An Interview with Jim Mellon from Agronomics

By David Stevenson on Thursday 11 March 2021

An Interview with Jim Mellon from Agronomics
Image source: Jim Mellon
InterviewFood DeliveryGrocery DeliveryDairy SubstitutesFood Waste Tech

David Stevenson caught up with investor and entrepreneur Jim Mellon back in January for a wide-ranging discussion of the whole future food space, with a particular focus on cellular, lab grown meat alternatives.

His latest book Moo’s Law provides a wealth of information about these alternatives to meat, with many of the businesses in this space also featuring in agronomics, an AIM listed investment company which acts as a VC for this space. Jim is a director of Agronomics.

 

 

Transcript of interview

This is an unedited, long version of the interview.

DAVID STEVENSON: I’m going to basically cut straight to the meat of it all and I really want to ask you about, you placed a big bet in the book on cellular meat, or alternative pro-teins but based on the kind of cellular growths, and I just wanted to come straight in on that and ask you why you think that’s so much more interesting as an investment proposi-tion than say, for instance, the plant-based proteins, Beyond and Impossible are the big brands known in that space. There’s a lot of other ones as well, but in the book, you place a big bet on cellular growth, and also after that, maybe explain what it actually means. But why do you think cellular is so important?

JIM MELLON: It’s a very good question. So, I’m not against the plant-based compa-nies and in fact I interviewed Ethan Brown of Beyond for the book as you know-

DAVID STEVENSON: Yes.

JIM MELLON: -and a couple of other people including Morten of Meatless Farms in the UK and talk about Quorn and you know, some of the other companies in that area. The problem is that they don’t really have the IP that cell ag has. They’re effectively marketing companies, and so you and I could set up a plant-based protein company tomorrow, call them whatever we want, and we’re going to be going up against the big established play-ers like Kellogg’s, Unilever, Nestlé, who have a all got their own brands now, and even some of the supermarkets have their own brands, and McDonalds has brought out McPlant which is its own brand of plant-based burgers, and it becomes a marketing game. That’s very expensive and it would be difficult for us to have some defensible IP in.

In cell ag and all the stuff that we’ve invested in, there are about 30 investment companies out of 60 that I counted for the book. They all have some form of IP that’s defendable over the next 10 years or so to give them a good period of commercial exploitation. And I’ll just quickly because you asked me to, give a brief description of what cell ag is.

So essentially it’s what some people would call lab grown food and materials. As I men-tioned just now, there are 30 companies that we consider to be investable. Those compa-nies all have prototypes, so otherwise this is not science fiction. They are all making foods and materials in laboratories, and essentially what they do is to take stem cells from the relevant animals or fish or in the case of cotton, cotton, and they amplify those and [bathe them phonetic 00:06:16] in nutrients and then they divide them into whatever components they want, and their components are brought back together and produce meat, fish, or ma-terials.

And to give you a very quick example of how that works, you would take a wonderful cow, the best instance of its breed, for instance the meat that you were trying to make, you take a stem cell biopsy from the cow. It doesn’t feel anything. It’s only 2.5cl, and you amplify its stem cells, and 40 days later, in contrast to a cow which takes about 28 months to grow to being suitable for meat, you have the equivalent of seven or eight cows’ worth of beef, which is around 3000 kilos.

So that’s the trajectory that we’re on, and as I said, every one of these companies has a tasting prototype or something that you can feel or touch, in the case of materials, and some of them will be on the market within the next year. The seafood companies, particu-larly BlueNalu will be on the market in the United States by then end of this year, so it’s really moving very quickly. And Eat JUST which has a chicken lab grown alternative is al-ready approved for sale in Singapore, which is a very dynamic area for this cell ag stuff.

And so we’re looking at a fundamental revolution of a very large industry that the beef in-dustry is. Around the world it’s equivalent to the size of the economy of Spain. It will be, in 20 years’ time, the equivalent to the size of the UK economy. So very big indeed. It’s a big prize and within a few years we’ll reach what is known as griddle, or what I call Griddle Parity, which is where the prices are equivalent between conventional meat, which all sorts of negative elements to it as we know, and lab grown meat, and indeed Griddle Parity is almost been reached by plant-based meats already. So the conventional meat will be more expensive than lab grown meat sometime in the next five years or so, and hence the great opportunity. No emissions-

DAVID STEVENSON: Okay.

JIM MELLON: -no more cruelty, no nothing, and a cheaper price.

DAVID STEVENSON: Just so I understand, so you do explain in great detail in the book about the technology, but’s important I suppose to get a slightly deeper understand-ing of the technology. So you say you take a stem cell. Now that may raise ethical impli-cations for some people because of course you are having some animal product there, even though the animal as you say, does not have to be slaughtered, it could be the best animal. It could be last 250 cows on the planet grown for agriculture, but nevertheless you have some animal trace in there. So I imagine that raises a question, maybe come back to that in a second, of an alternative way of getting those specimen. Then you’ve got as I under-stand it, you’ve got the kind of agents that encouraged growth, yeah, and then you’ve got the media that allows the expansion. Because I suppose what I’m trying to get- I’m not a scientist, so I was trying to get my head around this, is that you’re effectively taking a kind of cellular blueprint, which is from the biopsy, and then telling that blueprint to grow at a phenomenal rate over a period of weeks, but then you have to feed it something. I apolo-gise for the simple language, but I’m trying to get my head around it. So you obviously have to feed it, I believe, if I’m right, media, to allow the growth to happen. What is that media? I suppose, you know, out of something very small you end up with something quite large. With animals we sort of know what to do. We feed them crops, and we know that the animal grows because it has, in a sense it’s got its coding instructions to grow, using the media which is grass, I suppose. Just what is the media? How do we end up having those many kilograms of cellular grown meat? That’s what I’m trying to get my head around. What are the inputs?

JIM MELLON: Yes, so obviously this is an industry in evolution, it’s not you know, something that’s static, so what there’s been produced so far is based on biotech produc-tion methods, very expensive-

DAVID STEVENSON: Yes.

JIM MELLON: -and the bioreactors for instance are the ones that are used in bio-tech, where the price of the end product is enormous relative to the cost of the inputs. Here, the cost of the inputs will be effectively, in most cases, the price of the end products which can’t be too high because otherwise no-one will buy it. So the scale up is really im-portant, hence the word, the phrase moo’s law, which you know, is a rip off of the old Moore’s law.

So we need bioreactors that are not just 200 litres as they are at the moment, but 20,000 litres and up to 100,000. We also need the price of media to come down, and the media, you’re quite right David, is basically the equivalent that cows would get by eating plant, but getting it in a more direct chemical form. So amino acids, starches, sugars etc.

DAVID STEVENSON: Ok.

JIM MELLON: And those are encouraged, and the cells are encouraged by the use of growth factors. And initially the growth factors that were used in the production of cell ag meats and seafood were derived from foetal bovine serum, which is exactly what it says, and they’re basically these are cows going to slaughter which are pregnant and they take the serum out. It’s a pretty gruesome thing, out of the foetus, and they charge a very high price for it.

Now every company has moved away from FBS because of exactly the ethical questions that have been raised, but there’s no getting away, at least at the moment, from the fact that a non cruel way, some element of animals will have to be used. In the same way that for instance we give blood, to save fellow human beings, there’ll be some element of the animal biology that the animal won’t even feel, won’t notice that it’s being biopsied, and won’t be biopsied, you know, ten times a day, but rather, you know, maybe once every three or four weeks, to produce the starting mechanism, the stem cells that need to be amplified.

So I’m sure that there are extreme vegans out there who will object to that and will not eat even the lab grown meat, but I think for most vegans, vegetarians, people who are pes-catarian or flexitarian, which is an increasing share of the population, this will be absolutely acceptable, providing that it’s safe, that it tastes the same and the texture’s the same and that the price is a reasonable price.

DAVID STEVENSON: I’ll come back to some of the kind of- at the end we’ll look at some of maybe the challenges. One observation I’d make; my wife’s a vegetarian and she cares about animal rights. I think, are you a vegetarian as well or a vegan? I can’t remem-ber now.

JIM MELLON: I don’t eat meat.

DAVID STEVENSON: You do not eat meat, okay. I asked her about all this and she said, “I wouldn’t touch it anyway because to be honest, I don’t like the texture of meat. I don’t want to taste anything like the texture of meat.” So she said “I wouldn’t really be in-terested,” and I’ve always felt, and I do eat meat, I’m interested in this product because many of the reasons that you said. So, I always thought that probably the biggest market for this is probably not your hardcore vegans or hardcore vegetarians, but it’s probably just mainstream consumers like me who probably just think, well I’d rather not have cheap mass-produced mince, beef mince, or cheap mass-produced chicken. I would rather have something which didn’t have all the connotations. So I take on board your points there.

I want to come back to the point about scale. You mentioned about the bioreactors, these kind of steel containers that sit in laboratory-like conditions or in laboratories, sort of bor-rowed from the biotech industry and the ability to scale up. At what point do you think we’re going to get, I think you’ve probably already suggested this with fish, but in beef par-ticularly, or let’s say red meat products, so beef and pork. What point do you think we’re going to be able to get to sufficient scale that we’re going to see it in a supermarket shelf?

So I went down to my local Costco and I think Beyond is already there. So plant-based pro-tein is already sitting in a Costco. We’ve got Quorn sitting in most supermarkets. When do you think that we’ll have cellular products at scale in a supermarket near us?

JIM MELLON: Well, that’s another great question. Well, realistically the first prod-ucts that will be on the market will be seafood products.

DAVID STEVENSON: Yes.

JIM MELLON: And they’ll be on by the end of this year.

DAVID STEVENSON: Okay.

JIM MELLON: And that is because the regulatory authorities in the United States co-regulate the beef industry and the meat industry, so that’s the USDA and the FDA. Sea-food is only regulated by the FDA and so BlueNalu which is the leader in this area has al-ready got you know, you can eat its fish and it will be on the market, we think, by the end of this year. And I imagine in the UK that will be a year or so after the United States which is, apart from smaller countries like Singapore and maybe some of the Middle Eastern coun-tries which are going to authorise this stuff faster, the US is way ahead of the curve on al-most every part of this area.

So as far as meat is concerned, we would not think that the stuff will be at scale for anoth-er two or three years. So it’s some way away, and the company, as you know David, it’s not much money that’s gone into this yet. There’s huge amount that’s going to come in but you know, at the end of last year there was about $400,000,000 had gone in, of which, you know, a good amount had come from us, so it’s not as yet a big money area, but it will be because once you start building the bioreactors, and once you start having to scale up, they’re going to need very large amounts of capital. We think that it will cost, by the way, about USD100,000,000 to produce enough meat equivalent protein for about 70,000 peo-ple for 20 something years. That’s the kind of cost of establishing the factories around the world.

DAVID STEVENSON: I imagine Elon Musk must be looking at that and thinking what he does with Mars then, when he gets his hands-

JIM MELLON: I hope not because he should leave some stuff to other people. He can’t have all the money in the world.

DAVID STEVENSON: Anyway I want to pick up on fish because reading your book, the one thing that really struck with me is fish, because I have a particular beef that fishing is abso-lutely, a lot of fishing is disastrous, particularly industrial trawling, for the oceans, and what was very interesting there is I think the challenges around fish, funnily enough from a con-sumer preference point might be less than with red meat. And again, I’ll come back to the point, you know, a lot of people like me who do eat red meat, you know, I would take con-vincing about an organic steak from a farm that I knew to a cellular steak. Partly because driven by taste and texture, and I know people are working on things like 3D printing and scaffolding to make sure you’ve got the texture of the beef right, so that the steak’s right. I’m not 100% convinced by that but fish, now that’s a slightly different proposition. Of course, fish has texture, each of the individual varieties of fish that we eat had their own different texture and taste, but I suspect actually an awful lot of consumers will understand that there are a lot of very egregious fishing practices out there, and that actually you prob-ably can get quite close to the texture and feel of fish, a lot of fish, particularly white fish, also maybe tuna. I have my doubts about salmon but we’ll come back to that. So do you think that there’s a bigger market for fish for the next five to ten years than there is in red meat?

JIM MELLON: I wouldn’t say so, but I think fish will be, it’s a very good point you make. The thing about fish is that lobby is not as strong as it is with like the Cattlemen’s Association of the United States or the beef farmers of Europe. So it’s easier to get fish products that are cell derived on the market.

DAVID STEVENSON: Yes.

JIM MELLON: The second thing is that you’re absolutely right. Not only the ocean’s been despoiled by current fishing practices, and many types of fish are being fished to ex-tinction. So McDonalds for instance has run through six different species since it started with its fillet-o-fish, but you also have micro plastics, mercury, in wild caught fish, which is about half of all the fish, and then in farmed fish, which is, if people actually saw what these fish farms are actually like, a lot of them are like, they wouldn’t eat it; full of antibiot-ics, hormones, densely packed and actually by evolutionary drift, genetically modified from their wild caught compatriots. And furthermore, in the case of salmon, quite often fed by wild caught fish. So in other words, they grind up the fish they catch in the ocean, and feed it to the farmed fish. It’s a pretty disgusting industry. So you’re right, and I think that many people will be more receptive to eating cell ag fish as a result. However, in terms of meat, what I would say is that in the United States, 60% of meat, and in the UK 50% of meat is ground, it’s mince, it’s burgers, it’s stuff that goes into sausages etc. It’s not a steak, it’s not like the organic steak that you buy down the road. It’s a gloop that people use to eat, and I think that that is the first market these meat companies are going after. They’re not going after, I mean there are, Allied Farms in Israel tried to produce lab grown steaks.

I think there’s a level of complication that’s going to take time to resolve, but making the burger patties from cell ag products like Mosa Meat or Meatable are making is not going to be such a challenge, and I think that once people start eating these, especially if the price is lower and they know they’re not getting antibiotics and bad stuff in there, they’ll eat the ground beef. So I wouldn’t say necessarily it’s going to be a, fish is the only thing. I think in the next few years we’ll also see ground beef becoming a factor in this market.

DAVID STEVENSON: I 100% agree and in fact one of the most interesting things I was reading recently, there is quite a few investments have gone into things like compa-nies doing alternative protein fish chowder, shrimp and there, you know, I can’t really imag-ine lots of people going, “I must have that fish chowder from that dreadful farm you know, in the delta around China.” You know, I can see that exactly your point around kind of the equivalent of minced beef, be a quick straight move over of alternative proteins, and there-fore, can I ask this question? I think you’re probably going to say yes with me. It’s the steak [unclear 00:21:59] you could push it out things like, I saw one company doing Iberico jamon and all this kind of stuff, and look, it’s a great idea, I like my jamón as much as the next person but I just think that the complexity of a lot of the meat-based products is just too difficult for the short to medium term and that most of the action is going to happen effectively in ground bound components. That’s effectively what we’re talking about is. Is that where you think the action is?

JIM MELLON: Yes, I do. I mean, you know there’s a company called Vow in Austral-ia which is making kangaroo meat. There’s companies that are, Peace of Meat in Belgium, trying to produce foie gras.

DAVID STEVENSON: I think they’re all too exotic. You know, foie gras is a big mar-ket, and it’s a disgusting way in which it’s produced but I just think it’s too niche. I mean, the market opportunity is 1.5 trillion US dollars around the world for mass produced meat. Why not go after that market? And I think that’s going to be the big prize.

In terms of fish, you’re looking at a market that’s you know, close to a billion, sorry, a trillion dollars potentially. It’s hard to, it’s not easy to quantify fish as it is with meat, but nonethe-less it’s a very big market to go after, and particularly in countries which have a predilec-tion for fish, like for instance Japan. And so you know, tuna grown in labs I think is going to be a very big deal indeed.

DAVID STEVENSON: Yes. Just one other, before we move onto the investment side of it, what about hybrid structures? So I was struck, reading your book and again, I’ve been reading around a lot of the trade press and there’s a few people playing around with alternative oils and alternative fat and ingredients, and one could imagine an intermediate hybrid spec whereby you use plant-based proteins. Now friends of mine, I’ve not actually tried any of them, will quite often say, yeah, they taste sort of near beef, yeah, if you have a beef burger for instance, but not quite there yet. I’ve particularly heard that with bacon actually, and pork-based products. You could imagine in a hybrid structure whereby you’re using cellular grown oil and other forms of ingredients that you add to the plant-based pro-teins to effectively, so that the plant-based proteins provide in a sense the bulk, but the tasting’s provided by the cellular ag. Would that hybrid structure ever work in the market, do you think?

JIM MELLON: Yes, I think it will. I mean there are two types of hybrid. There’s the cell ag mixed with plants, seems fine to me, and then there’s the stuff that Cargill and Ty-son are trying to churn out which is plant-based foods mixed with conventional meat.

DAVID STEVENSON: Yes.

JIM MELLON: So I’d create a hybrid product. To me that is just disguising, you know, animals products in a very underhand way’ so I wouldn’t go for that. But I would say that the hybrid that you just described is probably going to be a big part of the market, be-cause the cell ag stuff will still be expensive relative to the plant-based stuff for some time to come. So you know, mixing the two is a way of first of all, introducing the consumers to it, and secondly creating something that’s a balanced nutritional product.

DAVID STEVENSON: Which leads us nicely, so in a sense you could call the com-panies doing kind of ingredients fat-based substitutes and other things, the oil based sub-stitutes, as providing the kind of picks and shovels, in many respects, of the industry. And we know that from other gold rushes that’s it’s the picks and shovels people who quite of-ten do very well. And that’s an interesting area, you talk about it in the book.

Talk us through, so who are the kind of people, there’s obviously, the problem I suppose is that cellular ag has got a few challenges. It’s got challenge A which is, it’s got to basically get the price point right, and then B, once it’s got the price point right, it’s got to build a brand, it’s still got to get out to market.

The picks and shovels guys don’t necessarily have all the same problems. So what do you think from an investment point of view about the picks and shovels space? Who’s interest-ing there? I mean, should we all be going out and buying, what is it, Thermo Fisher Scien-tific, you know, people who do all the laboratory equipment, or presumably there are more focused niche players.

JIM MELLON: Yes, so Thermo Fisher is owned by Sartorius I believe, from Germany, and you can buy shares in that, but most of these companies are heavily diluted in terms of their exposure to food. It doesn’t mean that food won’t become an important component, but also highly rated and yes, so in theory David, I completely agree, picks and shovels, great, and we are looking at companies for instance that are making [unclear] much more cheaply. We are looking at companies that can make sensors more cheaply, and lowering the cost of production, and that absolutely is a strategy of Agronomics and its [unclear].

But then you mentioned components as well, and so Geltor which is a company that is re-cently quite well funded, making collagen and gelatine substitutes. Gelatines are used widely in the food industry, it comes from cadaver animals. That is a very interesting space.

Companies that are making components for the food service industry from dairy products, like Perfect Day in the United States, very interesting. And so there are lots of areas of po-tential commercial exploitation that we can address.

There is also the subject of white space. So, you know, Agronomics itself, rather like we’ve done with our biotech companies, including Juvenescence, is looking at backing scientists and entrepreneurs to create companies in which it has not just five or 10 percent, but maybe 50% of a company in an area that’s not yet been exploited, and that we hope will add some lustre to Agronomics. And we’re also looking at doing licensing deals between companies situated in the US but haven’t got a clue about overseas markets, and acting as their middleman agent for markets of, for instance, in the Middle East, which is where I am at the moment, because countries that are food insecure, all of them are in the Middle East, or countries like Singapore or Hong Kong are ideal places to first of all accelerate the pro-cess and regulations, and secondly to build the lab grown structures so that they can be more self-sufficient in food.

So there’s lots of white space and opportunity in this area, but the problem is that compa-nies that currently have, make the nutrients and the media, growth factors and so forth are already large, large companies in the biotech sector which, you know, you’re basically buy-ing a whole load of other business apart from the very small business that’s represented by food at the moment.

DAVID STEVENSON: Now you just mentioned Agronomics, I was going to come onto that. So Agronomics is a London listed investments fund, I think it’s probably [unclear 00:29:35] as an investment fund, and I think, I bumped into, there’s a Canadian outfit I think that might be out there, but you’re basically the biggest by a long stretch, and certainly the one with the most success in the share price term. The share price has moved up quite swiftly as we’re speaking. Just talk us through the Agronomics model. Now you’ve got, you’re effectively a kind of listed venture capitalist in this space, from what I can work out. You have a portfolio with investments that includes BlueNalu. Do you want to just talk us through what the modus operandi of that fund is?

JIM MELLON: Yes, great question. So, the Agronomics started off as being a vehi-cle for people to access the the series As, because there haven’t been series Bs yet in this area, as well as to invest in some of the plant-based stuff. So it has a big position in Live Kindly, which is likely to go public very soon, as an example. So it’s not just cell ag, but largely cell ag with some plant-based stuff attached to it. But it’s evolving into more than just a portfolio of you know, positions of five percent or so in these companies. As I under-stand it, I know it’s got 14 companies in the portfolio out of the 30 investable. ones. It’s also looking at, as I mentioned earlier, the white spaces that it can back itself. So Agro-nomics itself will be the progenitor and the owner of, the substantial owner of these com-panies. Also doing licensing deals which Agronomics would benefit from, in the areas that are food insecure and where- but largely American companies don’t really know how to op-erate.

Agronomics covers food, including meat and seafood. It also covers material. So it’s got an investment in VitroLabs, which is super promising and produces leather in a lab from cow stem cells. That’s a fantastic business and already they’re getting very close to the price of conventionally produced luxury leather, and already they have commercial contracts. And then cotton, which is very destructive to the environment, as indeed is all this stuff, and where you can basically produce cotton, theoretically at least, one sixth of the price with very little environmental damage compared the current methods of production of cotton.

It also has a British company, a big investment in Tropic, which is using gene editing tech-niques to make plants more resilient. It’s a world leader in that area, and so it’s got a fairly broad portfolio. It was set up; it was a London shell company. I’m the biggest shareholder and in the most recent round I put up the largest amount of money. I’m a real big believer in this area. It doesn’t have a management fee, it has a performance fee, which is front back ended, but not egregious. It’s about $100,000,000 in size at the moment and our objective is to make it $500,000,000 by the end of this year, which I think we can do through a process of NAV accretion, and also money that is sitting on the sidelines, but once it’s come into this area, is enormous.

As you rightly point out, there’s a vegan ETF in the US that as far as I can see, just invests in Facebook and Google, which I don’t know what they have to do with veganism, and then there’s a couple of Mickey Mouse companies, but there’s nothing listed yet. So it’s a very good way for investors to cut a stake in these companies because most of them are just going to stay, I think a lot of them will stay private.

I mean I think the whole industry will evolve as follows: I put it in my book that they’re go-ing to, companies are going to fold as they always do in new areas. Most of them will be sold. I think that the big food companies will buy them for their technologies, rather like biotech companies are bought by big pharma companies, so that they act as the marketing agents for their innovative products, and it will be the same with this, and there’ll be one or two that will plough their own furrow.

So if I had to guess, I would say that in 10 years’ time, Agronomics won’t exist. It will have paid back its profits to shareholders and distributed any other companies that go forward as large companies to shareholders by way of specie distribution. And then obviously there’ll be a few that will have gone bust in the portfolio because that’s the way of the world. But overall I think this industry could be very large indeed, and at the moment it’s just, as I said, $400,000,000 has gone in. I expect it to be well over a billion dollars of fresh capital this year, probably a lot more, so the money is, as with everything else, is beginning to fol-low the trend of consumers wanting to eat cleanly and healthily, and let’s face it, all pan-demics, all of them have come from food malpractice, largely in the Far East.

DAVID STEVENSON: Just before we finish up, a couple of last questions. As an investor in this space, obviously you can invest in Agronomics, but there will be other companies that list. I think I’ve got a little database I’ve been building, and there’s a few companies out there on the Israeli exchange. You know, there’s not a lot out there. For the investor looking to invest in this space, obviously economics would be the perfect ve-hicle, but what would be your warnings about how you need to navigate around this space? Because you said there are companies that are going to go bust. So what are the things that you as somebody who invests in this space are, you’d go, well there’s kind of warning signs around that. What would you be careful about?

JIM MELLON: Well first of all as I mentioned to you David, I think the exotic stuff I would just leave to one side.

DAVID STEVENSON: Yes.

JIM MELLON: Because it may be that one or two of them will succeed but there’s no point taking an unnecessary layer of risk. The second is look for the veteran manage-ment teams, I mean as an example, Memphis Meats in the US has a very strong manage-ment team and you’ve got BlueNalu, very strong management team and we like Mosa and Meatable as well. All of these companies are as yet not planning to list. You’ll get more plant-based ones listing quite soon I think. Live Kindly is an excellent company by the way, and I think they’re going to list at maybe even five billion euros. I don’t know for sure but that’s the kind of talk around the town.

So I’d go for the more veteran teams that have food experience, that have some biotech experience, and that have a working product rather than something that’s, you know, sci-ence fiction on the bench, basically. We like Solar from Finland, which is producing pro-teins effectively out of thin air using electrolysis, and there’s another company in the US which looks appealing as well called Air Protein in the same area.

I would look for a sort of balanced approach in this area. But the great news is that there aren’t that many of them and so in the book, all proceeds to the Good Food Institute, which is the leading advocacy group in this area, fantastic organisation. You’ll find a list of all the companies and then recomm- not recommendations but descriptions of the ones that we like more than the others, and so hopefully people will pick up the book and have a look at that, and also the website for the book and for Agronomics contains you know, up to date information on the industry. It’s a very fast-moving industry. This is going to move much faster than the typical biotech industry because it doesn’t have to go through 10 years of trials and bills of research, and you’ll see pretty high sells I would think, in the next five years.

We think Ex, the UK consultancy thinks that half of the conventional meat industry will be gone by the year 2030, which is only nine years away as we know. So this is very rapidly moving. I always tell people that if you don’t believe that trajectory then just took at what’s happened to conventional milk production in the United States. It’s alternative milk, soya, rice, oat etc., gone from half percent of the market in the US, 10 years ago, to 20% today, and they’re all plant-based. And we actually have a company called LegenDairy that’s in-volved in that in our portfolio, Agronomics.

DAVID STEVENSON: One last question actually just related back to the kind of listed company thing. One of the companies that’s sort of connected to this space that did emerge on the market in November was a company called Novas Capital, which is kind of, which speaks to the agtech revolution, which you, with Tropic, have a connection to, but there’s a bigger agtech revolution kicking off as well, and as you said, agriculture and farm-ing will be revolutionised come what may. What do you make of the agtech revolution? So for instance Novus which is a SPAC. It’s got a business called AppHarvest backed into it, and we’re due to have a chat to them but from what we can work out effectively you’ve got next generation greenhouses banging up against vertical farming. You know, your, how do you get the intensity of faming get increased. What do you make of that kind of vertical farming next gen. greenhouses, but more general the agtech space, because again, there might well be quite a lot of businesses popping up in that space?

JIM MELLON: Yeah I think it’s very interesting. I cover it in the book but I say that it’s a very capital intensive business, and so far vertical farms haven’t made any money for anyone, apart from if you throw them on the stock market, and so it’s not an area that we’re involved in.

The other thing about vertical farming is that you need very high cash crop prices to make it work. So it’s littered to a few types of crops. There’s a German company out there which is now putting mini vertical farms into supermarkets. I think they’re going to be putting them into UK supermarkets as well, so maybe the idea of picking your fresh produce while you walk around the supermarket will be appealing to consumers, but let’s face it, the sup-ply chain of vegetables, fruit and vegetables etc. is pretty well established. As far as I’m aware there’s not a lot of cruelty involved in the process, of course the carbon footprint’s not great because of the distance that the stuff has to travel, but it’s completely different to the intensively farmed meat industry which accounts for one fifth of all global emissions, water misuse, land, particularly in the Amazon rainforest, very inefficient way of converting crops into animal protein and you know, has almost everything negative attached to it, in-cluding antibiotics, hormones etc., which can lead to massive pandemic risk. It’s not the same in the farming of fruit and vegetables, so it’s not an area that’s directly appealing to us at the moment at least.

 

Companies in this Article:
Agronomics
Perfect Day
Memphis Meats
Geltor
People in this Article:
More like this:

An Interview with Jim Mellon from Agronomics

11 March 2021
David Stevenson

Best of the Web - February

21 February 2021
David Stevenson

An Interview with Jonathan Weins, of Pop Meals

23 March 2021
Paul Cuatrecasas

Best of the Web - January

21 January 2021
David Stevenson