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Cracking the mystery behind chickenless eggs

Power Pitch

What came first the chicken or the egg? It’s an age-old debate, but for Hampton Creek founder and CEO Josh Tetrick, the real question isn’t what came first, it’s what comes next. And his answer may surprise you.

Tetrick’s big new idea is the chicken-less egg, and we asked him to take a crack at explaining it all in just 60 seconds to our Power Pitch panel, including a New York Magazine food editor and a chef with two Michelin stars.

Can Tetrick convince our Power Pitch panelists and you that his new egg is all it’s cracked up to be? Click the video above to find out.

What egged on Tetrick to go eggless?

The American Egg Board estimates that more than 250 million cases of eggs will be produced this year in the United States, and according to Tetrick, 1.8 trillion eggs are laid every year worldwide.

“This system of egg production is defined by radical inefficiency, by rising prices, by animal abuse, by environmental degradation,” said Tetrick.

Which is why Tetrick and his brainy staff, which includes biochemists, molecular biologists and Top Chef contestant Chris Jones, came up with a plant-based egg substitute that he said is cheaper and healthier than the real thing.

After seven years in sub-Saharan Africa working with the United Nations, among other initiatives to help impoverished communities, Tetrick came back to the U.S. and wanted to continue impacting others. He and his co-founder Josh Balk decided to revolutionize the egg.

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“Our idea is to replace the chicken with plants,” Tetrick told CNBC. “And let’s grow an open field that’s much more sustainable and much more affordable.”

The start-up has already garnered $4.5 million in venture capital from big names such as Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Founders Fund and the Kat Taylor/Collaborative Fund. Bill Gates has even named Hampton Creek one of three companies shaping the future of food.

"Google (GOOG) reinvented how we take in information. And Amazon (AMZN) changed the game of retail. Innovation, real innovation in food, requires new thinking. Khosla Ventures invested in Hampton Creek because of their highly disruptive approach ¬ combining technology with taste and affordability," said Samir Kaul of Khosla Ventures.

Tetrick told CNBC the business has studied 1,500 plants over the last two years and identified 11 that, when heated or pressurized a specific way, create properties similar to eggs. Hampton Creek calls them the Beyond Eggs plant family.

Different plants and processes are used for different products. For example, sorghum at certain temperature may appropriately replace eggs in baked products, while a species of yellow pea may work for dressings or mayonnaise after pressurization.

“This is not synthetic engineering that we're using, even though we have a fancy lab in those pictures,” Tetrick told CNBC.

To stay competitive, Hampton Creek has intellectual property rights on the Beyond Eggs process.

Bringing in the (eggless) dough

Hampton Creek makes money two ways:

First, the company sells its egg substitutes to manufacturers wanting to make eggless products. (Tetrick told CNBC it is working with three Fortune 500 companies but would not disclose which ones.)

Seconds it also sells a retail product called Just Mayo, made with no real eggs that costs $2.99 a jar and is available at Whole Foods (WF).

Tetrick said the company has two other products in the works: Eat the Dough, a cookie dough offered in chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and peanut butter, which will retail for $3.99 and will be available in January. Our Power Pitch panel had the chance to taste the resulting cookies, with the consensus being that they were “good” but not the best cookie they’ve ever had.

The second product, which Tetrick said is set to debut in mid-2014, is a scrambled-egg product made from beans. He said his version will be 20 percent cheaper than eggs.

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Panelist Shaun Hergatt, executive chef of Juni restaurant in New York, asked how Just Mayo could compete with a well-known brand such as Hellmann’s, which has been around for almost 100 years and is sold in stores worldwide.

Tetrick was not worried.

“Part of the reason a major Fortune 500 food company is collaborating with us to remove conventional eggs from their products isn't because it's egg-free, it's because they taste really good and are more affordable,” he said.

Alan Sytsma, a food editor for the New York Magazine blog “Grub Street,” questioned if consumers would prefer a fake over a real egg, despite its cost.

“You don't buy mayonnaise because you love to have the egg in mayonnaise—you like a nice creamy mayonnaise.” Tetrick said. “We think we win when we're more affordable and we think we win when we're more delicious.”

See CEO and Founder Josh Tetrick @joshtetrick of Hampton Creek @Hcfoods deliver his eggless pitch and try to sway the taste buds of Executive Chef Shaun Hergatt @Shergatt, @GrubStreet food editor Alan Sytsma @Asytsma and CNBC host Mandy Drury @CNBCDrury.

—Additional reporting by Joanna Weinstein

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