After Years of Turmoil, $1.2 Billion Vegan Startup Thrives

42-year-old Josh Tetrick's $1.2 billion vegan startup, Just Eat, is a venture that took him six years, three brand pivots, and $4 million in research to get off the ground.

Just Eat's $4 million product, Just Egg, is a plant-based substitute made from mung beans that tastes and scrambles just like a real egg. It also has no cholesterol and less saturated fat than chicken eggs, requires 98% less water to process, and emits 93% less carbon dioxide. Tetrick initially thought that creating a plant-based egg would take about a year to perfect. However, the consistency and the flavors weren't just right until six years down the line, after the company had already been through a metamorphosis.

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While this healthy and environmentally-conscious option is now in the mainstream, it came from turbulent beginnings. In 2011, when the company was founded, Just Eat was known as Beyond Eggs. It was then renamed Hampton Creek Foods, which began to sell an egg-free mayonnaise product called Just Mayo. The company was beset with conflict, including a since-dropped lawsuit by Unilever, which sued Just Eat for "false advertising," stating that mayonnaise by nature had to contain eggs. After other scandals, including alleged sales inflation, the entire board resigned in 2017 over differing opinions on the company's future, leaving Tetrick alone.

"It was a rough time," Tetrick told CNBC. "But we got to essentially start how we're doing this over."

Almost immediately after the board resigned, Just Egg came together, and Tetrick began selling the product to restaurants. Retail sales followed in 2019, and they’ve raised over $800 million in funding from investors like Bill Gates, Marc Benioff, and Vulcan Capital. Now, Tetrick hopes to expand their products to the plant-based or lab-grown meat market, which experts from Barclays expect will grow to $140 billion by 2030. The aim, Tetrick says, is not just to feed consumers, but to help reduce the agriculture industry's greenhouse gas emissions footprint.