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Hampton Creek Ran Undercover Project to Buy Up Its Own Vegan Mayo

Outstanding reporting by Olivia Zaleski for Bloomberg:

In late 2014, fledgling entrepreneur Josh Tetrick persuaded investors to plow $90 million into his vegan food startup Hampton Creek Inc. Tetrick had impressed leading Silicon Valley venture capital firms by getting his eggless Just Mayo product into Walmart, Kroger, Safeway, and other top U.S. supermarkets within about three years of starting his company.

What Tetrick and his team neglected to mention is that the startup undertook a large-scale operation to buy back its own mayo, which made the product appear more popular than it really was. At least eight months before the funding round closed, Hampton Creek executives quietly launched a campaign to purchase mass quantities of Just Mayo from stores, according to five former workers and more than 250 receipts, expense reports, cash advances and e-mails reviewed by Bloomberg. In addition to buying up hundreds of jars of the product across the U.S., contractors were told to call store managers pretending they were customers and ask about Just Mayo. Strong demand for a product typically prompts retailers to order more and stock it in additional stores.

That is fraud. (And it should have been unnecessary: Just Mayo apparently tastes great.)

Also, don’t miss the wonderful animated illustration by Steph Davidson accompanying the article.

Friday, 5 August 2016