Eggless-mayo startup Hampton Creek secretly tasked employees to buy jars of its flagship Just Mayo product at grocery stores across the US from 2014 to 2015, reports Bloomberg’s Olivia Zaleski.
The secret buybacks started in early 2014, about eight months before Hampton Creek closed a $90 million round of venture-capital financing. Bloomberg reviewed over 250 expense reports and receipts provided by five former workers. Contractors were also employed to call stores and ask if they had any Just Mayo in stock.
“Make sure you are not wearing your HC gear when you go into Safeway. This is an undercover project,” Caroline Love, now VP of mission at the company, wrote in an email to the Hampton Creek employees performing the buybacks, reports Bloomberg.
Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick tells Bloomberg that the company spent $77,000, a 0.12% fraction of its sales, on these buybacks, and that they were primarily intended for quality control and to simulate the experience of buying the product in stores.
It’s been a turbulent 12 months for Hampton Creek, after an investigation by the FDA into whether it’s allowed to call its product mayonnaise and a clash with the American Egg Board, not to mention questions raised as to the food science that goes into its products.
Hampton Creek did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.