At the Forum, game-changing entrepreneurs, impact investors and sustainability thought-leaders across the globe shared invaluable insights on the business of sustainability. The Green Monday team was delighted to conduct interviews with these visionary trail blazers who shared the latest trends and developments in their areas of expertise.
Chris Kerr, Partner, New Crop Capital
With more than two decades of leadership experience in financial and venture capital management, Chris Kerr serves as investment manager of New Crop Capital. In light of the current highly inefficient food production system heavily dependent on animal agriculture, New Crop Capital invests in innovative companies that develop cultured and plant-based meat, dairy, and egg products. Some of its funded companies are in fact pioneers in the plant-based food space, such as Beyond Meat, Memphis Meats and Lyrical Foods.
According to Chris, the growing interest in food techs came hot on the heels of the showcasing of Daiya Food Inc. alternatives in 2009. “It’s the first vegan cheese that melts. In my opinion, it opened up a lot of companies that weren’t paying much attention to the vegan space. All of a sudden, there was a lot more activity going on in that space,” he remarks of the chain reaction caused by Daiya. He also explains that another big shift occurred when Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a seasoned venture capital firm out of Silicon Valley, funded Beyond Meat. That prompted other investors to turn their gaze to food tech start-ups.
Cultured meat is bound to take center stage in the next round of plant-based food craze. Chris reiterates, “New Crop Capital invests in very risky but very disruptive companies. There is still a long way to go for cultured meat. If it’s successful, it will change the entire food landscape.” For plant-based alternatives to grow exponentially and take a bigger slice of the food market, Chris emphasizes that such products have to meet consumers where they are in terms of texture, taste, price and availability.
Given he is at the frontline witnessing all the innovation of the field, Chris is optimistic about the plant-based food industry. He says reassuringly, “it takes a lot of work to make the future bright. With the suffering all around us, at least we know answers are coming.” Chris believes that sustained behavior change can result from an increasing number of food techs entering the plant-based food space. “Companies have to up their game and everyone wins.”
Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, Chairman, NKGB Strategic Advisory
Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni wears more than one hat – he is the Chairman and CEO of NKGB Strategic Advisory, specializing in venture capital, private equity and M&A. He also owns Querciabella, a vegan and biodynamic winery in Italy.
Sebastiano made his first plant-based investment in Beyond Meat in 2013, after hearing about it from Chris Kerr, whom he dubs as his guiding light in the plant-based space. “As someone who invests in many different things, I’m always looking for investments that would match my values,” recounts Sebastiano, a vegetarian/vegan for over 35 years. Therefore when the option of investing in analog meat that can be transformational and revolutionary was presented to Sebastiano, he did not think too long about it.
Sebastiano takes the following factors into consideration before making an investment: originality of the idea; if the idea will be executed by the right people; and if the investment is aligned with vegan ethics. He added such products have to target non-vegetarians. It may also be best to brand them as ‘ecological’ and ‘innovative’ instead of ‘vegan’ since people do not want to be deprived and their freedom of eating be interfered. As an animal activist, Sebastiano sees his role as combining activism and impact investments, saying,“We are not just telling them not to eat meat, but also offering them choices that are practical, tasty and good for their health.”
David Benzaquen, Founder, PlantBased Solutions
As an 18-year vegetarian/vegan and with more than 10 years experience in non-profit organizations, there is no doubt that David Benzaquen has an affinity with the planet and animals. Through his work experience, David has found simply advocating people to go vegan and campaign work is not creating enough impact. In order to make the concept of vegetarian/vegan practical and penetrating, David founded PlantBased Solutions in 2012. The Company focuses mainly on branding, marketing and business consulting for plant-based consumer package companies (CPG), mostly food and beverages, and also supplements and cosmetics companies.
To David, going green never means making sacrifices. “We shall never sacrifice for doing good things. With easier, more accessible, cheaper, more delicious options, there is a much greater chance that our customers would switch their diet.” In order to make plant-based alternatives readily acceptable by the mainstream market, they have to be comparable in terms of taste and cost. “We love people doing things for a right reason, but if it does not taste good, or is not comparable to the products of similar nature available on the market, it is not good. Consumers buy food every day. A 20% increase in price may have a justification such as a cleaner ingredient list and natural ingredients etc. However if the price is double or triple, this is making the product unrealistic.”
In terms of marketing, plant-based products are no different from the mainstream options. “Marketing for these kinds of products is about telling a story. If we tell the story of how a company saves the planet and helps the world, it is telling a beautiful truth,” David says.
“Another thing is what food means to people,” David emphasizes. “It’s not just about being healthy. Some natural brands are talking too much about how natural they are. Dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free, gluten-free…To a point that it tastes like cardboard, or plastic. Taste-free. This does not work well as a strategy because lacking something does not sound attractive to the consumers. Consumers do not buy things because it is less bad. We have to ensure that the food excites people, surprises people, inspires people, makes them laugh and makes them feel touched.”