Yesterday Bloomberg reported that JUST, the company known for its plant-based cookie dough, mayo, and eggless scramble, is raising $200 million. According to Crunchbase, JUST has raised $220 million so far.
JUST and CLSA (the overseas arm of Chinese investment bank Citic Securities Co. rumored to be involved) declined to comment, but given how hot plant-based (and cell-based) foods are right now, here are a few ways the company should consider spending the investment:
JUST was supposed to bring cell-based meat to market by the end of 2018. Suffice it to say, that didn’t happen. The production technology seemed to be in place and the taste tests went well. What kept JUST from its goal was regulatory hurdles. Last November the USDA and FDA decided they would jointly regulate cell-based meat, which was a step towards establishing a clear regulatory process for bringing cultured meat to market. However, there are still a lot of question marks, including labeling. Until those are resolved, JUST can’t move forward.
The JUST website states the company will now bring cell-based meat to market by the end of 2019 (again, pending regulatory considerations), which gives it another 10 months to get its cell-based meat approved by the FDA/USDA and figure out how it will be labeled. To facilitate the process, JUST is currently hiring a Director of Regulatory Affairs, which is a step in the right direction. But if the startup wants to be the first to bring cell-based meat to market — or to have a prayer of bringing it to market, period — it would be wise to use the new round of funding to help hire more folks to navigate the sticky regulatory issues surrounding cultured meat.
(Interestingly, the Director of Regulatory Affairs job posting calls for someone to “serve as subject matter expert for domestic and international regulations. Which makes sense since JUST recently told CBS San Francisco that the company plans to launch its cell-based meat in Asia first.)
More JUST Egg
So far, JUST’s mung bean-based “egg” is its most unique offering. Vegan cookie dough and mayo are great, sure, but other companies make those products, too. But no one else so far has been able to make scrambled eggs without, well, the eggs. I’d like to see JUST Egg available more widely here in the U.S., and also internationally.
JUST has already started that expansion outside North America. In addition to the U.S., the eggless scramble is now available in Hong Kong, and China, and the company plans to move into Japan and India next.
It’s in this area of the world that JUST could make some of the greatest impact. According to World Atlas, Japan is the largest consumer of eggs in the world, and China is the third largest. If consumers there are willing to try a newfangled product like JUST Egg, it could significantly cut down on the global environmental footprint of poultry production.
New products would also be great. Imagine, say, a line of frozen breakfast sandwiches made with JUST Egg patties. Which would be especially good with…
JUST has not hinted at any plans to develop plant-based cheese, but there’s certainly a big market for it. While there are plenty of reasonably delicious stand-ins for meat, eggs, mayo, and yogurt, no one has yet been able to crack the code to excellent vegan cheese (at least in my mind). And we all need something to tide us over until Perfect Day swoops in with cheddar made without the cow.
Obviously to achieve all this would take a lot more than $200 million. But if the rumors are true and JUST’s coffers are about to expand, it seems like the most lucrative place to invest time and resources is in cell-based meat. After all, the company has a promise to fulfill and is racing against a timeline to do that. And as the first company to bring cultured meat to market, JUST is also paving the way for all cell-based meat and seafood companies. That’s a lot of pressure. If they want to succeed, the startup will have to invest some serious time, talent, and cash in figuring out a way around the regulatory roadblocks.
This post has been updated with information from a San Francisco CBS Local piece on JUST’s plans for the future.