Josh Tetrick, founder and CEO of JUST, sees the future of the world's food market in plant-based eggs; meat made in an entirely new way; more collaboration and lower prices.
The equivalent of more than 40 million eggs. This is the amount of egg-substitutes sold by Josh Tetrick's food-manufacturing company Eat JUST, Inc. (JUST) since its launch in 2008.
Their liquid plant-based alternative is available in two formats – a pourable liquid and a folded patty – and both are sold in retailers and restaurants all over the US and is made from water, mung bean protein isolate, canola oil, gums, and seasonings. It has taken the company years to make the substance look, cook and taste like scrambled egg.
But eggs are not enough: The San Francisco-based company is also making real meat from cells instead of slaughtered animals. Founder and CEO Joshua "Josh" Tetrick talked to us about social entrepreneurship and the future of the food market.
Josh Tetrick, you're an entrepreneur, a speaker, a writer, a CEO. Out of all these roles, what do you consider yourself as first and foremost?
An entrepreneur, clearly. In order to solve the most urgent challenges ahead of us, it’s a necessity to bring really talented, purposeful people together to develop something new and do good.
In fact, you say you consider yourself a social entrepreneur. What does that mean?
To me, it means entrepreneurship that is focused on solving societal problems like climate change or hunger and the improvement of human health. It's opposed to "mere entrepreneurship" that has the singular objective of making money.
You describe your vision with the following words: "Before we die, a fair, honest, and just food system is the food system in every community." How do you want to achieve this ambitious goal?
By developing technology that allows us to make products that are healthier, more sustainable and within reach for every person on the planet. To do that, we need to look outside ourselves to existing industry players and partner with them. That means internally focusing on our scientific, technological and culinary skills to create new, differentiated products – but also partner with egg companies and others to take advantage of their knowledge, distribution and scale.
In your talks and articles, you keep addressing systemic issues in the global food system. In your TED Talk in 2013, for example, you argue that "food is a broken system". What exactly is broken about it?
It starts with a billion people going to be hungry tonight. The food system is responsible for a significant percentage of CO2 emissions, the food system has led to heart disease being the number one cause of death in the U.S., and the food system makes our communities more vulnerable to spillovers from animal pathogens, which endangers human health. There’s a lot we need to fix.
Your TED talk's main point was that we are feeding the world in a way that is at odds with our values. Your answer to this conflict is reinventing food by taking the animal out of the equation. Would you say that this is your concept in a nutshell?
Exactly. By taking the animal out of the equation you’re taking so many problematic factors out of the equation – such as deforestation, food safety risks and an immense amount of water and land usage. You create a food system that works for everyone.
What is JUST's main value: Help the climate? Fight hunger? Animal welfare?
The good thing about improving the food system is that you don’t have to stack-rank one value over another. These are integrated challenges and the solution is making food heathier and more sustainable for everyone.
You don't only produce food, but you also publish data which other researchers can work with. Does that mean you're a laboratory too?
Research and data is a primary focus of our work. If not for identifying new tools in the plant kingdom and new ways of making meat from cells instead of slaughtered animals, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. And we’re open to sharing our expertise with others in the future. If we really want to solve big issues, competition is not the solution; it's collaboration.
You used to focus on plant-based food, now you work on lab-grown meat: meat from animal cells instead of slaughtered animals. Why that change?
We’re working to advance new methods of producing real, high-quality, safe meat directly from animal cells. We focus on technology that makes sense for each category. For eggs, we’ve found plants work best. For meat, we’ve found that animal cells are best. However, in both cases, we work with the broader agricultural community and believe this will help making the feeding a growing global population possible.
What are your plans for JUST Meat?
Our first commercial sale of a cultured meat product will be chicken and we’re in the early stages of research and development on beef. We’re working with regulators in several countries on an efficient pathway to market and we’ve talked to high-end restaurant chefs around the world. To date, no company has commercially sold cultured meat anywhere in the world. We hope to be among the first.
The market for meat substitutes is growing, but is also getting increasingly competitive. What are your predictions for the future?
As more people desire food that is good for them and tastes good, we’ll see more and companies around the world attempting to compete in this space. That’s a good thing. You’ll see products like ours reduce in cost and ultimately in price to the consumer and become more ubiquitous in same way Coca-Cola is today. We’ll have a stronger, healthier food system because of it.
Images: Eat JUST, Inc.