The future of food — and the opportunities right now
The future of food — and the opportunities right now
‘We are a big part of the economic recovery,’ PPAA head tells AGM
By Therese Kehler
An unexpected side effect to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a growing consciousness surrounding food security.
And that, in turn, is opening new doors — along with new investment potential — for Alberta’s food producers and innovators, the Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta heard at its annual general meeting on Nov. 4.
One of those doors is Eat Beyond Global, a Vancouver-based investment fund that specializes in the alternative food sector, Patrick Morris, its chief executive officer, told attendees to the AGM.
Due to be listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange in the next few weeks, Eat Beyond is the first fund of its kind in the country, Morris said. It was created to provide with a chance to be part of the booming alternative food sector, while offering financial backing to entrepreneurs in the sector.
“We’re focused on a broad cross-section of companies addressing the growing need for sustainable and plant-based food options to benefit global health and food security,” Morris said.
“This is the premise on which Eat Beyond Global was formed — the future of food, investing in good companies to contribute to a more sustainable industry. Because clearly in certain places in the world it’s just not working.”
Eat Beyond launched in early February, just weeks after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Canada. As the virus spread, it changed the landscape for food producers, retailers and consumers.
There were chronic shortages of flour and yeast, meat-packing plants were shut down by outbreaks, and dairy farmers dumped milk to avoid oversupply and price gouging. There was also a marked increase in Canadians choosing meat-free diets.
“Personally, I saw friends and family going to vegetarianism or veganism,” Morris said. “Menus providing plant-based options, coupled with the market’s response to the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods … There’s some extreme excitement around the topic from a market perspective and I think, just generally speaking, people want to make sure they are putting good things into their body.”
The $5-trillion global food industry is new territory for Morris, an entrepreneur and capital markets executive with experience in mining exploration, tech and cannabis. Eat Beyond’s focus on the future of food is “a whole lot more exciting to me than drilling holes in the ground,” he said.
“It doesn’t take much digging to familiarize yourself with the current global food situation and how it’s not sustainable.”
An investment committee made up of prominent food industry players, including former Mars Canada president and CEO Don Robinson, guides Eat Beyond’s investment decisions.
Among the public and private companies it has invested in so far are Good Natured, a Vancouver company making plant-based packaging; The Very Good Butchers, which makes plant-based meat alternatives; and San Francisco’s Just food company, which has been making headlines with its plant-based eggs.
“It’s such a massive, massive industry and there’s so much room for disruption that we see just incredible opportunity,” Morris said. “You guys are starting in the right place, that’s for sure.”
To get backing from Eat Beyond, a venture needs to meet a strict list of criteria, which includes having products on store shelves, a distribution system and, as Morris added with a chuckle, something that tastes good.
But, he added, once Eat Beyond decides to back your company, the support is more than just financial.
“Part of our M.O. from Eat Beyond is we’re not just writing cheques. We’re using our human resource capital to help work with the companies.”
Dan Brewin, CEO of PPAA, said COVID-19 has awakened many countries to the importance of internal food security, which includes both sustainable practices and shorter supply chains.
“If consumers worldwide are asking for this product — plant protein or plant protein ingredients — and we already grow the commodities, why wouldn’t we process it here? Let’s make sure we capture that value,” he said.
Brewin said PPAA is actively working on measures to attract new investment into the sector, improve access to capital and make start-up investment available.
The goal, he said, is to ensure that the provincial government sees the sector’s long-term economic benefit through increased agri-processing and job creation.
“We feel we are a big part of the economic recovery,” he told the AGM.
“The opportunity is now. It’s not going to wait forever.”
During the meeting, which was held online with about 50 participants attending, the entire board of directors was returned to serve for another term. The board is:
- Allison Ammeter, chair
- Trevor Lexington, vice-chair
- Carlo Dade
- Dan Dibbelt
- Scott Exner
- Corey Keith
- Kimmo Lucas
- Sandra Marocco
Brewin talked about the success of PPAA’s various educational events, 14 of which were held over the last year, attracting 1,170 attendees. As Brewin pointed out, the pandemic-necessitated move to hosting virtual events has not deterred interest, with one of the most popular seminars, about extrusion technology, attracting 262 people.
There are four upcoming events planned for the next few months, including webinars on fractionation, financing and the basics of plant protein.
You can watch the video of the AGM here.
Therese Kehler is a freelance writer and editor based in Edmonton.
Posted Nov. 9, 2020