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Hampton Creek’s board members exit troubled S.F. unicorn firm, leave CEO on his own

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One trouble sandwich, please, with extra faux mayonnaise and a side order of dysfunction.

Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick is out in the cold as the sole remaining board member of the scandal-plagued San Francisco natural foods firm, according to a new report.

At least five board members have quit, many in the past month, because of conflict with Tetrick, leaving him on his own, the report said. However, Hampton Creek indicated that the departures resulted from attempts to derail the firm’s corporate governance.

The former board members, including Google DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, Khosla Ventures partner Samir Kaul and former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, left over “deep discord” with Tetrick, Bloomberg news reported July 17, based on interviews with unnamed sources.

A Hampton Creek spokesman referred SiliconBeat to an article saying “several” board members had agreed to leave in the wake of a company investigation that found three executives — who were subsequently fired — had tried to change the company’s governance to give more control to new investors.

Hampton Creek, deemed a “unicorn” for its $1.1 billion valuation, has been mired in controversy since a report last year alleged that company executives had launched a stealthy campaign to pay people to go into grocery stores and buy large amounts of the firm’s “Just Mayo” vegan faux mayonnaise.

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A federal probe of the allegation has finished and resulted in no finding of wrongdoing, the company has said, according to Bloomberg.

But last month, Target said it was yanking Hampton Creek products from shelves, claiming food-safety concerns. Hampton Creek strongly disputed that there was reason for concern.

Tetrick spun the board changes as a positive development that gave more power to staff.

“Ensuring our employees maintain their ability to direct our mission is as critical as the technologies we deploy and the products we launch,” Tetrick said in an emailed statement.

“We will always protect this principle.”

The departed board members said they continued to “fully support” Tetrick and the company “in their exciting and important mission to change the food industry for the better of all people,” they said in an emailed statement.

“We continue to fully support Hampton Creek and its CEO Josh in their exciting and important mission to change the food industry for the better of all people. We will advise Josh and the team on strategies across all areas of its business moving forward.”

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One area of Hampton Creek’s business is new: it’s working on lab-grown meat and seafood, and plans to bring a Frankenmeat product to market by the end of 2018.

Hampton Creek board members’ flight follows other disruptions in the firm’s leadership.

“The startup has seen an exodus from its senior ranks. Tetrick fired several of his deputies in April amid fundraising struggles,” according to Bloomberg. “Soon after, three top executives left the company, which Hampton Creek described as a failed attempt at a coup.”

Photo: Hampton Creek’s ‘Just Mayo’ vegan faux mayonnaise (Flickr/theimpulsivebuy)

Tags: DeepMind, faux mayo, faux mayonnaise, food, Google, Hampton Creek, Josh Tetrick, Kathleen Sebelius, khosla ventures, mayonnaise, Mustafa Suleyman, Samir Kaul, Target, U.S. Health and Human Services

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