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Are The Days Numbered For The Egg?

24/05/2013 09:39 BST | Updated 23/07/2013 10:12 BST
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There is a company that may very well be set to totally revolutionise the food manufacturing industry: come to the aid of the environment and improve our health.

I met with the founder of Hampton Creek Foods, Josh Tetrick at his start-up company in the Soma district of San Francisco. He looks far younger than his 33 years with clean cut with all-American good looks. 'I'm from Birmingham, Alabama', he tells me. His accent lilting and distinct. He exudes the confidence of someone who is comfortable in his own skin. He reminded me of a young Tom Cruise, boyish and vibrant, sans the aviator shades. One can't help but be a bit doe-eyed as he welcomes me into the Beyond Egg hub. He makes you feel like he has all the time in the world to share, and right now it is all for you. I admit to loosing my thread more than once as my brain floated off, all female and flustered, as Josh showed me around and introduced me to his team.

Josh is the man behind the team that is fervently working to dislodge and displace the egg industry. He has an impressive background, having set up a UN business initiative in Kenya, worked for a time for President Clinton, he also won a prestigious Fulbright grant to teach in Nigeria and South Africa. Hampton Creek Foods is his debut venture into the world of food. His compassion was sparked during his time in Africa, working on environmental projects. He felt moved enough to know he wanted to make a huge positive impact. He chose the egg industry as his target. Which methods are currently, in his words..'barbaric'.

He hits me with some statistics..

'79 billion eggs laid in US every year. 95% of them are laid by hens in battery cages so small they can hardly move. They are pumped with antibiotics'. 1/2 billions eggs recalled because of food poisoning in 2011 in the US. What about eggs impact on human health?

The NewYork Times published a report by Dr. Stanley Hazen of Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute. that eggs may provoke bacteria that increases the risk of heart disease. University Of Western Ontario likened the consumption of eggs to that of the effects of smoking cigarettes.

You'll agree it's an area in need of change.

Beyond Eggs is gaining some notable interest. Articles have appeared in Bon Appetit & Food & Wine. Countless articles are dotted around the internet, even Tony Blair, ex-Prime MInister of that thumbnail sized island,GB. Bill Gates has taken a shine to the companies ideas. On his blog The Gates Notes, where he highlights his concern for the impact on the environment and how we can feed a population that is expected to hit 18 billion by 2050, Gates listed Hampton Creek Foods as one of the 3 companies that are shaping the future of food.

He says, ''By 2030, the world will need millions of tonnes more meat than it does today. But meeting that demand with animal products isn't sustainable. The meat market is ripe for reinvention.'

Bill Gates took the taste test, cookie challenge and couldn't tell the difference between the cookies with egg and the cookies with Beyond Egg's egg substitute.

The building is open to the street, open to each department and one another. The office dog and company mascot, Jake, lolls in the sun in the greeting area. Their state of the art laboratory is a field of stainless steel. On one wall a row of ovens. Behind vast doors are shelves stacked with jars of creamy mayonnaise, trials and tests. The food scientists and biologists work diligently, and with admirable dedication to emulate the properties of the egg. Which is, after all, all that is going on. The egg served a purpose. The effect doesn't have to come from an egg. They have worked out just how the proteins molecules give rise in cakes and bakes, aerate, bind and thicken, and emulsify our dressings. Beyond Eggs have a product that can do all of these things. Eggs may have been a cheap source of protein but they are full of harmful cholesterol. Josh and his team have cracked the code to do what the egg did by using pea, potatoes, sunflower lecithin, rapeseed, and natural gums extracted from tree sap. They offer it 18% cheaper (which will no doubt interest the large food manufactures), with reduced storage costs and longer shelf life, and it's sustainable and kinder to boot.

The strength of the team is all apparent. I half expected the theme tune to the A-Team to kick in as Josh introduced me. All looked under 30, with that special California glow.

Chris Jones a chef and molecular gastronomist was poached from Chicago's award winning restaurant, Moto..

He was sporting a bandana and standing over something whirring in the corner. It must be the largest stick blender/food mixer in the world, and it was busy creating a swirling vortex of snow white mayonnaise. I asked him why he came to work for the company, he gave an impassioned reply. Noting, he wants his family to have a future. Chris said of his work, 'The egg was the first thing. This is the next thing'. He showed me his floor to ceiling wall of experiments. His job to is work with different components and proteins. Testing for shelf life. Stability. They regularly enlist the help of employees from Yelp & Google, as taste testers.

Director of Bakery Innovation is Shweta Rao. She was positively charged with self motivated enthusiasm for Beyond Egg and the concept of what it will achieve. Shweta and her colleague Megan both told me they have a sense that what they are doing goes beyond cookies and cake and stretches into making a big difference in the world. They are fulled by this. They'd wanted to fuel me, with cookies. They'd baked some for me to try. Two neat rows of blond and chocolate chip cookies sat waiting for me on a platter. They were left untouched. Damn my bloody intolerance for gluten!

The scientists

A team of scientists work full time, surrounded by a wall of purple gloves, test tubes, machines spinning ingredients in centrifuge, and other wizardly gadgets and gizmos. I've not the faintest idea what they were for. But they excited me nonetheless. The team are currently working on replicating the egg white and working with gluten free flours so products can be produced that are free of the main allergens and suitable for celiac sufferers.

At this point I really start to see what impact this company will have. As did Khosla Ventures. Venture Capitalists, based in Palo Alto, California, who's tagline is ' We care about genuine issues: a healthy environment. Sustainable power'. They back Josh's vision, and made an investment of a cool $3 million in Hampton Creek Foods.