The future of food? (and the agricultural economy?)

Two things caught my eye yesterday:

  1. 2325265.jpg.thumb.420.420.marginAs I was doing some grocery shopping I noticed that my neighbourhood supermarket is expanding the “meatless meat” section, adjacent to the deli, where they stock “soy-burgers” and the like ~ it looked, to me, as though “real,” packaged sliced deli meats were being displaced by the vegetable based faux meats. I didn’t think much of it until;
  2. On arriving home, and just coincidentally, I happened upon this, which is a couple of months old, on Linkedin, it’s by Suzy Welch, an author, journalist and, I hasten to add, a vegan, too:

The Next Big Industry That No One Knows About (Not Even the Future President)

In this series, professionals provide advice for the next U.S. president. What do you want POTUS focused on? Write your own #nextpresident post here.

Let’s start, very briefly, with what I wouldn’t tell the next president. I wouldn’t advise clarity around mission. Wouldn’t talk up building a great team. Wouldn’t riff on candor or generosity.

Those topics matter, of course. But if you’ve been elected president, hello, no one has to tell you how to lead.

No, if I had the next president’s ear, and I assume it wouldn’t be for long, I’d use my time to talk about something not a single candidate, across 21 debates, ever mentioned, not even in passing. 

Plant-based food technology.

Stay with me here.

Because plant-based food technology is, in my assessment, the next big thing for the world economy, and should command the attention of any president — and frankly any business professional — today.

What am I even talking about?

Look, every person on this planet eats, and many of us are lucky enough to not really give much thought about what goes into our mouths, as long as it tastes good. Over the past century, the world’s appetite has increasingly been sated by animal products. That’s no shocker, and indeed, it’s the reason why my husband and I, visiting rural China recently, strolled by a Taco Bell, McDonalds, and KFC, in one block.

NewECO-PresChoiceVeggieBurgerThe future, I would tell the next president, belongs to the entrepreneurs, and the countries that support them, who realize that in ten to twenty years, those restaurants – and likely all restaurants, and homes as well — will be serving very different menus, with dishes that may look and taste familiar and delicious, but derive their ingredients from plants rather than animals. Think a hamburger grown from cultured cells in a lab, slathered with melted cheese made from cashews, topped with “bacon” that’s actually seaweed.

Such a future, I would tell the president, has already begun. The plant-based food industry, currently estimated at $3 billion in sales, has grown 8.7 percent over the past two years, compared to the general food and beverage sector’s 3.7 percent growth. Some analysts predict that plant-based protein (as opposed to animal-based) could leap from less than 1% today to 33% of the market 2054, for an evaluation in the trillions of dollars. Pardon the expression, but Holy Cow!

What’s driving the growth?

The first, of course, is consumer demand. Each for their own reasons, animal welfare advocates concerned about inhumane slaughterhouse practices, medical professionals fighting heart disease and diabetes, not to mention their exorbitant costs, and climate change activists, are all calling loudly for a shift away from factory farming. (The 65 billion farm animals raised each year, according to the United Nations, create 18% of all greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, about 40% more than all the world’s cars, boats, planes, and trains combined.)

But put consumer demand aside, and consider some compelling, larger economic trends. Factory farming is a staggeringly inefficient industry, and all staggeringly inefficient industries fail eventually, to be replaced by innovative, fast-growing ones, like many of those currently emerging in the plant-based space. And then there’s the world population, estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050 – a number that animal agriculture will simply not be able to support. No wonder Bill Gates has called plant-based meats “the future of food.”

Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the plant-based food sector will, without doubt, be met by opposition from Big Ag. And embedded cultural traditions like summer barbeques and Thanksgiving will not transition seamlessly to grilled eggplant at the tailgate party and “Tofurky” supper with gravy.

But leaders are – or they should be – all about defining a brave new future and leading their people there, even if that future involves great change. And so I say, Dear New President, if you’re hungry for a massive new economic win and all the good it brings, a brave new industry is hungry for your attention. Take a bite.


(Note: I’m not advertising for Loblaws or anything like that, but I wanted to sure I chose images of foods that are available at my neighbourhood grocery store.)

BreakfastLinks_smallI have, now and again, tried “veggie burgers” or veggie sausage” and I found them quite unsatisfying and would just as soon do without any meat in my breakfast when the doctor asks me to cut way back on meats in general and processed foods in particular. But, that doesn’t mean that cannot and will not have better tastes when the supply and demand curves dictate.

There is no doubt that protein from farmed meat is, as Suzy Welch describes it, “staggeringly inefficient” …


… but we need lots of protein, but it’s not clear that meats is the best or only good source of it …


… and, it’s important to note that I’m not a doctor or dietician, either, but I do understand that’s it’s not just protein that matters, it’s also the right amino acids and a hundred other things. But the point of this post is: if Suzy Welch is correct and “all staggeringly inefficient industries fail eventually, to be replaced by innovative, fast-growing ones,” then we probably are looking at considerable growth in both demand and supply for some forms of alternative “meat,” including:

  • Perhaps vegetable based;
  • Perhaps insect based;
  • Perhaps laboratory raised …

… but it is coming, I think, something is coming: perhaps not the plant based “meats” Ms Welch wants, but something to supplement the “staggeringly inefficient” meat protein probably must come, and governments should be encouraging “Big Ag” to get on board rather then helping the meat industry to try to stifle competition.


One thing we know is that as incomes rise the demand for meat protein rises with them …

Meat Consumption by Income chart USDA

… and as more of the world moves out of abject poverty the demand for protein will grow and Canada, being a rich source of all sorts of protein ~ animal and vegetable based ~ is set to prosper, too … if governments don’t get in the way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: