Hampton Creek’s plant-based mayo will soon reach the shelves of more than 200 Kroger Co. stores, the first step in a wider rollout that will eventually put the product in each of the grocery chain’s more than 2,600 outlets around the nation.
It represents a big expansion of the San Francisco startup’s retail footprint. Hampton Creek sold its first jar of Just Mayo at Whole Foods about six months ago. But after announcing additional deals with Costco, Safeway and other chains, the company’s products are now in about 3,500 stores. That’s unusually rapid growth for the grocery industry.
In addition to its namesake brand, Kroger operates Ralphs, Fred Meyers, Fry’s, QFC and King Soopers stores. Hampton Creek products will also show up in ParknShop stores in Hong Kong in June, representing the company’s first international distribution deal.
“It’s another big step toward being where we want to be, the affordable and healthy option for everyone within reach of a grocery store,” said Josh Tetrick, chief executive and founder of the two-year-old company.
But as he is the first to say, getting onto shelves isn’t nearly as important as getting off them: Actually selling the product to mass market consumers, many of them raised on Hellmann’s.
The company has coupled its retail expansion with an aggressive targeted marketing campaign on Facebook. They’re also putting personnel into stores, equipped with samples and the company story, to help introduce more consumers to the products.
The basic pitch goes like this: Hampton Creek has created egg alternatives from plants that are healthier, less expensive and more environmentally friendly than the natural variety.
As I wrote in an earlier piece on Hampton Creek:
Worldwide egg output reaches at least 1.1 trillion each year, the majority produced under factory farming conditions that make for a bleak existence for the birds – and leave a major dent in the environment.
Livestock production contributes 18 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, accounts for more than eight percent of water use and takes up 26 percent of the Earth’s land, according to an earlier report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. World Watch more recently put the greenhouse gas impact at 51 percent.
Bill Gates, as co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has highlighted the growing challenges this presents as the world population marches toward nine billion and more people rise into the middle class. Meat consumption has doubled in the last 20 years and is expected to double again by the middle of the century, he wrote.
But the company also has a pitch for customers whose primary concerns aren’t animal rights or the environment: It says the products are also cheaper and healthier than the standard variety. And critically, unlike the bland egg alternatives of the past, they also taste good — as I can attest, having sampled the mayos and Just the Dough, a chocolate chip cookie dough designed to be eaten raw or baked, which will launch in the coming months.
Hampton Creek employs a team of food scientists and chefs to find the right combination of plant proteins to closely mimic the emulsifying, binding, aerating and other properties of real eggs.
The products will show up in the first Kroger stores on May 5. In addition to the standard 16 oz. glass jar of Just Mayo ($3.49), customers will be able to buy 8 oz. squeeze bottles of original ($1.79), sriracha ($1.99) and chipotle ($1.99) flavored varieties.
In February, Hampton Creek announced a $23 million Series B funding round led by Li Ka-shing, an investor whom Bloomberg describes as Asia’s richest man. To date, the company has raised $30 million.
Tetrick acknowledged there are risks and strains involved in the company’s rapid expansion, but said there are big potential payoffs as well.
“We’ve made the strategic decision for the company that now is the time, we have this moment here and we all need to buckle up and grind it out,” he said. “If we can make 2014 work, we’ll have an incredible platform to be the kind of company we want to be, which is ultimately a public company changing the face of food.”