Josh Tetrick, the founder of JUST Inc., is driven by making it easy for people to eat well. His San Francisco-based food tech company has developed the first plant-based egg which scrambles "just like" eggs. Simone, the founder of Nutrition Hub, met Josh during his visit in Germany and spoke with him about his company and his mission - while eating a JUST scrambled egg.
Josh, you founded JUST - what is it you want to achieve?
Our mission is to make it easy for people to eat well. And we started by looking at plants to find proteins that have the same properties such as those in eggs. After extensive research of more than seven years we found proteins in the mung bean with exactly these properties. Today, our plant-based egg is sold in over thousands of stores in the US, in Singapore and is coming to Europe by the end of 2019. For the distribution in Europe we have partnered with the family-owned PHW group - a company open to tap into innovative plant-based products and who has a strong distribution network.
You studied sociology and government - what triggered your interest in nutrition?
Studying sociology and government means you study institutions and systems. What I realized is that when you look at the system of food, it is not just about the composition of food. It is equally important to understand what governments subsidize, which plants farmers grow, the current results of science in the field of food and nutrition, the psychology of the consumer. All in all, a lot of sociology, psychology and politics is embedded in the system of food.
I also did not eat so well when I was grown up and when I was working in Africa for the United Nations I saw even more what not eating well means. This bothered me and I was convinced that the food system is one of the big systems that needs a lot of help. This was the trigger to found a company to contribute - at least a little bit - to a healthier and more sustainable food system. It was a personal thing and my academic background encouraged me to think with a more systems- based approach.
You do not come from a family with an entrepreneurial background and yet you became a successful founder and entrepreneur. What happened that you made the decision to become an entrepreneur?
It happened when I was working in Africa and I was trying to do my best to help kids. I went there because I grew up in the US and I had never experienced anything else outside the US. My mission was to do a little bit of good. I was very quickly frustrated that things were taking so long. I could not understand why a problem that was obviously so urgent did not get fixed faster. So I started to ask myself "Why is this the case?" - and this again is the systems-based approach. I looked at non-profit organisations and how they work. Then I read the book "Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits" and this was the first time that someone made me aware that one can use capitalism for good. And I started thinking again and again "I could use capitalism for good...I could use capitalism for good...". And I had the impression that there are not many companies out there that were thinking like I thought. So the only way to go about it, was to do it by myself. I did not take any single class in entrepreneurship. I am 38 today and I started the company when I was 29.
Your R&D team has invested many years in developing JUST eggs. As an entrepreneur you have to start very simple to test and validate your idea. What was the very first thing you did?
The very first thing I did was, I was ordering a lot of plants on amazon. At this time, I was living at my ex-girl-friends couch and all the plants were sent to her house. I took the plants and mixed them to a flour. I fried the flour in a pan, tried to make a muffin out of it, put the flour into the freezer and tested different things to see what happens. This was really the first thing - I wanted to get my hands on it.
Now, almost 10 years later you are selling the first plant-based egg that scrambles like chicken egg. Can you describe the process how the product is manufactured?
The extensive work was to see, if there is plant out there that has the properties we were looking for. We looked at the molecular properties of thousands of plants and asked questions like "What is the protein yield of the plant species? What is its thermal stability? Does it scramble in a pan? Does it taste like egg? Does it smell like egg?". It was important for us, that we do not have to modify the plant. Finally, we developed an automated process with robots to speed up this process of finding the right plant.
After years of research, we had identified a protein from the mung bean providing the properties we were searching for. Today, the manufacturing process looks like this: We source the mung bean, we mill the beans into a flour, then spin the flour fast to separate the functional protein from the fat and the starch, then we have the protein and we add oil, spices, natural colouring such as carotenoids and turmeric and preservatives. Nothing fancy all in all.
Here is the link to Josh's company JUST Inc. Although we were a bit sceptical about the product, the scrambled egg tasted really good (like egg!). Meeting Josh and having a conversation with him was also much more inspiring than we expected: We are impressed by Josh's mission and commitment to contribute to make the world a healthier and more sustainable place.