September 20, 2014

Hampton Creek Takes Food Science to the Next Level

The baking & pastry arts have always utilized eggs as a main ingredient for creating delicious desserts, from cookies to pies. However, despite centuries of tradition, the startup food venture Hampton Creek has developed egg-free cookies and mayonnaise and is looking to create more egg-free products in the near future. Removing eggs might seem like a peculiar goal, but Hampton Creek is working to make food healthier and more environmentally friendly. In doing so, the company has built an extensive food lab, hired on a team to analyze big data and garnered support from some of the world’s wealthiest investors. In time, Hampton Creek could possibly become a major player in reforming how the food industry operates.

Just Cookies 
The startup thus far has brought two major products to market: “Just Mayo” and “Just Cookies.” These products contain an alternative to traditional eggs that is cheaper, safer and potentially healthier, according to Wired. Just Cookies – which come in five classic flavors, including chocolate chip, sugar and peanut butter – are all natural, dairy free and cholesterol free. According to Hampton Creek, one case of its cookies saves 2,000 gallons of water and takes up seven fewer square meters of land in comparison to other cookies. The egg substitute used in Hampton Creek’s cookies should not be confused with genetically modified products. Instead, it is a natural, unprocessed substitute that uses plant protein. The ready-to-bake cookies are relatively new to the market, but are available at a number of major retailers, including Whole Foods.

A promising startup 
Though Just Mayo and Just Cookies have proven to be a fantastic beginning for Hampton Creek, the startup is still raising funding as it looks to expand. Hampton Creek has the support of investor Bill Gates and the wealthiest man in Asia, Li Ka-shing. The company is currently trying to secure $50 million in funding. According to the Wall Street Journal, Hampton Farms has raised about $30 million to date from various venture capital firms. While numerous companies are looking to shake up the food industry, Hampton Farms benefits from major investors and national distribution. The company’s focus on sustainability could eventually make the food industry more efficient overall.

Big data 
Big data often comes up as a buzzword surrounding the Internet of Things, covering everything from wearable technology to search engine analytics. Yet, big data has much broader applications, and Hampton Creek is using extremely sophisticated technology to catalog plant proteins. In the case of its flagship products, the company found a plant protein replacement that provided the same qualities of an egg when making its mayonnaise and cookies. Eggs were a logical starting point for Hampton Creek because the production of chicken eggs uses up a vast amount of land and water. These resources are obviously precious and needed to feed the U.S. and global populations. The data analysts at Hampton Creek have the monumental task of identifying subsets of protein found in nature that can potentially mimic certain textural qualities and flavors in food. This is a hefty task considering there are 18 billion known plant proteins. Sifting through millions of possible outcomes is an expensive proposition and requires servers comparable to those found at major tech firms. The data team is responsible for narrowing the number of possibilities that can then be tested in the food lab, eventually leading them to the creation of more sustainable and healthy foods. For the culinary-minded, Hampton Creek is potentially opening a whole new realm of cooking possibilities.