Editor's Plate: False Messiah

Sept. 11, 2015
Hampton Creek's Josh Tetrick is not the future of food.

In 20-some years of writing about the food and beverage industry, I’ve seen a lot of people and companies rise up to challenge the status quo. Status quo in most of those cases only meant their larger competitors. Social missions were usually constructed by the marketing department, after careful research into which way the winds were blowing.

Stories along those lines pitted organic believers against those happy with commoditized food; the vegans – most of those with a strong animal rights bent – against the carnivores; companies trying to save the world versus those they allege are exploiting and ruining it. Local vs. global. Little food vs. Big Food. GMO or no. The list goes on.

But two things I’ve never seen are both front and center these days: a widespread mistrust of Big Food and a fervent desire by so many to jump on any bandwagon that runs counter to Big Food.

Enter Hampton Creek.

Face it: This is a company with just three small products: mayonnaise, cookies and cookie dough, all of them vegan. For me, that's not enough to elevate Hampton Creek over a dozen or more upstarts I discover every year at Natural Products Expo West.

Nasoya has been making Nayonnaise, a soy-based mayo, at least as long as Hampton Creek has. Even earlier was Earth Balance, a Boulder Brands company, which not only has a vegan alternative (Mindful Mayo) but it, too, is based on pea protein.

Having been the editor of a dairy products magazine long ago, I remember the early days of Ben & Jerry’s. At the old FMI shows, long before Unilever bought in, I met Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, and they were just as hippy, noncomformist and committed to their causes as their PR made them out to be. Ditto for Gary Hirshberg at Stonyfield Farm.

There was something about those three characters… I’ve got it! It’s a word that comes up often these days in discussions about food.

I sensed it in those years-ago dealings with Mssrs. Cohen, Greenfield and Hirshberg. But I don’t pick up that scent on Josh Tetrick.

I have my doubts when full-age ads in the Sunday New York Times throw around phrases like “this country … drowning in crappy food,”; “the only way to feed lots of folks is to feed them crappy food”; and you blame race relations on “our outdated food system.”

Tetrick’s ads say, “We’ve created a world where making food choices that violate what’s best for ourselves and our families is seductively easy.”

I’d really like to know who wrote those ads, because they’re seductive storytelling at its best.

And I’d like to know how a company with no manufacturing facilities can claim “1.5 billion gallons of water saved.” Did you know a Hampton supporter, Compass Group, at about $26 billion in sales, is “the largest foodservice company in the world”? That’s probably news to $44 billion Sysco, among others.

Which also brings into question if Hampton Creek is “the fastest growing food company on earth.”

Which brings into question a lot of things about this company and this guy. We attempt to answer some of those questions with our cover story, Josh Tetrick: Hero or Hustler?.

Tetrick has been in the news a lot lately -- for his prolific fund raising, being sued by Unilever and getting written up by the FDA for a standard of identity issue (in which I support his stance). He's managed to draw a lot of attention to himself, so we're just following suit. He's both self-proclaimed, and been anointed by others, as the future of food. I beg to differ.

All of food, even Big Food, is undergoing an historic reformation now. Every issue of this magazine has stories on another company “cleaning up” its ingredient statement. Processors are finding ways to make food better, and people seem willing to pay at least a little more for those improvements.

I’m not sure we need someone to lead us out of the desert anymore. But if you are looking for the messiah, Josh Tetrick is not him.

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