is what comes next.

Hampton Creek knows the answer. The San Francisco startup has developed a plant-based egg alternative that's both cheaper and more healthful, not to mention more humane. "About 1.8 trillion eggs are laid every year around the world, and most come from places that are destructive to the environment and pretty brutal on animals," explains Josh Tetrick, Hampton Creek's co-founder and CEO. "We've figured out a way to make food that is better for the environment, kinder to animals and better for our bodies."

Tetrick--a former college football standout and Fulbright Scholar--launched Hampton Creek in 2011 after spending seven years in Africa, where he taught street children in multiple countries, spearheaded a United Nations-backed sustainable-business program in Kenya and advised Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on investment-law reform. Tetrick credits best friend and Hampton Creek co-founder Josh Balk for opening his eyes to the factory-farming industry, assailed by critics for practices that maximize profits at the expense of the environment, animal welfare and nutritional quality.

"Most good people do not want to put egg-laying hens in tiny cages so small they can't flap their wings," Tetrick says. "The problem is that free-range environments don't make sense, because they're still more expensive than battery-cage eggs. We had to take the animal out of the equation."

Tetrick began sourcing plants from across the globe, teaming with chefs, biochemists and food scientists on a series of kitchen tests. They screened through hundreds of varieties of yellow pea and used rapid prototyping, ultimately discovering that the properties of the pea effectively mimicked egg emulsion. Hampton Creek now maintains an exhaustive database that spans thousands of plant varietals and outlines the correlations between their biochemical features and functionalities; Tetrick says the data enables his firm to identify properties that others don't and to screen through plants at a much faster rate.

Buoyed by $500,000 in seed funding from Khosla Ventures, Hampton Creek introduced its first product, Beyond Eggs--a yellowish powder that enables food manufacturers to eliminate eggs from baked goods--in early 2013.

"Our theory of change is that we can make things happen a lot faster when the good thing is ridiculously easy, super-convenient and radically more affordable," Tetrick says. "When we go to a manufacturer and ask them to stop using battery-cage eggs, our value proposition is that what we're doing is 48 percent cheaper. Even if animals are not a concern for you at all, you should do this because it's better for the bottom line."

Hampton Creek's first consumer product, an egg-free mayonnaise substitute dubbed Just Mayo, followed late last year and is available at national retailers including Whole Foods Market, Costco and Safeway. The latter chain is also serving Just Mayo in some in-store delis. Tetrick declined to disclose revenue but says daily sales in Whole Foods have more than tripled since November.

Up next: An egg-free cookie-dough substitute called Eat the Dough, and a cholesterol-free liquid scrambled-egg product. Both are bolstered by a $23 million Series B funding round completed in February and led by Hong Kong magnate Li Ka-shing's investment firm Horizons Ventures. Bill Gates spotlighted Hampton Creek on his website in a feature titled "The Future of Food."

"We started this company so that regular people can choose the good thing because it's more affordable and works better for their lives," Tetrick says. "The car displaced the horse and buggy not because people cared about the horse, but just because it was better. That's the way to flip the script on how the food system works."

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