Why is it important to look for animal protein replacement products?
Livestock sector contributes to 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions which is equivalent to all the vehicle exhaust in the world. It causes water, soil and air pollution, billions of animals live behind the walls of factory farms. To keep it under control, we need to drastically reduce meat consumption.
The issue of hunger is also prominent: about a billion people go to bed hungry every night. Many eat in an unsustainable and unhealthy way – type 2 diabetes and obesity are accelerating. The food system is not just and we need to fix it.
What are the tools of the current food system?
Current food system toolkit is pretty limited: we have processed sugar, conventional animal protein, soy and corn. Technology can expand our toolkit, but at the end of the day, the product also has to taste good.
The mission of JUST is: “Eating well is a basic right”. JUST exists for all the folks, that want to eat better and make ethical choices, but find it extremely hard to change their eating habits.
As a first big challenge, the company decided to replace the cheapest source of animal protein on the planet – the conventional chicken egg. There are 1,1 trillion chicken eggs produced around the world yearly and all the pre-existing tools were not helpful in terms of creating a vegan analogue.
To solve the problem, JUST followed the scientific approach and started looking for a solution in the plant world, hoping to find something among the 357,000+ species of plants that exist in the world. They sourced plants from 53 countries, milled them into powder, looked at molecular and functional characteristics and tested their performance in the real world.
Many plants just evaporated on the pan. But then they found a green mung bean that scrambled on the pan. It has been in the food system for more than 4300 years and is widely known in Asia. Free of cholesterol and antibiotics, mung bean has an amount of protein similar to that of a chicken egg, needs significantly less water and land and, most importantly, has a familiar taste.
How to help consumers make an ethical choice?
At the moment, Just Egg is 4-5 times more expensive than a conventional egg. In the next couple of years, the price should go below the cost of production for the conventional chicken egg.
Josh Tetrick is not a big believer in behaviour change. In order to make a difference, you need to create a good thing which is delicious and affordable. “We don’t want the people to eat space food, we want to enjoy eggs with their family as they are used to,” adds Josh. When an average cook takes JUST egg home, it behaves like a regular chicken egg on the pan and has the same texture and versatility of taste.
How does the meat and egg industry react to your innovation?
At first, the industry resisted, but then they embraced the innovation: the largest egg processor in Europe Eurovo agreed to cooperate with JUST. That’s when change is happening: the biggest processors in the world see money and ethics in it and build even a bigger company by embracing the current trends.
When it comes to governments, some are a little more ahead of others. Josh is sure, that it is necessary to be true about the product safety and science behind it and hopes that the regulators will soon understand its potential impact.
New goal: chicken meat with no animal killed
While it was possible to find an egg replacement in the plant kingdom, the meat problem was even more challenging. There are many replacements out there, but people don’t want vegan and vegetarian versions of chicken nuggets. They want real meat, and instead of denying it, JUST tried to manufacture it in a clean way by taking cells of animals and feeding nutrients to these cells.
JUST chicken is made of chicken, but it does not require killing the animal and using water and land resources. If everything goes well, maybe in 10 to 20 years we won’t need to kill a chicken in order to eat a nugget. The key to it is reducing the cost of growing cells.