Blog Food Disrupted: A Sizzling Opportunity

Food Disrupted: A Sizzling Opportunity
If the hunt for returns is what motivated attendees at the 21st Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference (AIC), observing the overworked (but commendably composed) baristas over four days suggests coffee is what fuelled them.

While the focus of many sessions was on technological and economic disruption, it can be easy to overlook the potential social upheaval from forces as momentous as climate change. What if a climate shock hits coffee stocks? Will there still be a coffee bar at next year’s AIC? If not, attendance at the afternoon sessions could well plummet.

It’s too serious an issue for flippancy, though. David Yeung, an environmental advocate and founder of Green Monday, a social venture that promotes veganism as a healthy and sustainable way to combat climate change, is convinced people should pay more attention to the need to revamp our food sources, especially given rising demographic pressures.

“The single biggest force of disruption (or destruction) will be climate change,” he wrote before the AIC. “Another will be the exploding global population. The nexus of the two is the food industry, which unless there is a systemic disruption and rebooting will not come close to feeding 10 billion people by 2050 sustainably let alone wholesomely.”

He pulled out some stark figures during his talk on Day 4 of the AIC: "When you're eating a burger you are eating away 5,000 litres of water, or six years' worth of drinking. If the world cut beef and dairy from its diet it could reduce the global carbon footprint by the equivalent of the entire US."

That said, Yeung admitted that you can only get so far with proselytizing, especially in markets like China. A better solution is to come up with meat substitutes that people can cook with in the same way they use animal proteins, much like the products sold by California-based Beyond Burger. The company produces beef-like patties that “bleed” beetroot juice and sizzle when cooked, and it has received investments from luminaries like Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Making veganism appear a cool thing to do will also help.

"If we go in with a movement, with advocacy, trying to lecture people, that won’t work in China,” Yeung said. “Coming up with aspirational products will be the key to shifting those 1.3 billion people to more healthy eating."

US$90

billion is the forecasted market size of plant-based proteins in 15–20 years.

Investors should take note: plant-based protein is a soaring market, and a growing proportion of tomorrow’s consumers—millennials—are ditching meat, Yeung reckons, citing a survey that claimed as many as 40% of millennial consumers in British Columbia were vegetarians. "Nestle forecasts that by 2020 the plant-based protein market will hit USD 5 billion,” Yeung said. “And in 15 to 20 years it will be a major disruptive force, a USD 90 billion business."

With growth like that in store, more investors are soon going to wake up and smell the coffee.