An increasing number of food and beverage entrepreneurs will likely continue to push into the alternative proteins space in a post-COVID era, coinciding with a slowdown in meat consumption globally, predicts Julien Machot, managing partner of VERSO Capital.
The trend will be further accelerated by new plant products and cell-based technologies, driving the overall category to reach $4.8 billion in revenue by 2027, 40.5% of which will be generated from the U.S.
“The trade of animals in order to feed our population has to come to an end. This is simply unsustainable,” said Machot, who has put planetary health at the center stage of his investment process since launching his Luxembourg-based merchant banking and UHNW advisory firm in 2017.
300% Growth Across Portfolio
The venture division of the company VERSO Capital has led investments in some of the trendiest businesses in the food tech and alternative protein sectors, including Impossible Foods, This Isn’t Meat, Eat Just, Nitro Beverage, and TurtleTree, deploying a total of $375 million to-date.
These companies have experienced an aggregated 300% growth rate in sales over the past 36 months, according to Machot, which will enable VERSO to further explore newer food technologies that help fight climate change.
Julien Machot, managing partner of VERSO Capital, believes deploying capital in highly selected food ... [+]
“Back in 2017,” he said, “VERSO was interested in climate tech, but lacking engineering and technical skills drove me to find an easier and more accessible entry point — food tech became an obvious target since dairy cattle contributes to 40% of all methane emissions worldwide.”
Environmental concerns around traditional animal farming are also breeding a growing number of alternative protein-focused venture funds, including Lever VC and PowerPlant Ventures, which have recently raised $80 million and $165 million through their respective Fund I and Fund II. The former is also an investor of cultured dairy company TurtleTree.
Regulations remain a major hurdle for cell-based meat and dairy to be commercialized, but once they’re cleared, the alternative protein market will significantly expand, Machot stressed, saying: “I recall five years ago how food tech was perceived as ‘a passing trend for vegan Californians,’ but now I would not be surprised to see great expansion of cellular meat, especially beef and chicken, as well as egg and human milk alternative products.
“Plant-based, for one, has grown 27% [in annual sales] before COVID, and this growth rate is going to double in the next couple of years without a doubt.”
“Is This Company Part Of The Future?”
Laser focus on food tech is only one of the elements that help differentiate VERSO from many consumer-oriented investment firms that rather diversify their portfolios to derisk financial loss, according to Machot.
More importantly, his background in managing wealth directly for UHNW families as a former private banker enables Machot to better align with VERSO’s limited partners in mission-driven values, and act as a more effective advisor for its portfolio companies.
“VERSO is not a typical investment firm,” said Machot. “We typically fund between 10-50% of any allocation ourselves. We are fully aligned with our LPs, including a hybrid of UHNW individuals, family offices, private banks, pension funds and sovereign wealth funds, as we charge them zero management fees.”
The company also deploys capital in highly selected companies after a strenuous due diligence process, which Machot believes allows it to build an intimate relationship with their founding teams. He said: “There is a complex mechanism that unfolds during our deal sourcing, and seems to always revert back to the same question: Is this company part of the future?”
“Our mission is to support our investments by seeking to deploy three to five times follow-on capital,” Machot noted, and the goal for VERSO is to ultimately become “the next-generation merchant bank, a top-tier investor in alternative assets, including proprietary private equity, daring venture capital, and landmark real estate.”
“We are only at the beginning of a food revolution that most consumers understand is desperately needed,” he said.