JH Explorer in London: We must stop (m)eating like this
A recent visit to a vegan restaurant to eat plant-based steak leaves Portfolio Manager Tal Lomnitzer pleasantly surprised and more hopeful for the future of sustainable nutrition.
4 minute read
- Meat and dairy are responsible for around 60% of farming’s greenhouse gas emissions but provide just 19% of our calories.
- The development of plant-based proteins is more progressed, while lab-grown meat is still in its infancy.
- Sustainable food looks set to benefit from strong consumer demand, with companies supplying the ‘picks and shovels’ like plant-based proteins, flavours and emulsifiers and technology providers likely to benefit.
|The JH Explorer series follows our investment teams across the globe and shares their on-the-ground research at a country and company level.
Reducing the environmental impact of feeding the planet is key to achieving net zero carbon emissions. Feeding the growing world population already accounts for 27% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and it’s crucial that we find ways to “feed the world without devouring the planet” (a phrase coined by George Monbiot in his excellent book ‘Regenesis’, which I highly recommend reading). The global plant-based protein market is forecast to grow from USD 13.26 billion in 2022 to USD 21.13 billion by 2030* and has the potential for strong investment returns for the winners, but whilst this market grew strongly through the COVID-19 pandemic, it has plateaued since then. In my experience these products have not really been particularly tasty or effective meat substitutes, so I decided to try some of the ‘higher end’ products to see how they compare to those on supermarket shelves. Fortunately, you don’t need to travel to the ends of the earth to research investments in the nutrition sector. I recently tried the offerings from vegan restaurant Unity Diner, a short walk from our London office, including their 3D-printed meat-free steak, as well as a few plant-based fish dishes.
A meaty issue for the environment
Why the focus on meat? Meat and dairy are responsible for around 60% of farming’s GHG emissions but provide just 19% of our calories. All too often, ruminant animals are fed soybeans grown in Latin America or the US, which is converted to animal feed and transported around the world. They then emit methane via digestion, a more pernicious global warming gas than CO2. This means that beef protein has the highest GHG footprint in our diets.
Increased production of alternative proteins, greater availability of fresh produce and changing diets to reduce meat consumption can help address overall emissions related to food production and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals, helping to responsibly feed the growing world population, as well as generating returns on investment. There will be winners and losers along the way and we believe that the winners are more likely to be those that supply the ‘picks and shovels’ like plant-based proteins, flavours, emulsifiers and technology.
The Holy Grail of tasty sustainable nutrition is getting closer
Technology is making it real
Like many people I consider meat to be delicious and nutritious, so finding low carbon footprint alternatives sits high on my agenda both as a consumer and as an investor. Lab-grown or cultivated meat (where animal cells are replicated and grown in a lab) is one direction of travel, but it’s in the early stages and not regulated or approved for human consumption – yet. Using plant-based proteins to synthesise the taste and texture of meat is more progressed.
But does it really hit the mark? Until now the plant-based food I have eaten just reminds me that it’s not meat. However, innovative ways of making plant-based ‘meat products’ are making them closer to the real thing. The private Israeli company Redefine Meat, 3D prints plant-based beef, building it up layer-by-layer to recreate fat, muscle and blood. Instead of animal fat, they use coconut and rapeseed oil. Instead of muscle, they use plant-based protein and instead of blood they use dark red plants. A single portion of this ‘new meat’ steak delivers 39 grammes of protein, with far less saturated fat compared to animal meat.
Almost the real deal – visually, texturally and taste-wise
I was amazed how well this approach replicates the texture and taste of steak. It is fibrous and has substance to it rather than being mushy like other plant-based meat alternatives. You also have to give it a good chew like a real steak. It tastes very good, albeit not exactly like real steak. I guess one can’t have everything in the quest for environmentally-friendly alternatives. I hear that the “lamb” koftas provided by Reimagine Meat are almost indistinguishable from the real thing and will be seeking those out for my next due diligence taste test!
Net zero: refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. Net zero is reached when the amount of greenhouse gas added is no more than the amount taken away.
Natural resources industries can be significantly affected by changes in natural resource supply and demand, energy and commodity prices, political and economic developments, environmental incidents, energy conservation and exploration projects.
Sustainable or Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing considers factors beyond traditional financial analysis. This may limit available investments and cause performance and exposures to differ from, and potentially be more concentrated in certain areas than the broader market.