Business all sunny-side-up for Alameda plant-based food maker Just Egg
By Lou Fancher
The 12-year history of alternative protein company Eat Just reads like a sci-fi action adventure movie.
Founded in 2011 by California entrepreneur Josh Tetrick and stamping out its vegan, plant-based footprint with Just Mayo and a line of dressings, opening gambits involved liquid condiments with an alternative egg ingredient made using pea protein. The product’s proprietary ingredients, highly protected manufacturing processes, branding and marketing stirred excitement and controversy.
Nimble, constantly pushing the edge of science while roving the earth in search of better plant-based protein sources and innovating within their business practices, Eat Just in late 2018 launched Just Egg (ju.st/about) and turned its energy to a worldwide quest to discover — and create — the perfect, plant-based, scramble-able, delectable egg.
Every adventure movie has a hero, and for Just Egg, it’s the humble mung bean. That discovery, and being a first mover ahead of the rest, has been a key to the company outlasting and outperforming most of its competitors during Just Egg’s four years in operation, according to Matt Riley, the chief revenue officer since 2017 of parent company Eat Just. In an interview, Riley suggested coming from a more traditional consumer package background as he does provides an expert, objective perspective but that Just Egg’s growth rate is obvious and clearly remarkable regardless.
“During the last four years when we’ve been singularly focused on Just Egg, they (the growth rates for plant-based foods) have been significantly greater than traditional chicken egg-based foods,” Riley said. He added that despite recent word of a sales slowdown in plant-based meats, the company has seen consistent increases in the consumption and velocities of the Just Egg product line.
“Our first full year after launching Just Egg in the fourth quarter of the prior year was in 2019. We’ve more than doubled our sales (from) Year One versus Year Two, nearly doubled it again in the third year and added 30% growth last year.”
Significantly for Bay Area residents, Riley attributes a portion of the company’s growth and forecast of continued success to a small-scale pilot manufacturing plant next to Just Egg office complex in Alameda.
“We’re committed to (our base in) the Bay Area, and the facility in Alameda is an important part of our makeup,” Riley said. “Our intent to supply the consumer is national and even global. Alameda has helped us to build and will be an important part of our future.
“We have a program at our Good Meat pilot facility that produces cultivated, cultured meat and is next to our facility that has the ability to produce our liquid and precooked Just Egg products. In Alameda, that means we can replicate large-scale manufacturing in a controlled environment. On a small scale, we can innovate, experiment, improve upon, create and continue to modify our new products.”
Backing up the success of Just Egg beyond hard data has Riley promoting the product’s key features and its appeal to a broad range of consumers. Just Egg has no cholesterol or genetically modified organisms and per serving has 5 to 7 grams of protein and 69% less saturated fat compared to a chicken egg.
It’s folded-egg product that was recently picked up by 500 Barnes and Noble outlets — adding to Just Egg’s presence already in dozens of restaurants, hundreds of Peet’s Coffee shops and Safeway, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target and other stores — has 100 calories per serving along with 7 grams of protein, 7 grams of fat and no cholesterol. With costs always relevant, Just Egg’s average retail price of $4.64 per 12-ounce bottle is only a few cents more than a recent average of $4.58 for 12 eggs.
“It’s a broader universe than 30 years ago, when the plant-based category appealed only to a narrow field of vegans and vegetarians,” Riley said. “Consumers now understand (that) ‘plant-based’ is synonymous with better heart health.
“We’re now in place in the industry where compromises on taste, price, and availability are shrinking. It’s priced competitively and tastes delicious. That wasn’t the case 30 years ago. In milks, meats, cheeses, and eggs, there are a lot more choices for consumers, so we’re seeing the growth continue to outpace conventional comparisons.”
For people concerned about the health of hens and the environment, Riley offers research data gathered by the company and supported by independent industry researchers. Having sold more than 350 million units of plant-based egg substitutes, the company boasts of having saved more than 61 million kilograms of carbon emissions (by emitting 93% less carbon dioxide than in chicken egg manufacturing), saved 12.8 billion gallons of water and protected 18,823 acres of land.
Made from the mung bean that dates back more than 4,000 years, Just Egg is also produced with canola oil, water, turmeric for coloring and natural flavorings. Farmers growing plant-based egg protein use 98% less water and 83% less land than is used to produce one chicken egg, according to the company.
In addition to being early on the market and thereby establishing a foothold and considerable consumer awareness ahead of their competitors, Riley attributes Just Egg’s strength to two additional factors: their fifth version of the product and the business model’s division of upstream and downstream channels.
“We’ve improved our formulation: our fifth version is textured, tastes, looks, cooks and scrambles more like an egg,” he said. “Delicious food is what brings consumers. It’s high stakes to enter, but if your product isn’t good, no one will come back. You have to outperform.
“It’s not the only path to success, but our contract manufacturers produce the finished product while we focus on making the protein. We focus on developing and producing the protein ingredients and not on finishing, manufacturing, packaging, storing and the distribution channels closest to the consumers and grocery stores. We’re closer to the farms where mung bean is produced and on converting it into high-quality protein.”
Like all companies, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Just Egg’s trajectory. In 2019, the company was pursuing retail and food-service channels. When COVID hit in 2020 and many food service channels essentially shut down, growth in the sector was slow. With the pace now picking up again, Riley said the recent severe avian flu season and spiking chicken egg prices were “lessening but never will be over” and that he sees both channels embracing high-quality plant-based alternatives.
“Think of all the restaurants built around fast-casual breakfast: coffee chains, colleges and universities, cruise lines, health care,” he said. There are so many opportunities in that food service channel. We’re in two million households and have strong brand awareness, and that makes it easier to sell to restaurants and stores.
“We have a product that comes from plants, tastes and functions like a conventional egg and is better for you and the planet. We’re maintaining that message regardless of the environment around us.”