After Plant-Based Eggs, Just's Josh Tetrick Is Launching Lab-Grown Chicken
The Just Egg came first. And soon Just Chicken will hit the shelves. With these products, Josh Tetrick wasn’t trying to answer an age-old question, but rather was trying to solve an increasingly pressing challenge: to fix the world’s food system and make it more sustainable. There’s plenty more to be done. But what that is, could now be up to you…
For Tetrick it all began with Just Mayo. In 2013, under what was then Hampton Creek, Tetrick launched his first product, a mayonnaise-like condiment made from Canadian yellow field pea, a type of split pea with properties that mean it emulsifies in a similar fashion to eggs. But Just Mayo was egg-free, cheaper to produce than normal mayonnaise and did not involve animals. It had been two years in development and it saw the likes of Bill Gates and Li Ka-shing clamouring to invest. The latter’s interest was what bought Tetrick to Hong Kong for the first time four years ago. Earlier this year Just chose Hong Kong as the place to launch its Just Egg, a vegan egg substitute created from mung beans, which have an uncanny ability to scramble.
Just Egg was received well in Hong Kong “People in the US have never heard of a mung bean, so you really have to explain what it is,’ says Tetrick, “whereas folks in Hong Kong have. It’s more of a ‘wow, this is a mung bean, I’ve had this growing up’.” Hong Kongers had never had it quite as Just was preparing it, but it proved to be a hit.
Just is about providing opportunities for people to eat healthy food that is not destructive to the environment, that tastes good and that they can afford—addressing the major issues of the current food system. For Just, it began with exploring the plant kingdom where there are more than 357,000 species of plant, less than 1% of which have been explored for how they can make food better. Looking at the molecular features of plants, the way to their proteins and their functional characteristics, provides a comprehensive toolkit with so much potential.
In the Just lab, researchers and scientists have recently been looking to the animal kingdom to add to this toolkit and working on something even bigger: lab-grown meat. Here, the captivity of animals is not required and no animals are killed in its making. Later this year, Just will launch lab-grown chicken, made from cells taken from the feather of a chicken.
Does he anticipate a similarly positive response to the meat? “I don’t know. I think it is a harder sell initially,” says Tetrick. “You have to get over the fact that you can have a chicken walking around next to you and you are eating him or her.”
It also may not sit well with vegans—after all, the product is derived from an animal. But this isn’t a problem for Tetrick, even though he himself is vegan. “We are not doing this for vegans,” he says. “The only reason I choose to eat the way I do is because I want to feel that what I eat every day is somewhat aligned with the values I believe in, like kindness and compassion. I don’t want to say that and then eat in a way that’s divorced from that. That’s what drives me, and to me [Just Meat] is entirely aligned with the values.”
Development of bluefin tuna and Kobe beef is on the cards—slightly more challenging in their creation as growth of both fat and muscle is required, but Tetrick is confident of future successes.
Additionally, the Just lab is constantly coming up with new discoveries—ways to make butter that tastes like butter but has less saturated fat and doesn’t require animals, or ice cream that has the creamy mouthfeel of dairy-based ice cream but which has never seen a cow and is made entirely from the plant kingdom.
“I used to want to make all of them. And then I realised we can’t because one just doesn’t have enough time to do everything. Our focus is eggs, meat and micro-nutrition,” says Tetrick, bringing in the third arm of the Just business which includes Just Power Gari, a fortified porridge that is currently distributed all over Liberia in an attempt to address the global issue that 2.1 billion people live in a state of micronutrient deficiency which can affect physical and mental development.
“That’s already doing quite a bit,” Tetrick continues. “But I was tired of watching people taste all of our products in the lab—what’s the point of that? We’ve been thinking about more ways to open that cabinet up and figure out a way to get it in the hands of more people.”
“We are not doing this for vegans. The only reason I choose to eat the way I do is because I want to feel that what I eat every day is somewhat aligned with the values I believe in, like kindness and compassion."—Josh Tetrick
And that’s what Just has just launched in Hong Kong, partnering up with global venture accelerator Brinc to offer budding entrepreneurs the opportunity to use Just’s toolkit—one very different from that currently used in making our food, which includes processed sugar, corn, soy and conventional animal protein, but instead focuses on discoveries from both the plant and animal kingdoms—in an effort to make Hong Kong a hub for food entrepreneurship. Just has done so much research and it wants potential businesses in Hong Kong to make the most of it, to develop products that Just doesn’t have time to do and to help tackle the problems inherent in today’s food system.
“Hong Kong is one of the epicentres of Asia. And I think there are talented people here who are smart, driven, who I think care about food demand, who care about food scarcity, who care about building a better food city.”
To be part of Just and Brinc’s Food Technology Accelerator where you can gain access to various programmes and services that support early-stage companies as well as elements of Just’s toolkit comprised of raw materials and proprietary data from the plant and animal kingdoms, visit www.brinc.io/apply