Plant-based food startup Eat Just Inc. raised $200 million in new financing as consumer demand surges for alternative proteins.
Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund led the round, which also included Charlesbank Capital Partners and Vulcan Capital, Eat Just said Tuesday. Representatives of Qatar Investment Authority and Charlesbank will join the company’s board.
The new funds will be used by Eat Just, the maker of mung bean-based Just Egg as well as cultured chicken meat, to build production capacity, continue a global expansion and accelerate research and development. The company has raised more than $650 million since its founding in 2011.
Plant-based alternatives to animal protein have gained traction as climate- and health-conscious consumers look for more options – and as manufacturers create products that more faithfully imitate their animal-based counterparts. While most Americans still eat animal protein, almost half are reducing their intake, according to a recent survey from market research firm Mintel.
Eat Just previously had been valued at $1.2 billion and is still valued at more than $1 billion, Chief Executive Officer Josh Tetrick said in an interview, but he declined to be more specific. Bloomberg reported in October that the company was raising funds.
Plant-based meat, egg, and dairy companies pulled in $2.1 billion in investments in 2020, more than triple the amount raised in 2019, according to a report from industry group Good Food Institute. Cultured meat and dairy companies, meanwhile, raised more than six times the previous year’s total, the report found.
Eat Just’s egg alternatives are sold in more than 20,000 retailers and 1,000 foodservice locations. About 95% of the company’s sales are in the U.S., but it has been selling faux eggs in China since 2019 and recently launched in Dicos, a major Chinese fast-food chain. Eat Just, which also sells in Canada, plans to expand into Korea and Europe by the end of the year.
This past December, the company was approved to sell its cultured chicken in Singapore, which became the first government to allow the sale of meat made from extracted animal cells and grown in bioreactors. The product has been sold in nugget form by the restaurant 1880.
While the plant-based market is well established, the widespread adoption of cultured meat is still an open question, even for investors. Cliff Su, an analyst and portfolio manager at Vulcan Capital, called the cultured meat operations “interesting,” but that’s not the main focus from his firm’s perspective.
“For now, we think they’ve got a wonderful business just on the plant-based egg side,” he said.
Tetrick acknowledged the challenge of convincing consumers. But he said the first plate purchased in Singapore was at a table with children. The transition to this new form of meat, he said, will be “driven by that generation.”
Eat Just is focused on reducing production costs for its egg products, Tetrick said. Since 2019, that has dropped to below 20 cents per egg equivalent, but it remains above the cost of conventional egg production, which the company calculates is about 8.2 cents apiece.
Likewise, costs for its cultured meat are currently “way too high,” Tetrick said without giving a precise figure. The company currently offers ground meat for nuggets or skewers, but he hopes to launch a breast by the end of the year and beef in 2022.
Tetrick said he expects Eat Just to go public, though he doesn’t have a firm timetable. He wants to reach operating profitability first, which he says could happen before the end of this year.
“We’re definitely not going to sell to another company,” he said. “And we’re not going to stay private.”
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