The Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) is a values-led network whose investors have over $4.1 trillion of assets under management participating in its activities.
In a bid to understand how companies are set to cash in on the rising demand for alternative proteins, FAIRR evaluated 16 multinationals were evaluated on areas including business strategy, monitoring processes, R&D investment levels and consumer engagement.
To download the report, Plant-based profits: Investment risks and opportunities in sustainable food systems, click here.
These companies it looked at were General Mills, Kraft Heinz, Mondelez International, Nestlé, Unilever, Ahold-Delhaize, The Co-operative Group, Costco, Kroger, Marks & Spencer, Wm Morrison Supermarkets, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Walmart and Whole Foods Market.
Overall, it found UK retailer Tesco and Swiss manufacturer Nestle to be the best prepared. While all 16 companies it looked at had at least one own-brand alternative protein product, it-said only three – Marks & Spencer, Nestlé and Unilever - had established internal targets to increase this.
Despite the food industry being one of the planet’s biggest sources of pollution, the report found a lack of “meaningful programmes” to track, report and reduce supply-chain emissions related to agriculture. Less than half – M&S, Tesco, Walmart, General Mills, Nestlé and Unilever – have targets to reduce supply-chain emissions.
It criticised Costco and (perhaps surprisingly) Whole Foods for failing to adequately respond to investor requests for information or further meetings. Costco, which has a large footprint from its meat sales, was singled out by investors for failing to recognize protein diversification as a material issue.
“We clearly recognise that Whole Foods is a pioneer in this space. Unfortunately, they were the only company not to respond to investor requests for information," head of research and corporate engagement Aarti Ramachandran told us.
“The alternative proteins market is increasingly competitive […] and as investors, we’d like to learn more about Whole Foods’ plans to retain its leadership in this space.
“As Amazon and Whole Foods integrate, customers will benefit from lower prices and better access to Whole Foods’ private label products. However, a larger customer base will also increase the company’s environmental footprint and associated risks.
“For investors, it will remain important to have enough information to understand the company’s exposure to and management of risks linked to animal agriculture. So far, we haven’t seen a robust discussion of those risks from either company.”
Europe is the largest market for meat substitutes, accounting for 39% of global sales, according to Allied Market Research 2016.
With 8% annual growth rates in the EU and flat consumption for traditional meat products, alternative proteins could represent a third of total EU protein demand growth in the next five years, a 2017 Rabobank report suggested.
“It is becoming clear that business as usual is not an option for the meat industry given that its environmental impacts, including emissions and resource use, are becoming increasingly apparent and difficult to ignore," head of investor engagements at FAIRR Rosie Wardle said.
Nestlé: 'The early days of a sector-wide response'
In a foreword to the report, assistant vice president for stakeholder engagement in sustainability at Nestlé Duncan Pollard said industry was bearing witness to “the early days of a sector-wide response to the challenge of increasing exposure to alternative proteins”.
“For food companies and their investors, no roadmap exists to help us navigate the complexity associated with protein diversification,” he said. “A key first step will be to evolve a shared understanding of what corporate best practice in this area looks like across four strands: strategy, innovation, engagement and metrics.”
Pollard said that building up Nestlé’s vegetarian portfolio was one of its strategic priorities, which led to its acquisition of plant-based food firm Sweet Earth in the US and has been driving its decision to reformulate existing products to swap animal-based ingredients for plant-based ones.