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5 Minutes with Joshua Klein, Hampton Creek Foods

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In the aisle of Whole Foods, you may come across a jar of Just Mayo created by Hampton Creek Foods (HCF), a rising star in the quickly expanding food tech arena. Yet this is much more than just mayo: HCF has received financial backing from Khosla Ventures and Founders Fund, as well as recognition from big names such as Bill Gates and top chefs around the country. But why?

I sought out Josh Klein, the company’s director of biochemistry and R&D. Josh oversees a special technological process that allows Hampton Creek Foods to use a plant-based substitute for eggs in a variety of products, including their most visible Just Mayo. He believes the trend of food is changing toward the path where more biotech, food science and chemistry will go into what we eat. Because egg consumption is high and about one-third of all eggs in the U.S. are used as functional ingredients in products such as baked goods, Hampton Creek devised a way remove and replace eggs with plant proteins, thus reducing our carbon footprint in the environment. During our interview, Josh shared a shocking fact: It takes 39 units of fossil fuel to create one kcal from meat versus 2.1 kcals from plants. This is certainly a driver for the team in Hampton Creek Foods.

To achieve the company’s goal, Josh is challenged with a process that isolates plant proteins to substitute those of egg proteins. “It is complicated,” he states, “but certainly possible. We want a product that appeals to all public audiences. The most important thing we keep in our minds is we don’t try to change costumers’ preferences—just offer them a better, tastier solution.”

Hampton Creek has been very successful in securing seed funding. Josh believes their investors were looking to make an investment for disruptive technology that can change the way people eat food.

With a Ph.D. in biochemistry and a prior focus on research around HIV, Josh said moving to HRC has been an eye-opening experience. His advice for new graduates: “Be persistent and identify the company that resonates with your passion.”

Annie Ho is a third-year food science and technology major at UC Davis and an intern with the Sustainable AgTech Innovation Center. She is interested in food technology and how it interacts with the way we engage, eat, and cook food today.

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