Can protein startups and their investors take on Big Cow? (

67 points by janober 339 days ago


xs 338 days ago

Hampton Creek is the makers of "Just Mayo" which is talked about in this article. What isn't said is that they've been on the shelves at Target up until 2 months ago when Target pulled all their products for an unknown reason. Speculation has it that Hellmans was very upset that Just Mayo was disrupting the mayo business and delivered falsified claims to Target trying to get them to pull the products. It's a real slugfest right now.

On another note, Beyond Meat's founder was featured on "How I Built This", a favorite podcast for many HN'ers.

    pkaye 338 days ago

    Hampton Creek had their own controversies. They early on would send out people to buy their own mayo and create fake demand.

      DiabloD3 338 days ago

      How is that any different than handing out free product coupons like most companies do to fake demand?

nawitus 339 days ago

I recommend eating tofu as tofu, not as a fake meat. It's delicious if you know how to prepare it.

    hn_throwaway_99 339 days ago

    I think what these companies are doing has a different appeal, though. There are plenty of vegetarian protein sources I enjoy, but I also just like the taste of a good burger. If I could get a burger that tasted like real beef, but without the environmental and ethical concerns of beef, I would gladly trade it.

    borne0 339 days ago

    Very true, Pad Thai without any protein aside from tofu is still delicious.

      contingencies 338 days ago

      Yep. Sugar, oil and salt with a bit of crunchy veg, chilli, soft rice noodles, often egg, a touch of fish sauce and lime. Classic. Will definitely be on offer at launch :)

        338 days ago

    hnnsj 339 days ago

    What's wrong with eating fake meat if that's what you like?

      nawitus 338 days ago

      Nothing, and I do. It's just odd when I see tofu recommended as a "fake meat".

    rgrieselhuber 339 days ago

    Not a great food for men, though.

      fernly 339 days ago

      Here are two PubMed surveys that show there is no evidence for Soy consumption having feminizing effects on men.



        rgrieselhuber 338 days ago

        I'll do some more research on this, since you took the time to post. My initial reaction after doing a bit of searching on the author is that he appears to have a financial interest in promoting soy-based foods.

        DrScump 337 days ago

        Note that the second is specific to isoflavones.

        A newer study I came across this afternoon in an endocrinology journal came to the same conclusion about soy isoflavones.

      amalag 339 days ago

      I think men in societies where they have eaten tofu for centuries like China, Indonesia and Japan are doing just fine.

        rgrieselhuber 339 days ago

        I can't speak for China and Indonesia, but I've lived in Japan for a number of years. Tofu is not super common as a dish, mostly as a filler in small portions of some side dishes.

          hnnsj 339 days ago

          What do you have to say to the other two responses that debunk your claim?

            rgrieselhuber 338 days ago

            I'm always willing to look at evidence. I'm a little concerned about the objectivity of the author of the papers linked to.

              paulcole 338 days ago

              You mean as opposed to the 0 papers you cited?

                rgrieselhuber 338 days ago

                Well, yes actually. I've read enough over the years that I personally avoid soy and soy-based products. When it comes up, I explain why. It's not a great accomplishment to link to a paper that performs well in organic search.

                  jack9 338 days ago

                  > It's not a great accomplishment to link to a paper that performs well in organic search.

                  It's a cursory BS test. If the evidence is hard to find, it's generally because there's no evidence available from credible sources. Belief that the truth is out there, is not sufficient anymore.

                  The Cochrane Collaboration has nothing.

                  A google search might lead to the NIH having an article citing "studies" about various related effects, but mostly says nothing and has 0 references.

                  But if you search the NIH databases via using (soybean[Title/Abstract]) AND men[Title/Abstract] you'll come across a doctor who wrote this: - admittedly, I don't think it's compelling as a standalone opinion.

                  This is a study, by a relatively small organization is better:

                  You might benefit from seeing the evidence in favor of Soy being a serious factor in reducing prostate cancer rates and other such ancillary benefits.

                  mustacheemperor 338 days ago

                  You can read a lot to support nearly any claim, that statement is less valuable evidence than even an actual anecdote. Regardless, surely you'd be able to recall at least one reputable source to serve your "explanation." Why do all the high performing organic search results supporting your claim come from sketchy websites and paranoid blogs? I see the "soy is evil" sentiment come up on hn with some regularity, and I can't understand why because the argument never presents it as more a credible claim than alternative medicines or homeopathy.

        cyanexttuesday 339 days ago

        I read they don't eat a lot and when they do its fermented.

        Some scientific studies on soy prep and pseudo estrogen effects would be fascinating.

        anotherbrownguy 338 days ago


        - only some people

        - occasionally

        - along with all other types of food making tofu a very small portion of the diet

      jamesgagan 339 days ago

      Debunked: "Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis."

        WillPostForFood 338 days ago

        Citing one study (meta analysis or not) and claiming debunked is not a serious argument, especially with respect to diet where there is data all over the place.

        There was an inverse association between soy food intake and sperm concentration that remained significant after accounting for age, abstinence time, body mass index, caffeine and alcohol intake and smoking. In the multivariate-adjusted analyses, men in the highest category of soy food intake had 41 million sperm/ml less than men who did not consume soy foods.

          cropsieboss 338 days ago

          Wrong measure. What if men had lower concentration of sperm but higher volume of the ejaculate? Soy is known to have benefits on prostate and much of the volume of sperm comes from prostate liquid.

            mickronome 338 days ago

            Possibly wrong measure, and not the whole story in any case.

            The implicitly suggested volume measure might not be the wrong measure either since fertility depends on quite a few variables, several we don't even know about.

            These unknowns are actually a bit concerning on their own since fertility has been falling rapidly, at least in most of the western hemisphere, and the cause is unknown.

              cropsieboss 338 days ago

              Well, Asia does not seem to suffer yet soy is a significant part of their caloric intake.

                brianwawok 338 days ago

                Citation required? I doubt it is even 5%.

                  cropsieboss 337 days ago

                  > Nevertheless, Americans as a whole still consume very little soy protein. Based on 2003 data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, per-capita soy protein consumption is less than 1 gram (g) per day in most European and North American countries, although certain subpopulations such as vegetarians, Asian immigrants, and infants fed soy-based formula consume more. The Japanese, on the other hand, consume an average 8.7 g of soy protein per day; Koreans, 6.2–9.6 g; Indonesians, 7.4 g; and the Chinese, 3.4 g.


                  At least it's several times bigger than European and USA consumption.

                  Citation required for what? The fact that they eat more soy?

                  Demonizing soy is just a fad. Like demonizing meat or dairy.

                  Most of USA and Europe eats female mammals like cows and chickens, are we going to make claims that female animal estrogen contained in that flesh makes men infertile? Seems like a much more probable cause than phytoestrogen from plants, not that I would be irresposible to make that argument without any evidence, as is the case for soy.

      microcolonel 339 days ago

      Especially with the lightspeed downward trend in androgens and fertility over the last few decades.

      zython 339 days ago

      How do you mean ?

      As long as its nutricous and preferrably somewhat edible, it should be at the very least not harmful for any sex, right ?

        paulddraper 339 days ago

        The parent is referring to the presence of isoflavones, which can have estrogen-like effects.

        IDK if any of that is actually a problem, but that's the reference.

          zython 339 days ago

          Ah, looks like your're right.

          Good thing soy isnt the only good source of plant based protein.

Animats 338 days ago

Several startups are trying to grow real meat in vitro. Memphis Meats (which is in San Francisco, not Tennessee) has succeeded in growing chicken in vitro from stem cells. Mark Post at the University of Maastricht has been able to grow beef in vitro. This stuff tastes like meat from animals. It's the production cost that's the problem.

That's going to be the good stuff. Further downscale are the processed soy products. These are Soy Extender 2.0; textured vegetable protein processed to make it taste more like meat. You can buy soy hamburger patties now, under the Beyond Meat brand. Whole Foods carries them. Anyone tried one?

nibstwo 338 days ago

I had a startup that made software for meat processing companies. It is pretty horrifying being in meat plants but most people are not yet at the point where they can accept not eating it. In my experience I feel better eating occasional offal and grass-fed meat than I do regularly eating meat of any other variety or eliminating it entirely. It is one thing to claim moral high ground and simply avoid eating meat, and we can absolutely do away with it on a taste basis based on what is coming out of vegan restaurants these days, but the cultural shift will take a long time and "good enough" is clearly a higher bar than tofu. I suspect it is somewhat like electric cars. A more political issue than we like to admit and something where assuming the products were comparable in price/taste/texture/experience people might opt for the socially concious choice, that threshold simple isn't there for the majority of people yet. A worthy pursuit but one that is not necessarily limited to startups. Big Food and one off restaurants are pursuing these ideas more fundamentally than anyone else is right now and I suspect that they will be the eventual winners of the race to good enough. The meat industry is fundamentally antiquated the way it is setup now and will simply shrink down to as demand wanes, or more likely just switch to exporting.

jpao79 338 days ago

I really do think there is a pretty sise-able market at least in California for people looking to reduce their intake of meat but not wanting to go full vegan. People who like the taste of a good burger but want to be healthier (more fiber, less fat and less antibiotics) and reduce the environmental impacts. I am one of them.

I think one of the simplest solutions would be to have a different line of products under a different brand name which had a mixture of plant based meat alternative (i.e. Boca or Impossible Burger) to actual meat in the burger. That way you get the taste of meat but the substrate is fiber based.

The level of actual meat could be adjusted like they do fat content for ground beef (i.e. I'm feeling sorta vegan today so I'm gonna go 75% plant based today).

The one thing I never understood is American vegetarian restaurants who serve tofu steaks as the entire dish. This looks awful:

Asian people always eat tofu blended in with a bunch of meat and vegetables for the actual flavor. Here are some examples:

    pampa 338 days ago

    > People who like the taste of a good burger but want to be healthier (more fiber, less fat and less antibiotics)

    If the goal is to be healthier, why not just go with the highest quality beef you can find, but eat it less often? A quality steak once a week sure must be healthier than a heavily processed veggie burger every day (tho i have no data to prove it).

tunesmith 338 days ago

I don't really understand why this stuff is in the news so much these days. Boca burgers have been around forever and they taste fine - I tried Impossible Foods and it's at best a marginal improvement. And as for mayo, Vegennaise has been around for a while too and it's totally fine, other than getting a bit soupy when the jar is almost empty.

cyanexttuesday 339 days ago

I hope so. If we can make meat or something really similar without killing animals, I would consider this a huge win for lessening the misery of the universe.

    ovao 339 days ago

    Is the universe at large legitimately impacted by our meat consumption? Off-hand, I can't think of a single thing mankind has done that has more than neglibly impacted anything beyond our own atmosphere.

      dpc59 339 days ago

      Most of the misery we know about isn't beyond our own atmosphere either.

        ovao 339 days ago

        The misery observable and relevant to us, yes, which I'm not discounting with my comment.

      339 days ago

    azakai 339 days ago

    In addition to lessening misery, reducing the consumption of animal meat also helps prevent global warming (since animal farming is a significant contributor to the problem).

      macintux 338 days ago

      Not to mention the fresh water consumption requirements for cattle are obscene.

      DiabloD3 338 days ago

      This is an unpopular statement around these parts, but, there's no proof that any human activity is causing the current increase in global temperatures, and they match the progression that preceded previous solar grand minimums, of which we are headed into another one now.

      Not saying humans aren't causing tons of ground level pollution, which we totally are and that's indisputable. Just don't confuse it with global warming.

        rbobby 338 days ago

        > there's no proof that any human activity is causing the current increase in global temperatures

        "No proof that any" is just flat out wrong... on the level of "there's no proof that 1 + 1 always equals two".

          DiabloD3 338 days ago

          How is that an acceptable response?

          A hypothesis must be falsifiable for it to be valid in the first place, and saying "the Sun did it" is a valid way to falsify the hypothesis; thus you now must also prove the Sun is not affecting climate change to the degree that we have measured.

          No one has been able to prove this, and all evidence collected by NASA seems to indicate that the Sun is by far the largest driver of climate fluctuations on Earth, even during the modern age, not humans.

            rbobby 338 days ago

            It is an acceptable response because you are spreading falsehoods under the guise of "may not be popular here". Popularity does not determine reality... facts are facts. Your assertion of "no proof that any" is easily shown to be utterly false with a simple google search.

            And now you crack out another absolute "all evidence collected by NASA" which is also just plain wrong. First NASA isn't the only group studying climate change, nor is it their primary mission. So whether or not NASA has or has not found evidence that the Sun is the largest driver is immaterial.

            And again a simple Google search shows you are utterly wrong in regards the Sun being the primary driver.

            Just go away.

            vikeri 338 days ago

            Say 97 % of doctors agree that you will die if you don't change your lifestyle. Would you not change your lifestyle even though there's a theoretical possibility that you will die irregardless?


              DiabloD3 338 days ago


              Those same scientists produced the data that made this possible. The same predictions they've been making since the 70s, the same ones Al Gore et al. built a financial empire on... did not come true, and are woefully wrong.


              Pay attention to both scales. Did humans have greater climate change ability than we have now, in the past, but then suddenly stopped? Notice the range labeled "mini ice age" covers a time period during an extended period of abnormally low solar activity (with the Spörer and Maunder minimums happening during this period).

              Edit: Also, sorry, I couldn't find better URLs for these images, Google isn't cooperating today.

                vikeri 338 days ago

                Again I'm no expert, but some Googling states that the medieval was indeed possibly hotter at some places on Earth but that this was due to difference in solar radiation and absence of vulcanic eruptions, factors that are not in play today.

                On a more personal note, if a scientific consensus is not it, what kind of information would be able to convince you that man made global warming is real?

    drivingmenuts 339 days ago

    I don't think the universe has any strong feelings about misery. In fact, I'm pretty sure it has no feelings any way you slice it.

    drivingmenuts 339 days ago

    I don't think the universe has any strong feelings about misery. In fact, I'm pretty sure it has no feelings any way you slice it.

CM30 339 days ago

Okay, am I the only one finding these 'Big Industry' names kind of ridiculous now? Big Pharma, yeah that works. Big Tech? Sure I guess.

But calling these companies Big Cow just sounds utterly ridiculous. It just doesn't work at all.

    delinka 339 days ago

    Big Beef would have been much better.

    But, yeah, I'm over the Big $company monikers.

    andyfal12 338 days ago

    I agree and I think it usually simplifies industries in negative light. But the dairy lobby ain't something to shrug at. I think i remember reading a while back on legislation deciding if products like almond milk can call themselves milk.

    339 days ago

    dang 338 days ago

    I assume they intended that one whimsically.

    339 days ago