The food industry is on the brink of a decade of profound change. Unparalleled growth in plant, micro-organism, and animal-cell based alternatives has the potential to drive this change as consumer tastes evolve, meat intake is being reduced or cut altogether and demand for alternative food types rises.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the awareness of the link between food, health, food security and sustainability, leading to a surge in the demand for plant-based products.
ALTERNATIVE PROTEINS OFFER MAJOR ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS
- Producers of burgers made from alternative proteins claim that the carbon footprint of their burgers is 90% smaller than that of a beef burger, uses 87% less water and 96% less land. Plant-based foods may have about one-tenth the carbon costs of animal-based foods.
- Animal proteins that relate to plant-based protein, cultured meat and cultured fish are cruelty-free, have an 80% to 90% lower ecological impact and can help optimise the intersection of human and environmental health.
Today, alternative protein companies are growing strongly. New entrants are applying disruptive technologies such as synthetic biology, big data, AI, machine learning, robotics, and the Internet of Things. They could transform the food industry.
THE INVESTMENT CASE FOR PLANT-BASED FOOD
The base-case for penetration implies a market that is at least the size of a top-50 economy with a GDP of around USD 290 billion.
Alternative proteins are penetrating a market – food – that has very low exposure to recession and cyclicality. Demand for alternative proteins is fuelled by powerful forces ranging from health concerns to climate action and the increasing awareness of ethical issues in factory farming.
At present, most investment capital is focused on the companies offering the plant-based products that currently dominate the alternative-protein industry. These companies need to be integrated along the value chain to ensure quality control while they explore new technologies.
As the share of alternative proteins in global protein consumption, grows, two types of plays will emerge for investors:
- Companies that solve a key technological challenge will likely become the go-to firms for that specific step along the value chain, such as flavouring, and other companies will eagerly license their intellectual property to augment their own processes.
- Well-funded companies or investors will likely build industrial-scale platforms for capital-intensive technologies such as extrusion (the process used to generate fibrous texture in meat alternatives).
PLANT-BASED FOODS AND ALTERNATIVE PROTEINS – THE TRANSFORMATION HAS BEGUN
In summary, plant-based foods and alternative proteins as a sector has the potential to attract higher valuations and greater funding as the technology is approved worldwide and consumers shift to more alternative protein products and plant-based foodstuffs.
Many incumbent meat producers already define themselves as ‘protein’ companies, making and marketing their own alternatives. This makes sense given the size of the prize and the potential for the profits to be distributed throughout the value chain:
- To the start-ups and incumbent food companies producing alternatives
- The upstream players providing the inputs and tools needed to unlock these revenues
- The investors willing to support their efforts.