By Dennis Archambault
It’s intriguing to read a commercial advertisement for a company that proposes a disruptive thought: “The only way to feed lots of folks is to feed them lots of crappy food. Because crappy food is cheap. And it’s tasty. And it’s easy. And we all nod our heads, not because we don’t care, but because there doesn’t seem to be a better way…” That’s from an advertisement placed in the New York Times on June 28, 2015 by Hampton Creek, a San Francisco-based food technology company.
The ad goes on: “A carrot is 30 percent more expensive today. A can of corn-based soda? 34 percent cheaper. It’s an approach to food we’ve had since 1972. If we think with the same mental model, if we do the same things that created a world of crappy food, we’re not going to create something that is just better. What would it look like if we started over?”
Hampton Creek, an upstart among food processing giants like Kraft and Nestle, says it wants to develop products such as “Just Mayo,” which offers a product that tastes like traditional the egg-based without eggs. Instead, data analysts and biochemists deconstruct 4,000 plant samples and analyze their molecular structures to create different combinations that taste good. After all, the ad continues, “the only way the good thing wins is when he good thing is so radically better than the not-so-good thing that you cannot help but do it. If it’s not affordable and delicious, it’s completely irrelevant to solving the problem… That’s our philosophy of change.”
As with many commercial advertisements, Hampton Foods is alluding to the bigger question, “How do we create food products that are nutritious and socially responsibility in the context of sustainability, accessibility, and affordability?” That’s the population health question.
Much of the conversation about food distribution has been about “farm-to-table” solutions; local production, four-season farming in northern climates, neighborhood-based markets, fresh food cooking education, etc. However, much of the food we eat, and will continue to eat, will be processed. Hampton Foods is a commercial answer. And investors apparently are taking them seriously.
FoodLab Detroit https://foodlabdetroit.com/who-we-are/leadership is an organization that is working with the Detroit Eastern Market Corporation and its new community kitchen capacity, to create food products and distribution solutions. FoodLab membership involves several food processing entrepreneurs who are looking at food through a nutritious and sustainable-use lens. Also, the Detroit Food Academy http://detroitfoodacademy.com/, is giving high school students an early lesson in proper food preparation that could result in new entrepreneurs.
Hampton Foods has investors, vision, and the scientific team to do well by preparing good food. They claim that in 2015 its food processing has resulted in 1.5 billion gallons of water saved, 11.8 billion milligrams of sodium avoided, and 2.8 billion milligrams of cholesterol avoided.” How much of that is “marketing numbers” (after all, it is an advertisement…) is unknown. Suffice to say that they seem to be doing the right thing. What’s important is their vision proposal: “It’s difficult to see the world without preconceptions. But making a significant impact requires us to close our eyes — and open them back up as if we’re seeing the world for the very first time. To see the world without those rules that lock us in is to see, well, a better way. Potentially, many times better. And how we feed ourselves, something that consumes us as a company that makes better food, requires abandoning what we think we know.”
Dennis Archambault is director of Public Affairs for Authority Health.