Plant-based proteins promise to turn meat aisles into ‘protein aisles’

The Capitalmind Food & Agro team is witnessing a significant ramp up in investments for plant-based proteins – a new and emerging product category that is experiencing very high growth.

Both financial investors and established strategic players are attracted by the fact that these pioneering products are not targeting vegetarians; instead, they are being created to appeal to meat eaters concerned about issues such as health, carbon footprints and the overuse of antibiotics on farms. In the past, meat alternatives lacked the appearance and textural qualities of meat, however ground-breaking innovations that use vegetable proteins are making these products virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.

New players & traditional incumbents target plant-based meats

Beyond Meat (US) is the market pioneer and already being stocked in 19,000+ US outlets, including the meat sections of many. Their offering includes chicken strips, beef crumble and the hugely popular ‘Beyond Burger’ – which looks like meat, tastes like meat, bleeds like meat, but is actually based on pea proteins. Beyond Meat’s sales are growing so strongly that they have raised an additional $55m in funding from the largest meat processor in the world, Tyson (US), to increase production by three-fold. Beyond Meat’s biggest competitor Impossible Foods (US) is experiencing similar growth and investor interest.

Here in France, the French player Tereos is leading the charge. Currently a leading processor of wheat, starch potatoes, and alfalfa, the company has launched a new pilot unit for food based on plant proteins and has plans for its new innovation to be commercialized under the brand name “Le sauté végétal” on the mass catering market. Meanwhile, in Germany researchers at Wageningen University have developed ‘shear cell’ technology that turns vegetable proteins (soy, wheat, rapeseed, corn) into a layered fibrous structure that closely matches the appearance and texture of steak. The technique was developed in 2015, after teaming up with the Dutch food manufacturer, The Vegetarian Butcher. They have since added Unilever (UK/NL), Givaudan (SWI), Ingredion (US), and the French agro & food giant Avril to their impressive list of investors. Products are expected to hit the shelves in 2019.

And now insects!

In a curious twist, we are now seeing insects being used as a protein substitute: insects are loaded with protein, high in healthy fats and packed with micronutrients. Also, nurturing of insects involves much lower costs compared to other livestock, making them a viable substitute to meet the demands of an increasing population. (The UN forecasts that the global population will reach 9 billion by 2050, outgrowing available food resources.) They are also environmentally friendly – for example, crickets produce 80x less methane than cows and require 12x less food than cattle and half as much as pigs for the same amount of protein. And humans are not the only market expected to benefit. The Entera Feed Corporation (CAN) was recently approved by the Association of American Feed Control officials to sell insect-based feed to animals in the US, and corresponding agencies in Europe have made similar agreements.

In terms of growth, the global edible insects market will witness a healthy CAGR of 6.1% between 2016 and 2024, by which time the global market will be worth around $723m, according to Persistence Market Research.

Why take this seriously?

– Due to population growth and ‘food transition’ (the increasing demand for meat in emerging markets), the planet’s need for protein will double by 2050: animal proteins, which now make up 70% of the world’s protein consumption, will no longer be able to meet the increased demand on their own.

– Tyson’s CEO predicts that 20% of all meat will be plant-based in 25 years.

– Data from Euromonitor shows that the meat substitutes market in Germany is experiencing a CAGR2015-2020 of 12%. By contrast, traditional meat processors are forecast to grow at -1% over the same period.

– By 2020, Nestle predicts that plant-based foods will be worth $5 billion in the US market alone.

– Valuation precedents are scattered, but all indications are that deals in this space are being executed at very high multiples. In 2015, Impossible Foods reportedly rejected an acquisition offer from Google for €250m – based on revenues of €44m (2015), the revenue multiple was priced at more than 6x.

Thibault Laroche-Joubert
Thibault Laroche-Joubert
Partner
France