“Can we pool our money to put a hit out on him?”
Those are the words of an egg company executive in response to his frustration over Josh Tetrick, the CEO of Hampton Creek, a food company that sells a variety of everyday products like cookies, cupcakes, pancakes, and dressings.
It’s hard to imagine what Tetrick could have done to earn this animosity, but it must have been bad, right?
No, actually. All Tetrick did was to form a food company that is asking the question about our food industry: “What would it look like if we started over?”
The founders saw that most of our food comes from facilities that pollute our planet and contains ingredients that harm our health. There had to be a better way.
Using bioinformatics, scientific innovation, and culinary talent, the company has re-imagined some of the most common food items by putting plant protein instead of animal protein front and center, cutting out all cholesterol and creating a more eco-friendly product.
This focus on plants—and Hampton Creek’s success taking on companies that never before faced a serious disruptor—led the company to earn opponents that, for perhaps the first time, faced what they perceived as an existential threat.
In its journey over the past four years, Hampton Creek has become one of the fastest growing food companies, all while overcoming hurdles placed in its way. Only a few years old, Hampton Creek has been attacked by everyone from animal agribusiness interests to international corporations to government agencies.
And as an aside, Hampton Creek has also done a bit of attacking, most famously in its full page advertisements in The New York Times and Cleveland Plain Dealer during the Republican Convention in Cleveland.
More recently, Hampton Creek faced some negative news coverage for the way it went about quality control assessments after the initial launch of its “Just Mayo” product in grocery stores back in 2014.
The company bought products from the shelves to check quality and ensure damaged or unacceptable bottles never reached the public. Since the products were procured from the grocery stores themselves, this had a side benefit of increasing sales by about 1/1000th of total sales.
Did this infinitesimal increase dupe some of the world’s wisest investors and most influential businessmen into backing a company they otherwise would’ve ignored, as has been implied? The question would appear to answer itself.
This is just the latest in a long line of attacks against this highly impactful company. First Unilever went after the company, suing it for—as it admits—taking customers away from its Best Foods and Hellmann’s brands. The suit was so ill conceived that it took only a few weeks of negative media attention for it to be dropped.
Then the American Egg Board (AEB) and USDA got caught unlawfully colluding to take down Hampton Creek—this is where that death threat came from. With the AEB’s president calling the company’s growth “a crisis!” these government institutions waged a PR war, tried to block Hampton Creek products from being sold, and engaged in a social media strategy to denigrate the company.
Once exposed, these activities were presumably ended, though The Good Food Institute sued last week because USDA has not yet fulfilled our FOIA request aimed at finding out.
The controversy resulted in the AEB’s president resigning, an internal government investigation, and Congressional outcry from both Republicans and Democrats.
U.S. agency efforts didn’t cease however. The FDA, after being lobbied earlier by Unilever and the American Egg Board, became the latest to try to slow down Hampton Creek’s momentum. It sent warnings to Hampton Creek that it would take action if the company wouldn’t change its label. This time, the company came to an agreement with the agency to make small changes.
Through it all, Hampton Creek has been doggedly persistent, which aligns nicely with my hopes and expectations for a company that was formed to disrupt an entrenched food industry. Revolutionizing our food supply is going to require taking on those who have powerful incentives to maintain the status quo.
It seems likely that there will be more attempts to slow down Hampton Creek. Those of us who are consumers should vote with our pocketbooks, supporting companies that are creating the kind, healthy world we’d all like to leave behind.
To learn how The Good Food Institute is working to make this world possible, visit our website.