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California vegan egg startup Eat Just yokes itself to China’s fast food chain

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Eat Just, a food startup from San Francisco making chicken-less eggs, has ambitions to crack the Chinese market where consumer appetite for plant-based food is growing and other Western vegan substitute brands like Beyond became available in recent quarters.

The startup said this week it will be suppling to fast-food chain Dicos, a local rival to McDonald’s and KFC in China. The agreement will see Eat Just add its plant-based eggs to the restaurant’s breakfast items across more than 500 locations. The eggs are derived from a legume called mung beans, which have long been a popular ingredient for soup, noodles and dessert in China.

At Dicos in major Chinese cities, consumers will find Eat Just eggs in breakfast burgers, bagel sandwiches and Western-style breakfast plates. That diversifies the Dicos plant-based menu which already includes a vegan chicken burger supplied by local startup Starfield. Dicos also offers a gateway into China’s low-tier cities where it has built a stronghold and can potentially help evangelize plant-based proteins in communities beyond China’s urban yuppies. The chain operates a total of 2,600 stores in China and serves 600 million customers a year.

Eat Just first entered China in 2019 and currently generates less than 5% of its revenue from the country, Andrew Noyes, head of global communications at Eat Just, told TechCrunch. But over time, the company expects China to account for more than half of its revenue. Ten of its 160 employees are based in China.

Eat Just’s vegan egg recipe / Photo: Eat Just

“We have been intentional about starting small, going slow and hiring people who know the market and understand how to build a sustainable business there. We’ve also been focused on finding the right partners to work with on downstream manufacturing, sales and distribution, and that work continues,” said Noyes.

The partnership with Dicos arrived on the heels of Eat Just’s announcement to set up an Asia subsidiary. The nine-year-old company, formerly Hampton Creek, has raised over $300 million from prominent investors including Li Ka-Shing, Peter Thiel, Bill Gates and Khosla Ventures. It was last valued at $1.2 billion.

Before its tie-up with Dicos, Eat Just had already been selling online in China through Alibaba and JD.com among other retail channels. Its China business is currently growing by 70% year-over-year.

While there’s no shortage of strong competition in the plant-based food race in China, Eat Just claims it’s taken a unique angle by zeroing in on eggs.

“Plant-based meat companies offer products that pair deliciously with Just Egg,” the brand name of the startup’s main product, Noyes noted.

“Plant-based foods are increasing in popularity among Chinese consumers and more sustainable eating is becoming part of a national dialogue about the feeding of the country in the future. China produces about 435 billion eggs per year and demand for protein is increasing.”

Indeed, Euromonitor predicted that China, the world’s largest meat-consuming country, would see its “free from meat” market size grow to $12 billion by 2023, compared to $10 billion in 2018.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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SAP is buying Berlin business process automation startup Signavio

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Rumors have been flying this week that SAP was going to buy Berlin business process automation startup Signavio, and sure enough the company made it official today. The companies did not reveal the purchase price, but Bloomberg reported earlier this week that the deal could be worth $1.2 billion.

With Signavio SAP gets a cloud native business process management tool. SAP CFO Luka Mucic sees a world where understanding and automating businesses processes has become a key part of a company’s digital transformation efforts.

“I cannot overstress the importance for companies to be able to design, benchmark, improve and transform business processes across the enterprise to support new capabilities and business models,” he said in a statement.

While traditional enterprise BPA tools have existed for years, having a cloud native tool gives SAP a much more modern approach to attacking this problem, and being able to automate business processes via the cloud has become more important during the pandemic when many many employees are working entirely from home.

SAP also sees Signavio as a key missing piece in the company’s Business Process Intelligence unit. “The combination of business process intelligence from SAP and Signavio creates a leading end-to-end business process transformation suite to help our customers achieve the requirements needed to gain a competitive edge,” he said.

SAP has been making moves into process automation of late. In fact at SAP TechEd in December, the company announced SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation, its foray into the RPA space. This should fit in nicely alongside it.

Dr. Gero Decker, Savigno co-founder and CEO, sees SAP resources helping push the company beyond what it could have done on its own. “Considering the positioning of SAP, its geographical coverage and financial muscle, SAP is the biggest and best platform to bring process intelligence to every organization,” he said in a statement.

The increased resources and reach argument is one that just about every acquired company CEO makes, but being pulled into a company the size of SAP can be a double-edged sword. Yes, it has vast resources, but it also can be hard for an acquired company to find its place in such a large pond. How well they fit in and make that transition from startup to big company cog, will go a long way in determining the success of this transaction in the long run.

Signavio launched in 2009 in Berlin and has raised almost $230 million, according to Crunchbase data. Investors include Apax Digital and Summit Partners. The most recent investment was July 2019 Series C for $177 million, which came in at a $400 million valuation.

Customers include Comcast, Bosch, Liberty Mutual, and yes SAP. Perhaps it will be getting a discount now.

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Biden directs billions in federal spending power to climate change

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President Joe Biden continues to make good on his campaign pledge to accelerate progress on climate change, rapidly working down the list of what he can accomplish on his own in his early days in office.

On Wednesday, January 27, he will sign a second set of executive orders and memorandums on climate change that direct federal agencies to purchase US-made, zero-emissions vehicles and carbon-free electricity, halt nearly all new oil and gas leases on public lands, and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.

Biden also placed climate change at the center of national security planning, requiring federal agencies to evaluate how increasingly severe heatwaves, fires, flooding and famines could inflame global conflicts. The actions will also begin the process of creating new climate emissions reductions targets for the US under the Paris climate agreement.

The latest directives follow Biden’s climate actions on his first day in office, which included kickstarting the process of rejoining the Paris agreement and establishing new regulations on methane emissions, vehicle fuel economy standards and much more.

A big market boost

The orders will provide a major boost to the domestic market for renewables like wind, solar and geothermal plants as well as electric or hydrogen vehicles. It will direct billions of federals dollars to these industries while creating regulatory certainty that will make it easier to finance new projects and factories, says Josh Freed, who leads the climate and energy program at Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington, DC.

The vehicle order, for instance, could eventually add up to around 650,000 government cars, trucks and buses, potentially increasing the size of the domestic market by nearly 40%. Only an estimated 1.6 million plug-in electric vehicles had been sold in the US as of late last year, and fewer than 10,000 hydrogen vehicles since 2012, according to InsideEVs.

Agencies, however, will likely only replace vehicles as they reach the end of their useful lives, so the full turnover will surely take years.

It’s not yet clear how the order to buy clean electricity will work or what it achieve at this stage, including whether it will require agencies to obtain a certain percentage or all of their electricity through low-carbon sources like wind, solar and nuclear power. It’s also not immediately apparent how government agencies will reach those goals given limited control over the mix of sources generating electricity on local grids.

Erin Sikorsky, deputy director of the Center for Climate and Security in Washington, D.C., applauded the order’s focus on national security.

Without incorporating detailed assessments of shifting climate conditions, the US won’t recognize the potential for regional conflicts that can stem from things like prolonged droughts; can’t properly prepare and equip its overseas troops and bases; and won’t grasp how power dynamics are likely to shift among nations and non-state actors, she says. For instance, famines could increase recruitment among terrorist groups and warming conditions could boost the economic output and regional influence of countries like Russia.

Elevating environmental justice

The new executive orders included numerous additional directives and announcements. Among them:

  • Biden will host a climate summit with other world leaders on April 22, Earth Day. It’s a clear bid to reset the nation’s international climate diplomacy efforts.
  • Biden also directed agencies to take steps to address the outsized impact of environmental and climate threats on disadvantaged communities, and to ensure they receive 40% of the benefits from any related federal investments.
  • The president also directed the Secretary of Agriculture to begin exploring ways of encouraging farming practices that can reduce emissions and store more carbon in soil; and called for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative to put Americans to work planting trees and otherwise restoring public lands and waters.
  • A new memorandum elevates the role of science and expertise in federal policy making, directing agencies to “make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.”
  • Biden also set up or reestablished numerous climate and science advisory groups, including the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Interagency Council and a National Climate Task Force that will pull leaders from 21 agencies and departments.

The limits of executive orders

At this stage, Biden is effectively checking off the things he can accomplish on climate change through executive orders, rather than pushing new laws through Congress.

But there are limits on how much he can achieve through this approach. Executive orders are effectively instructions on how federal agencies should operate, but they can’t reverse existing laws or create new powers for the presidency. Presidents also generally can’t spend money that Congress hasn’t already authorized, although they can direct how it’s spent, as Biden seems to be doing with clean electricity and vehicles.

The precise boundaries of what can and can’t be achieved through executive orders is a subject of heated debate and frequent court challenges. The other downside is they can also be unilaterally overturned from one administration to the next, as Trump did with many of President Barack Obama’s orders and Biden is now doing with Trump’s.

Accelerating the shift to zero-emissions technologies enough to prevent 2˚C of warming, the stated goal of the Paris agreement, will clearly require legislation. The real climate test for Biden’s climate agenda will be whether he can get that done with only slim Democratic control of the Senate.

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Could meme stocks like GameStop kill bitcoin’s rise?

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Cryptocurrencies, more so than most other things, are only valuable because of a shared agreement that they are valuable. Their value is a product of digital handshakes over millions of transactions firming up that consensus. For bitcoin, the trust that it has worth has turned more valuable in the past several months; it’s been on a tear.

The (very bizarre) question is whether a new avenue of applying blind trust by brigading trashcan-level stocks and turning them into memes could threaten the appeal of cryptocurrencies for retail investors.

Over the past several days, we’ve seen stocks ranging from GameStop, Blockbuster and AMC make unjustifiable gains as a result of Reddit users in the r/WallStreetBets subreddit triggering a stampede towards stocks being heavily shorted by institutional investors. That in turn has led to a short squeeze troubling hedge funds, causing the price of a stock worth around $5 for the majority of 2020 to swell well above $300 today. In some ways it’s just an Occupy Wall Street protest being held on Robinhood, in other ways it’s a complete rejection of efficient markets and a reinvention of institutional trust.

Bitcoin holds fundamental differences from publicly traded stocks, many of which might matter an awful lot to those betting on the coin as a currency of the future. But to retail investors who aren’t hardcore proponents, I’d imagine FOMO was one of the most intriguing pulls into the cryptocurrency space. But if Bitcoin’s purpose for the time being is merely a “store of value,” I think there’s a world where individual investors might be evolving their interests elsewhere.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies haven’t seen notable price movement in recent days  — Bitcoin is down around 6% in the past 24 hours, a hiccup as far as crypto moves go — but after a few weeks hovering well above $30k and peeking above $40k, the currency seems poised to dip below the $30k range soon unless its trend reverses course.

All that said, Bitcoin is certainly an entity of a different scale than all of these meme stocks bundled together with a market cap above $560 billion and a 24-hour trading volume of $56 billion. Bitcoin has seen stratospheric growth over the past few months so barring an outsized crash, it’s perhaps unlikely that retail investors are going to fully abandon it in favor of buying up crusty old shares of Blockbuster stock. That said…

It’s cheaper to trade these meme stocks and easier for retail investors to get leverage via options. In short, for investors looking to have a good time or shoot the moon, meme stock are a more fun place to be than crypto is.

 

The main thing to consider is what happens if GameStop, for no reason at all, becomes a long-term store of value? When investors collectively begin placing blind trust in more financial assets for the long-haul, does that devalue blind trust itself and the mammoth entities that had more of a monopoly on it? Most investors aren’t expecting this to happen, but stocks like Tesla are beginning to live comfortably at ridiculous premiums that analysts can’t understand. Tesla and GameStop are very different beasts, but if anything I think institutions have a better grasp of GameStop’s rise.

The foil to all of this is whether this pandemonium births some regulatory backlash, a possibility which of course does not exist in quite the same way for cryptocurrencies from a central governance standpoint. TD Ameritrade and Schwab are already limiting trades of some of these meme stocks tday and I think there is certainly a universe in which the SEC aims to take a pot shot at this saga by means of promoting market sanity and I am much more confident that there’s a world where Reddit is pushed to at least temporarily ban r/WallStreetBets for some unclear reason.

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