Tom Rossmeissl – Eat Just, inc – Ep 40

Tom Rossmeissl, Head of Global Marketing at Eat Just, inc

In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork,” we’re joined by Tom Rossmeissl from Eat Just, inc, who we’ll be talking to about how their food technology company is focused on developing alternative food products that are sustainable, healthy, environmentally friendly, and cruelty-free.


[00:00:00] Mitch Denton: Hello, and welcome to “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork,” the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain.

Today on our show, I’m joined by Tom Rossmeissl from JUST Egg and GOOD Meat, who I’ll be talking to about how their food technology company is focused on developing alternative food products that are sustainable, healthy, environmentally friendly, and cruelty-free.

So with no further delays, let’s get started.

Well, hi Tom. Thanks for joining us on the podcast today. How are you?

[00:00:28] Tom Rossmeissl: I’m doing great. How are you doing?

[00:00:30] Mitch Denton: I’m really good, thank you. Before we get the ball rolling though, I thought I’d just ask you if you could tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do and maybe a fun fact about yourself.

[00:00:40] Tom Rossmeissl: Yeah. Um, I, I lead marketing at Eat Just, um, and we have, we have two brands. We have JUST Egg, which is a, a plant-based egg product. Um, we’re in about 2 million US households. Um, and then we also, um, have the GOOD Meat brand, which is different. That’s cultivated meat, not plant-based. And, and I can dive into that more later.

I’ve been with the company now, um, since May of 2019, so almost four years.

Before I joined Eat Just, I, uh, I was in politics actually, so I did, um, uh, campaigns around the US, around the world for almost 15 years. Um, everything from, uh, everyone, I should say from, uh, Senator Doug Jones, Governor Jerry Brown. And our, our, our job was we would, we would take, um, information, you know, from our pollster and we would, we’d try to construct strategies for, um, how do we energise core voters to make sure they show up on election day? How do we persuade undecided voters to, to come our way? And obviously there was a transition coming from the political world into the, the CPG world, but, but it, it’s largely similar.

I mean, it’s, um, when it comes to JUST Egg, you know, how do we build a category from scratch, plant-based eggs, um, by motivating, you know, core vegan consumers, but then also persuading these other flexitarian segments, right? These young families with egg allergies or young couples trying to eat healthier.

And so that’s been, that’s been the transition I’ve been able to, to do over the last few years. And I, uh, I, I got connected to Eat Just though through a, a former colleague Josh Balk. He was, uh, he’s actually one of, um, Eat Just’s co-founders. But Josh ran the farm animal protection work for the Humane Society of the United States.

So, I got connected to him because I was helping do all these campaigns with Josh. So, ballot initiatives in California and Massachusetts and other states, uh, primarily around improving the welfare and conditions for egg-laying hens. 

[00:02:45] Mitch Denton: Yeah. Wow. 

[00:02:46] Tom Rossmeissl: And so, obviously there’s another way to, to help the chickens.

[00:02:49] Mitch Denton: Mm-hmm. 

[00:02:50] Tom Rossmeissl: Which is making eggs directly from plants. And so that’s sort of how I landed at, at JUST Egg. And it’s been a, it’s been a great ride.

[00:02:57] Mitch Denton: Yeah. Wow. Okay. That actually leads me to my next question. I was wondering how does JUST Egg create plant-based egg products that mimic the taste and texture of traditional eggs?

[00:03:09] Tom Rossmeissl: Yeah, that’s a good question. We’re a food technology company but I think what’s interesting is that a, a big piece of it is, Is just trying to understand the technology that’s already in plants. So a lot of these functional properties that we work with in, in plant-based foods, it’s not like sort of creating them, it’s, it’s identifying these different functional properties that exist in the beans and legumes and seeds and nuts all around us.

And, um, and these are properties that we’ve never really looked. Um, and so when the, when the company set out to make a plant-based egg, and this is well before I joined, this is going back to 2011-2012, that was the first task. It’s looking at the properties in all these different plants around the world and seeing what they’re capable of.

And it was in that process they figured out that the protein in the mung bean, which is a very common crop pretty much everywhere in the world. Just not a very common crop here in the US. 

[00:04:10] Mitch Denton: Mm-hmm. 

[00:04:10] Tom Rossmeissl: But that there’s this amazing sort of gelation capability embedded in that protein. And it’s that gelation capability that, that lets it scramble like an egg.

So the, the biggest technology part, or the biggest challenge I guess for our technology team has been, “How do you get that protein out of the mung bean without destroying that amazing functionality that exists in it?” 

And that’s been the, the really big piece. Um, obviously there’s some other ingredients in it, but the real core ingredient, what makes it work, what makes it scramble, what gives it the health profile and the sustainability profile that JUST Egg has, is just a non-GMO mung bean.

That’s, that’s really the heart of it.

[00:04:51] Mitch Denton: Okay. It’s funny, I, I gotta say, I was in, uh, I was in Nashville late last year and I was going through a supermarket and I saw your product and for me it was like a celebrity sighting because I’ve been following you guys for some time and I was like so excited that I had to buy myself a bottle and, and give it a go.

And it was fantastic. I loved it. It, it’s funny, working around other AgTech and FoodTech companies, I’ve always been excited for alternative protein products and, and plant-based products and all those types of things, but I’ve always been kind of skeptical and I, I gotta say, you guys kind of blew me outta the water and, um, I thought it was great, so. 

[00:05:35] Tom Rossmeissl: I appreciate that. 

[00:05:35] Mitch Denton: I love what you guys are doing and, uh, keep going. But that, that leads me to my, my next question of, of GOOD Meat, because that’s kind of a different thing altogether you’re trying to tackle. 

So, what are some of the challenges that GOOD Meat faces in creating cell-cultured meat products that are sustainable and taste like traditional meat?

[00:05:54] Tom Rossmeissl: Yeah, I mean there’s, uh, we, I think we’ve been pretty open about, there’s a lot of challenges. I mean, it’s, um, well actually, let me just take a beat and explain what the process is and then I can sort of walk through what we need to do to, to win in that space. The way cultivated or, or culturing meat works is you, you extract cells from an animal, so you can do it harmlessly, you don’t have to kill the animal.

 And then you sort of select the best cells and you, you immortalise them. And it’s a process where the cell will just continue to divide. And then you put those cells into what we call a bioreactor. Imagine like a, almost like a beer brewing vessel that you’d see in a micro-brewery.

It’s a bit large sort of steel vessel and that vessel or bioreactor. It, it feeds the cells the same things an animal would feed its cells. So you’re thinking about obviously warmth, but then nutrients, amino acid, salts, water, lipids, those are the media that it, it needs in order to continue to, to grow.

Now, where the challenges come in is that this is a technology that is only recently been looked at for food. So, you know, before that it was like more limited, expensive healthcare purposes, think like biopharmaceuticals or making a heart valve, um, something where you could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make something small.

We’re obviously looking at it very differently, right? How, how do you, figure out how to make a lot of something in a way that is cost competitive to conventional meat. So, you’ve gotta look at every single step of that process, right? How do you make a lower cost growth medium that you feed the cells?

How do you make the vessels bigger and bigger to gain economies of scale? So, you know, all this stuff is, is just being figured out now, and it’s, it’s super exciting. And we’ve been very successful in a relatively short period of time in terms of both figuring out how to make a delicious product, um, figuring out how to make sure we can get into market, and then bringing down costs.

So we’re on version three of our good meat chicken, um, we’re selling in Singapore, we’re selling actually at a butcher shop in Singapore, which is pretty crazy. 

[00:08:01] Mitch Denton: Yeah. Wow. 

[00:08:01] Tom Rossmeissl: And right now we’re, we’re the first and only company to be able to hit the market commercially, and as we’re doing that, we’re getting better and better about, again, just making sure it tastes better and then making sure that we’re gonna be able to continue to bend that cost curve down.

[00:08:15] Mitch Denton: That’s fantastic, that’s really exciting. Uh, I guess I gotta ask, as the head of global marketing, how are you looking to market both of these products?

[00:08:25] Tom Rossmeissl: It’s a big question. Um, the key value proposition, let’s start with JUST Egg, I guess. I mean, JUST Egg is or one of the fastest growing egg brands in the US. Uh, plant-based eggs is the fastest growing plant-based category.

[00:08:38] Mitch Denton: Yep. 

[00:08:38] Tom Rossmeissl: Our retail products are in 2 million US households right now, or sold in 48,000 points of distribution.

We’re in Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, uh, you name it, we’re probably there. We’re at coffee shops now. Uh, Pete’s, Phil’s, Caribou. Uh, just last week we launched in 500-600 Barnes and Noble coffee shops around the US, and consumers are coming to us for a variety of reasons. 

They’re coming to us, a large chunk, but not the overwhelmingly large chunk is vegans. So people who are not eating any, any animal protein, but the majority of our consumers do buy some animal protein. So this is a, a larger flexitarian segment. Um, these consumers are coming to us. Um, the biggest reason is health.

They’re coming to us because they want to eat better for their bodies. Um, heart health is big piece. JUST Egg has no cholesterol, we’ve got a really good lipid profile if you wanna dive into the different types of fats that are in our product. Sustainability is a big piece, uh, particularly with younger consumers.

So, we can talk about this more later, but we just use less water land. Um, emit less carbon by making eggs directly from plants. 

And then the third piece, smaller but important is a lot of families have allergies and so there’s a lot of young families with egg allergies that write us letters every day thanking us for being there because with, without us breakfast would be tough. 

 And then the other thing of course, and I I mentioned at the very beginning of this conversation is animals, and, uh, it isn’t the number one reason, uh, sort of value proposition why consumers choose us, but, but certainly it’s important.

GOOD Meat, GOOD Meat, we’re just getting started on marketing, so it’s much smaller. It’s gonna take longer for us to scale the technology. But we’re winning, we’re, like I mentioned earlier, we’re the first and only company to sell cultivated meat commercially, we’re in Singapore.

Consumers have been really positive about it so far. At the very beginning, this is going back to when we launched in December of, I think it was December 2020-2021, I, I actually have to go back and look. When we first launched, we, we surveyed consumers in the US and Singapore, and two thirds of them saying that they’re open to cultivated meat.

 And it, what’s interesting is that the younger the consumer is, the more likely they are to be open to eating, uh, cultivated meat. Um, so when you’re thinking about the future, I think we’re really optimistic about the, the consumer response. Um, we also asked consumers after trying our product, so we launched in a restaurant called 1880, um, in Singapore.

And after consumers left, we’d follow up and we’d survey them. Um, the number wasn’t two thirds after trying it. At 88% of consumers who tried our product said they were open to substituting conventional meat with cultivated meat. 

[00:11:22] Mitch Denton: Yeah. Wow. 

[00:11:23] Tom Rossmeissl: Vast majority thought our chicken tasted the same or better than conventional chicken.

That’s not surprising because it, it is chicken. I mean, it’s the other thing that differentiates the cultivated meat process from the plant-based meat process. Um, If you look at, at a cellular level, if you’re allergic to chicken, you’re gonna be allergic to GOOD Meat chicken because it is chicken. Um, uh, so, so far, so good.

[00:11:47] Mitch Denton: Yeah, that’s great. That’s fantastic. You, you mentioned before sustainability. I was wondering if you could do a bit of a cross comparison from like the traditional animal-based products, uh, to what you guys are doing, what those sustainability benefits are.

[00:12:02] Tom Rossmeissl: Yeah. Um, So we have two brands, again, one plant-based, one cultivated, but the mission for both is, is the same. It’s improving human implanted health. 

JUST Egg uh, uses 98% less water, 93% of fewer carbon emissions, and 84% less land use than conventional eggs. 

[00:12:19] Mitch Denton: Mm-hmm. 

[00:12:20] Tom Rossmeissl: The reason for that is it’s because it’s just more efficient to make protein without an animal.

The big use of water, carbon, land, it’s, it’s not the chicken itself, it’s the amount of feed that you have to grow to put into the chicken. That’s true by the way, when you’re talking about beef or pork or, or any kind of animal protein. So, if you can just make an egg directly from the plants instead of going from the plants to the chicken to the egg, you’re just gonna get a much more efficient process.

GOOD Meat, it’s sort of similar. I mean, it, obviously the process is way different. Um, but if you, if you think of the efficiencies of an animal at the scale we’re talking about, right? Feeding the world to make one calorie of beef, it takes 20 to 25 calories in. So you’re spending a lot of resources, a lot of land, a lot of water to make a lot of feed.

And you just get a little bit out. Um, chicken, is a little bit less bad. It’s, you know, I think it’s about 10 calories for one calorie out. So, you know, there’s gotta be a better way to do this, right? If you don’t have to worry about the calories for chicken walking around, the calories for feathers and beaks and, and all of these things that go into conventional animal agriculture, you’re able to get a lot of efficiencies.

Just to illustrate this more, I mean, uh, half of the world’s land that can be used, uh, it is used for agriculture. Um, more than three quarters of that is used for livestock production. Um, so if all that land that’s being used right now, livestock generates 18% of our calories.

So again, like, it’s a key problem, particularly when you’re thinking about how are you gonna tackle climate change and one of the biggest problems obviously is deforestation. And deforestation is happening primarily because of the growing need for feed, for animals, for meat. 

So, you know, GOOD Meat again, how can we take this process that is not great for the animal, not good for the planet, really bad for a forest and make it more efficient? So the best studies we have, and again, we, we have not scaled GOOD Meat yet the same way that, that we can look at it with JUST Egg. But, um, if you look at GFI and other groups that have done studies on this, um, we’re likely to achieve about a 95% reduction in land use, a 92% reduction in CO2 and a 78% reduction of water. So, um, a, a, a lot of savings to be unlocked.

[00:14:48] Mitch Denton: You, you mentioned before that you’ve had previous customers review your product on the backend. I was wondering, are there any success stories or case studies that you’d be able to share with us?

[00:14:59] Tom Rossmeissl: Yeah. I mean, um, you know, I’ll just to mention like Pete’s, for example, we now have our second permanent menu item at Pete’s. So they, the first, which is the Everything Plant-based Sandwich into Pete’s sort of like a test and learn. And I think it’s like number one or number two, selling hot food item at Pete’s right now.

Um, it performed so well, they, they added a second item, the Mediterranean flatbread at Pete’s. Um, they just made that a per, they just brought that back and made it a permanent menu item. And yeah, the consumer response has been great. And like as I mentioned earlier, it’s, it’s not just the animal loving vegan, it’s younger plant-based consumers like me. People trying for sustainability reasons, health reasons, allergy reasons. They just think it tastes good.

Um, a big one, and this has come from my own life and, and a lot of people I talk to is younger, JUST Egg consumers who are trying to get their parents to try just egg for their heart health. Um, because, you know, heart disease and issues relating to heart health are, are more prevalent, uh, obviously in older Americans.

And one of my favorite, more emotional ones came from, um, NBA star, Chris Paul, um, who was a, a consumer of our product, a friend of the company. Um, he went plant-based to improve his basketball performance. Um, that, that’s why he did it. That’s why he started eating JUST Egg. But he pushed his dad, Charles, because Charles had a bunch of health issues, um, and he was navigating them and, and CP3 pushed Charles to try JUST Egg.

And he made a lot of changes in his life, not just JUST Egg, but it really helped him, kind of turn around his health. And, last Father’s day actually, we, uh, Chris Paul did sort of a little, kind of a little web short for us telling that story. And, and we made Charles a JUST Egg ambassador because obviously when you think of a, a brand ambassador, you think of someone like CP3.

Um, we thought it’d be kind of cool to make his dad an ambassador for the brand, um, for that reason because it’s, it’s that story that’s in some ways even more powerful than the story of, of Chris Paul, um, using JUST Egg to improve his performance. So we were excited to tell that.

[00:17:08] Mitch Denton: That’s fantastic. There’s nothing better than a product that doesn’t just get by, doesn’t just tick the box, but it’s actually, it’s really delivering, so that’s really cool stuff. What has working in food science and cell-cultured products revealed to you as a big surprise?

[00:17:24] Tom Rossmeissl: Uh, yeah, I mean, I, I, when I kind of reflect on it, I, I think, um, none of this stuff’s inevitable. I mean, it’s like inertia doesn’t lead to the creation of a plant-based egg or cultivated meat category. It’s, um, if. Some group of people, and this is well before I joined the company, so I can’t take the credit for it, but hadn’t decided, “Hey, we’re gonna move forward with this crazy idea, we’re gonna invest all this capital, all this time, we’re gonna hire these amazing group of, uh, groups of scientists and marketers and salespeople to, to try to make an egg from a plant.” 

And by the way, doing that years before, you know, Beyond or Impossible even hit the market, um starting that process. Back in, in 2011 or 2012, um, again, before I joined the company, you know, they thought it might take, um, maybe a year to find the right protein, uh, maybe another year to commercialise it. We launched in 2019. Um, this stuff’s like really hard. it takes a lot of smart people, a lot of resources, and even then it might not work, you know, and lucky for us, I think it did.

The other, the other great thing about, you know, plant-based and cultivated, uh, is you can keep making it better. So it’s, you know, we’re on version three, JUST Egg. We’re on a version three of, of, of GOOD Meat Chicken. But the, the process to make our product more delicious, healthier, more sustainable, more, more cost competitive, all those things are constantly being worked on and are gonna keep improving every single year.

[00:18:59] Mitch Denton: Yeah, that’s great. What in your opinion represents one of the main challenges or blind spots in the fight against food loss and waste?

[00:19:08] Tom Rossmeissl: Yeah, it’s a huge part of the problem and it, it’s not as, you know, sort of sexy as a new plant-based or cultivated meat brand. I mean, it doesn’t get the attention, the articles. But, you know, one third to one half of the world’s food is squandered. 

[00:19:21] Mitch Denton: Mm-hmm. 

[00:19:21] Tom Rossmeissl: And it’s at every single level of supply chain, um, from the farm to the factory, to the grocery store shelf to the consumer’s kitchen. And yeah, there should be more energy put into it. Um, I, I, you know, it’s cool to see. Um, what some brands are doing. Uh, it’s like Imperfect Foods, obviously one of the more notable ones. Um, not just trying to solve that problem, but like bringing consumer attention to the problem while they’re doing it.

You know, more people are thinking about food waste, I think just because of what these brands are doing to tackle it. It’s, it’s forcing these conversations. I think it’s great. You know, I just heard about, uh, I was just listening to on a podcast recently about the, the team behind Nest, uh, launching Mill, which, uh, this sort of, you know, Nest Apple, you know, perfectly designed, uh, solution, to tackle the composting problem.

And I think that they’re right to like, think about how can design solve a problem that maybe consumers are hesitant to tackle because composting isn’t always sexy or interesting, and, and maybe that is a way that technology and design can, can help address it. And so it’s cool to see how Nest is thinking through a subscription service and a really nice looking trash can and all of these things that, that maybe hadn’t been thought of before.

And then there’s even obviously, cause I’m just mentioning the brand stuff, but there’s a lot of work that goes into logistics and other things that, um, is probably less fun to talk about but, but certainly, uh, uh, just as if not more important.

[00:20:53] Mitch Denton: So then what advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to start a company in the FoodTech space?

[00:21:01] Tom Rossmeissl: Yeah, I mean, JUST Egg spared no time or expense on, on taste or product development. 

[00:21:07] Mitch Denton: Mm-hmm. 

[00:21:07] Tom Rossmeissl: and I think that was really smart. You know, the, the product came to market later than I’m sure some people wanted. You know, you can have a brilliant marketing team. You can have great margin, you can have an awesome sales team.

You can do all those things but if the product doesn’t taste that great they’re not gonna buy it again, consumers aren’t gonna buy it again, they’re not gonna tell their friends and family. And that’s something, you know, again, I can’t take credit for at all, that’s something that our founder instilled from the beginning that Chris Jones and our product development team, um, focused on, it’s a standard they set before they ever launched a product.

Um, but it is actually something that we’ve incorporated into just our marketing and our messaging. Our brand platform is really good eggs and when we talk about our product, we do talk about these value propositions around health and sustainability and all those things. But more than anything we wanted to say it tastes really good because if a consumer doesn’t hear that first and then they hear all the other things, they’re gonna kind of assume that all I’m talking about is cholesterol and sustainability because my product doesn’t taste that good. It’s gonna come off like an apology. 

And, you know, from a brand perspective, we’ve worked really hard to not fall into that trap, to be super confident about what our product is, what you can do with it, the versatility, the taste. So yeah, I mean, if, if, if I’m talking to entrepreneurs, I would say, and I think this is obvious, this isn’t, this isn’t wisdom that I’m sure most founders don’t already know, but, uh do not underestimate that, that piece of it.

[00:22:47] Mitch Denton: Oh, definitely. So Tom, we are coming to a close, but before we do, I just wanted to ask you, what is the major point you really want the listeners to take away from this episode?

[00:22:57] Tom Rossmeissl: Yeah, I mean, I, I, I started with, by talking about the reason I got into this and got into it obviously from politics where I was motivated by a lot of causes I cared about and I’m excited about food because I think the way we make food right now is really broken, it’s bad for almost everyone.

I mean, it’s bad for the planet, it’s bad for our bodies, and health, its, I’m not talking about all foods, but I think the system in general it’s bad for workers in slaughterhouses. It’s terrible for confined animals. It’s bad for family farmers. The whole thing stinks and it’s not this sort of niche toxic industry that has all these problems.

It’s food, I mean, it’s core to every part of every life, every family, um, every celebration. And, you know, I can’t think of a more important industry that I wanna spend my time on and obviously our listeners, um, care deeply about it. And, um, and so I, I think entrepreneurs, listeners, consumers, they can all do, um, a lot to, to help solve some of these problems.

[00:24:02] Mitch Denton: I 100% agree. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Well, that’s all for today’s episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”. Thanks for listening, and thank you, Tom for joining me today.

If you’d like to know more about Tom and JUST Egg or GOOD Meat, check out the link in the description of this episode. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast so that you never miss an episode, and don’t forget to write a review and share with your friends. Until next time, you’ve been listening to “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork,” a PostHarvest podcast.

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