This was in 2016…
With its egg-free recipe, Just Mayo had become a darling of vegans, a hot investment for Silicon Valley venture capitalists and an avatar for alternatives to industrial agriculture.
But to the nation’s $7-billion egg industry, Just Mayo posed an existential crisis so serious that a federally supervised trade group launched a secret two-year campaign to thwart the San Francisco start-up that makes it.
The campaign against Beyond Eggs, the original name of company behind Just Mayo, included flirting with an offer from a consultant who bragged he could rid the product from Whole Foods’ shelves “with one phone call,” and jokes among American Egg Board members and affiliates about “pooling our money to put a hit” on the company’s founder, emails show.
The investigation, sparked by documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher and his Washington attorney, reveals the lengths the American Egg Board appeared willing to go to crush Just Mayo, its manufacturer, now called Hampton Creek, and the firm’s founder, Josh Tetrick.
Federal investigators did not find the campaign amusing, slamming the American Egg Board for overstepping its congressional mandate and chiding its overseers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a lengthy investigation that was quietly released on the agency’s Freedom of Information library page late Thursday.
The American Egg Board, an industry-funded promotion group overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s marketing branch, spent at least $59,500 to counter the product’s publicity advances.
It hired a top-tier Chicago public relations firm to plant “USDA approved” pro-egg messaging with bloggers the firm considered “influential,” according to investigation documents. And it deployed pop-up ads promoting eggs — usually with the board’s “Incredible Edible Egg” logo — that would outrank, replace or obscure other content when Internet users searched such terms as “Beyond Eggs,” “Hampton Creek,” “Just Mayo” or “Josh Tetrick,” according to an internal review by the Agriculture Department.
Email exchanges among egg board members and affiliate groups asked “Can we pool our money and put a hit on him?” and suggested having “old buddies from Brooklyn pay him a visit,” referring to Tetrick. Read more…
By June 2017, at least four directors had left, a result of deep divisions between Tetrick and the rest of the board over the direction of the company, according to unnamed sources cited by Bloomberg.
Tetrick represents a corner of the food industry hellbent on overthrowing the meat and egg industries. He’s already pinched the egg companies by snapping up market share with eggless condiments, and his company recently said it would begin focusing on lab-grown meat.
The board members who left aren’t small names. They include: former US Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Bon Appétit Management Co. CEO Fedele Bauccio, Google DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, Khosla Ventures partner Samir Kaul, and Horizons Ventures representative Bart Swanson.
Through different funding rounds, Tetrick had reworked the terms of control the board has had over the company. The CEO says he did this to stick to his view of the company’s mission, which now includes expanding into lab-made meats. Now it appears Tetrick has essentially transformed the board into a group of advisors, stripped of authority. Read More…