When you ask Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, his view on the future of food, he points to what he believes is inevitable change. But he starts the comparison by pointing to other change that one point people dismissed. Few believed in streaming music, electric cars, or lab-made diamonds but today they are common place. Its with this inspirations in mind that Eat Just is challenging two big assumptions on what it means to eat an egg or a piece of chicken. I sat down with Tetrick to learn more about the company’s journey, why he believes this change is inevitable, and how they are going about driving the change.
Dave Knox: For those not familiar with the company or your products, what falls under the Eat Just umbrella today?
Josh Tetrick: You can think of Eat Just as a company that’s challenging two big assumptions in how we eat food. The first assumption is that the world’s most ubiquitous animal protein, which is the chicken egg, needs to come from an animal. It seems like it should be true that an egg should come from an animal. But we’ve really challenged that and built a technology and a business model and a brand around the idea that it’s better if it comes from a plant. Our product is called JUST Egg. It took us a number of years to develop, but the quick and dirty version is we found a bean out there, among hundreds of thousands of plants, that makes a better version of an egg. JUST Egg is free of cholesterol, and it’s ingredients require a lot less land water and carbon emissions. You don’t need billions of animals. Ultimately it will be the most cost effective, the best tasting, the healthiest egg on the planet. Today, we’re the fastest growing egg brand in the United States. We’re in 20,000 points of distribution with more to come.
And the second big assumption that we challenge, in our way of relating to and consuming food, is that in order to eat an animal, you need to kill an animal. That also seems pretty obvious, but it’s not true anymore. You can eat plenty of animals- chicken, pork, beef, you name it – without needing to slaughter a single animal. And that’s our technology called cultivating or culturing meat. It starts with a cell, not the slaughter, and then ends with a nice chicken breast. We cultivate it in large- scale stainless steel vessels called bioreactors. And we’re the first company in the world to launch this type of slaughter-free meat, ever. When we launched it in Singapore, it was recognized as one of the top scientific breakthroughs by Guardian and others last year. Ultimatel, we think it’s going to be the way that people consume meat.
We have a lot of hard work ahead to fully realize this broader mission of building a healthier food system and that’s what we’re pushing for.
Knox: Neither of those are simple technical challenges. As a startup, how have you balanced the scientific technical side and the branding side of the business as you grew the company?
Tetrick: The way we look at it is that you cannot create an egg from a plant if you’re not employing a different approach to technology. I cannot buy ingredients at Whole Foods or on Amazon and mix them together in my kitchen and create JUST Egg. It necessitates an entirely different approach. One where we have to figure out, is there a protein and a plant out there that scrambles like an egg? An egg does a lot of things but one thing that it does really well is gel at a similar time and temperature. We had to find a plant, a protein within a plant, that would do the same thing. It was a lot of work to find it and then once we found what we were looking for, it was a lot of work to figure out how you separate the protein at scale, so that it maintains most of its native functionality. But just doing that and having a product is not enough because no one’s ever heard of a plant- based egg, right? So how do you introduce a product like that to a consumer base that has never even contemplated that an egg from a plant exists. At the end of the day, that’s where branding, communication and connection really matters. We don’t look at one as more important than the other. We look at all aspects as being fundamental to making this happen at scale.
We’ve taken inspiration from a lot of different technologies through the years that, in the moment, it didn’t seem like they were going to be the thing, but now they’re all a thing. For instance, in 2001, there was a poll that said 3% of Americans could imagine choosing to stream their music over buying their music. Today, 86% of the music listened to in the United States is streaming. Twenty years ago, General Motors was actively fighting against the commercialization of electric cars. A couple months ago, they said the only thing they’re going to be doing is electric cars. Ten to fifteen years ago, big jewelry companies like Pandora couldn’t even contemplate the idea of lab-made diamonds. Just recently, Pandora said the only thing they’re going to make are lab-made diamonds. And consumers shift, but they don’t just shift by accident. It’s because of companies and policy makers and others and citizens fighting for it. And the kind of brand we’re building is fundamental to making that happen.
Knox: On the mindset shift, how did you think about all the potential influences on driving that change in the industry?
Tetrick: The first thing that we realized is that it’s not just one thing. It’s chefs, it’s consumers, it’s moms, it’s dads, it’s the whole deal. But at least with the egg, we decided to start off in retail, focus on being displayed next to conventional eggs in the egg set, which is one of the most traffic sets in a grocery store. There is a lot of natural discovery from just being in that set when someone goes to buy a dozen eggs. We have also built relationships with plant-based chefs who have shared it in their cookbooks and on their social media channels, in their blog posts, in their own kitchens, and with their own influential friends. And that’s been really important.
Probably the single most effective tactical marketing thing that we do is display content to people who purchase other plant-based products. If you’ve ever had any plant-based milk, there’s a good chance you’re going to see our content. And, just in terms of bang for the buck, that’s the single most effective thing that we could do.
On the meat side, it’s probably even more challenging because this idea that you can eat real animal flesh, without needing to slaughter an animal, is kind of a bizarre one, if I’m being honest. We had a pretty tight go-to-market strategy in Singapore where we sat folks down at a restaurant table, served them our chicken and immersed them in a 360 degree film that took them through what our food system used to look like, how it got screwed up and how we can change it for the future. Then, more recently, we partnered with foodpanda, Asia’s leading food and grocery delivery platform, to deliver our chicken to people’s homes. As part of the delivery, these customers also enjoy a 360-degree immersive film that connects the delivery of GOOD Meat to the preservation and restoration of our plant’s wild places. This is our approach at combining new technology in food with something that is very human, authentic storytelling about why something matters.
Knox: Why did you start with these two categories?
Tetrick: For egg, it just was the pretty simple formula of what is the most consumed animal protein on Planet Earth, and it happens to be the two trillion chicken eggs that were laid last year. It’s the most ubiquitous animal protein. So, for a lack of having some deep strategic think tank, along with us, it was pretty much just me and my co-founder, Josh Balk. It just felt like a good place to start. Then we decided to get into this approach of cultivating meat about four years ago. We decided to start with chicken because it is second to the egg in terms of the most consumed animal protein. We will eventually get into beef, pork, and seafood but we simply started with the first and second most consumed animal proteins.
These two approaches share a common mission. How do we build a food system where you don’t need to industrialize animal protein and tear down rainforests and use antibiotics? They share a common mission of wanting people to feel good about the food that they consume but they are two very different technologies. One is explicitly plant-based that comes from a bean and one is explicitly animal-based that comes from an animal. One is a little bit more commonly understood because of plant- based milks and plant- based meats. Ours is a plant- based egg. The other is brand new. When we launched in Singapore, it was the first time that anyone consumed real meat that didn’t require slaughtering an animal. As a result, there are slightly different ways of communicating both of them because of that.
Knox: A few years ago, as you were building the business, you had to deal with a difficult time caused by false accusations from competitors. How did you get through that time and what did it teach the company about the power of adversity?
Tetrick: Whether it’s today and the challenges of scaling or anything that we go through, the single most important thing that we can do is to put our heads down, focus on the work and do a good job. When we announce a big fundraise, the single most important thing for us to do is to put our heads down and attempt to do good work. When there’s some big, challenging thing that happens, and there’s a negative article, the single most important thing we can do is put our heads down and do good work. And we’ve really learned that simple, maybe less obvious, lesson: that the way to deal with anything is just to put your head down and do good work. If you do that enough times over a period of time, you are going to make something that people want to bring into their own lives. When you have millions of consumers who want something and who are buying it that’s a pretty good way to build a company. So resilience, to me, comes from not getting overly excited when things are going really well, and also not getting overly down when there are a lot of challenging times. You just need the same reaction to both, put your head down and do shit. We’ve developed a pretty strong habit energy around that.
Knox: Given your mission to challenge assumptions on how we eat food, where do you see Eat Just headed in the years to come?
Tetrick: Five years out, we’ll be the first global egg brand. Not only will we be the fastest growing egg brand in America, but the fastest growing egg brand globally. An increasing number of young people won’t even think to choose a chicken egg over an egg that comes from a plant, in the same way that they don’t think of buying music. They immediately would go to streaming. It will be more cost effective than a conventional egg. It’ll be a seamlessly better-tasting choice and it’ll just become increasingly obvious that needing a live animal to produce an egg is no longer necessary. It’s not something that we’re going to continue to do. On the meat side, we’ll be selling more broadly in the U. S., in Europe and in China. You’ll have tens of thousands of restaurants that’ll decide that they don’t need conventional meat on the menu anymore, because it satisfies their consumers.
More long-term: I have a niece named June. She’s two years old. By the time June graduates from high school, my goal is for the vast majority of chicken, beef, pork, and other animal proteins not to require killing a single animal, not to require a drop of antibiotics, not to require tearing down a single tree. Just like the vast majority of pickup trucks currently being sold today, by the time June graduates from high school, these trucks will be electric, just like the vast majority of music will be streaming, just like the vast majority of diamonds sold will be lab-made. Society will change and it’s our job to change it faster. We feel like this shift away from the industrialization of animal protein is inevitable but inevitability could be a hundred years. Every day that goes by and we take yet another bulldozer to tear down yet another forest, to plant yet another field of sowing corn, to feed yet another billion animals, is a big problem for our planet. Our job is to make change happen faster.