Hampton Creek – the Silicon Valley startup known for its vegan mayonnaise – says it’s working on growing meat in a lab.
The food startup revealed to The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that it plans to get its meat to stores by 2018 – long before the competition.
There’s only a small group of global startups vying to create “clean meat” – beef, chicken, or seafood engineered in industrial vats to taste like the real thing. California-based startup Memphis Meats, which has raised at least $3 million, is the only other company that has said it will go to market, and not until 2021. Dr. Mark Post, a researcher in Maastricht, Netherlands, also made a lab-grown burger in 2013 and subsequently launched a company called Mosa Meats to further his work.
Hampton Creek’s plan is part of a larger trend of startups working on high-tech meat alternatives, including plant-based “meats” that mimic traditional meat. The food startup Beyond Meat sells its burgers, made mostly from pea protein, at vegetarian chain Veggie Grill and in the meat aisle in select Whole Foods stores. Impossible Foods’ plant-based burgers are also at some upscale fast-casual restaurants, like Momofoku and Umami Burger.
Hampton Creek – which has raised more than $120 million to date – has had its share of controversy since launching in 2011. In 2015, former employees told Business Insider that the startup used shoddy science, stretched the truth when labeling samples, and created an uncomfortable work environment, partly in an effort to meet production deadlines.
There were also allegations that, leading up to a venture capital funding round in 2014, the startup paid contractors to buy its vegan mayo to appear like there was more interest from shoppers, Bloomberg reported in 2016. Hampton Creek claimed that the buyout program was for quality control purposes.
On June 26, Target announced it will pull 20 Hampton Creek products, including the startup’s popular vegan mayo (Just Mayo), from its shelves over food safety concerns.
Clearing a path to market for Hampton Creek’s meat so quickly seems ambitious – it’s hard to nail the texture and taste of meat grown in a lab, and getting prices down to consumer-friendly levels could be difficult – but the startup told Quartz it will meet that timeline. The Good Food Institute (GFI), a food-tech nonprofit that has worked with Hampton Creek, is also confident that Hampton Creek can get its meat to supermarkets by 2018.
“It’s an ambitious goal for sure, but yes, with the right resources, it should be achievable,” Bruce Friedlich, GFI’s executive director, told Business Insider. “Hampton Creek has gone beyond expectation with everything it has set out to do – it went from founding to unicorn status in about five years. [CEO] Joshua Tetrick appears to be committed to moving fast and breaking things.”