HOW TO MAKE ENEMIES: Try inventing a vegan egg.
Three years after embarking on a sweeping effort to build a cheaper, safer, and all-around healthier egg using all-natural plant proteins, Silicon Valley startup Hampton Creek is facing The Big Backlash. All Silicon Valley startups reach this point, somewhere along the way—though the backlash is perhaps more extreme in the case of Hampton Creek.
In early August, fueled by disgruntled ex-Hampton Creek employees, Business Insider published a story questioning both the company’s ethics and its science, raising doubts over how Hampton Creek portrayed its egg-less products, which include cookie dough and mayonnaise. Three weeks later, the Food and Drug Administration told the startup that its eggless mayonnaise can’t be called mayonnaise. And by the beginning of September, a Freedom of Information Act request turned up emails showing that the American Egg Board—the egg-industry marketing organization (“incredible edible eggTM“) overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—had marshaled PR professionals and other forces in an effort to blunt the startup’s progress and perhaps even encourage unfavorable treatment from the FDA and others.
Naturally, Hampton Creek is in fight-back mode. It played a role in the widespread distribution of those FOIA-ed emails—an MIT researcher with connections to one Hampton Creek co-founder acquired the emails, before Hampton Creek helped distribute them to journalists—and now, it’s pushing for added leverage.
What I hate about vegan eggs is, they tell you they’re vegan within the first 30 seconds after you meet them.