The Next Agricultural Revolution
The revolution will not be televised. It will be edible.
Welcome to our new miniseries: Pioneers of the Post-Animal Food Economy, where we will be taking a look at the startups that are ending our reliance on industrial animal farming and building a robust new market sector in the process. Before we dive deep into the strategies of the most impactful ventures in this burgeoning space, here’s what you need to know to get up to speed on the current agricultural revolution.
When New Crop Capital was founded in 2015, our team had a vision for a food supply free from the risks posed by factory farming — a production method that disturbs us as much in our role as investors as it does as global citizens. At the time, we were the only fund solely dedicated to investing in products and technologies that replace animal products. The market was small, but the opportunities were astronomical:
The animal agriculture industry* is a trillion dollar market that is undergoing a consumer-driven, technology-enabled revolution.
*meat, dairy, eggs, seafood
In the short window since our founding, the number of companies creating products that serve as direct replacements for factory-farmed products — or support the distribution of such products — has exploded. We’re now moving from a place of disruption to one of transformation as the world’s largest meat, dairy, egg, and seafood producers explore new alternatives.
As Tyson Foods Chief Sustainability Officer Justin Whitmore said in a recent talk at the Kellogg School of Management:
“We don’t want to be disrupted. We want to do the disrupting.”
Tyson is now an investor in two of our early portfolio companies, Beyond Meat and Memphis Meats, and other massive companies specializing in animal agriculture are following suit with a flurry of investments and acquisitions.
- Tyson increased its investment in Beyond Meat
- Cargill invested in Memphis Meats
- Korys acquired Ojah
- Nestle acquired Sweet Earth Foods
- Maple Leaf Foods acquired Lightlife (announced in 2017, $140m)
- Maple Leaf Foods acquired Field Roast (announced in 2017, $120m)
- PHW invested in Supermeat (so we cheated, this one’s 2018)
We’re also seeing the rise of in-house venture arms and accelerators within multinational food corporations, as these behemoths work to keep up with the pace of innovation.
- 301 Inc., launched by General Mills in October 2016
Investments: Beyond Meat, Kite Hill, D’s Naturals (no cow bars)
- Acre Venture Partners, launched by Campbell Soup in February 2016
Investments: Habit, Soulfull Project
- 1894 Capital, launched by Kellogg in June 2016
Investments: MycoTech, Kuli Kuli (first Fortune 500 investment in a B Corp)
- Springboard Brands, launched by Kraft Heinz in March 2018
Seeking applications for its first accelerator cohort
- Rich’s Corporate Venture Fund, launched in 2017
Exploring investments in plant-based companies
As new startups launch and established companies integrate fresh approaches, the next agricultural revolution is taking shape with staying power.
In Pioneers of the Post-Animal Food Economy, we will be looking at the startups that have triggered this seismic shift.
Before we dive in, here are the two categories you need to know:
- Plant-Based Alternatives
When we say “plant-based alternatives,” we do not mean swapping beef for beans (though that would solve plenty of our global problems). We’re talking about an approach that considers an animal product from the molecular level and reconstitutes its primary features from plant sources. This removes the inefficiency of funneling plants through an animal to make the end product — instead crafting the end product from plants themselves.
While this process can entail a highly sophisticated investigation into the structure of various proteins, nature often provides mimics for animal products that require very little modification.
Take the cultured nut cheeses from our portfolio company Miyoko’s Kitchen, which simply take advantage of a common ingredient (the raw cashew) and, through the use of time-honed culturing techniques and the culinary clout of the company’s CEO Miyoko Schinner, transform it into a cheese that can rival any dairy wheel on the table at a wine dinner.
With continued investment, plant-based meat, dairy, eggs, and seafood are moving ever closer to identical replications of their animal-based counterparts.
2. Cellular Agriculture
While new iterations of plant-based alternatives provide a remarkably similar and more sustainable replacement for factory-farmed products, cellular agriculture and clean meat go one step further.
Cellular agriculture doesn’t produce approximations. It produces animal products themselves, without the need for the factory farming of animals.
The last agricultural revolution allowed us to domesticate farm animals. In this agricultural revolution, we are domesticating the cell itself.
This is primarily done in two ways. In one approach, startups are harnessing microbes and turning them into production platforms for proteins such as casein or collagen, out of which food scientists can build the products that animals on factory farms now produce inside their own bodies (think milk or eggs). Similar to the way yeast feeds on sugar to produce alcohol, yeast and other microbes can be used to produce animal proteins.
Clean meat is another application of cellular agriculture, which relies on tissue engineering instead of fermentation.
Clean meat is produced by growing animal cells into meat, earning its name because it is both environmentally friendly (think, “clean energy”) and cleaner than factory farmed meat in a literal sense. Because it’s not exposed to the bacteria inherent in meat production today (E.Coli, salmonella, campylobacter, etc.), clean meat is a food-safety buff’s dream. In part for this reason, we are bullish in our expectation that governments will work with producers to ensure an efficient regulatory path to market.
In combination, these two categories are driving an unprecedented shift in our food supply.