[THE INVESTOR] San Francisco-based food startup JUST, which debuted its plant-based items that replace animal products in Hong Kong recently, plans to expand its footprint across Asia.
“In the next decade or so, more than half of our sales will be in Asia,” Josh Tetrick, JUST founder and CEO, told The Investor in a recent phone interview. “Primarily, that’s where half of the world’s population is. That’s where issues of food demand and food security dominate. That’s where relationships around food are the deepest.”
In January, JUST, formerly Hampton Creek, launched three vegan products in Hong Kong in partnership with Green Common, a local plant-based grocery and casual dining chain. They include Just Scramble, egg substitute made of mung beans, Just Mayo, egg-less mayonnaise, and Just Ranch dressings.
JUST CEO Josh Tetrick. JUST
Following its Hong Kong debut, it is seeking to tap into other major Asian cities, including Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing and Tokyo.
“We will eventually enter all the nations. We are in the process of deciding where to start first,” said Tetrick, hinting at the possibility of launching in another Asian city later this year.
The CEO is also eyeing Korea as a possible destination, acknowledging the country’s “deep cultural connection to food.” “I think what we do will resonate a lot in Seoul and across Korea,” he said. “We will figure out ways to get there. We just have to find the right partner.”
Founded in 2011 by Tetrick and his high school friend Josh Balk, JUST sells various plant-based products, including its best- known mayonnaise, cookie dough and salad dressing, available in the US at retail outlets like Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Safeway, as well as in Mexico.
JUST, touting its mission to shake up the food industry by providing delicious, healthy and sustainable food to the masses, has ambitious plans to introduce animal-free dairies -- including butter and ice cream -- and cultured meat, including chicken, sausage and even Kobe beef, in the future.
To accomplish this, its core technology discovery platform, which uses machine-learning to scan and discover new plant-based ingredients, will enable the firm to develop innovative foods from plants with better protein, fat and nutrition at a fraction of the cost of traditional offerings.
Just Scramble. JUST
Tetrick -- who himself is a vegan -- emphasizes JUST is more than a vegan startup, that targets wider palates.
“We think we can make a whole lot of food items better with plants. When we first started, we didn’t strategize who our target customers are. We just needed to figure out how to make stuff that tastes really good and make people feel a little bit better after eating them,” he said. “And it turned out the highest percentage of people who buy our products are young mothers. They are neither vegan nor vegetarian. They just want food that tastes really good and feel good about feeding their kids. Lot of moms are like that across the world.”
So far, JUST has raised over US$200 million funding from big names such as Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, Founders Fund and China Construction Bank, among others.
“We are seeking strategic investors, who are not just about capital, but really help us grow, understand sourcing better, distribution better and manufacturing better,” he said, adding the firm is not actively seeking investments at the moment.
Ultimately, JUST wants to become an aspirational food brand, like Nike and Apple, he emphasized. “I would like us to become an aspirational brand. Hopefully through that, we can invest more in R&D, distribute more and achieve our mission to build a world where everyone is eating well faster.”
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)