Friday, December 9, 2022

How Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed Is Helping Build the Food of the Future

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The future can often seem like some faraway place we’ll never quite get to—especially when it comes to our complicated food system. But for Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, founder and CEO of KBW Ventures, it’s already here.

You may not know Prince Khaled by name, but you’ve certainly seen some of the Saudi prince’s investments. The KBW Ventures investment portfolio includes everyone’s favorite home grow kit purveyors, Back to the Roots, and guilty pleasures fast food brands like America’s Veggie Grill and France’s Furahaa.

KBW Ventures’ portfolio also includes vertical farming company OnePointOne, dairy-free milk brand Ripple, and botanical drink company Kin, which also recently attracted investment from Bella Hadid. Prince Khaled is also an early investor in vegan meat brands Rebellyous Foods and jerky company Moku Foods, a Goop favorite, alongside Bond Pet Foods, that now counts musicians Sia and Joan Jett as investors. He’s a partner of vegan chef Matthew Kenney, who now has more than 50 restaurants worldwide, including a new conceptual menu at Four Seasons Doha, Qatar, already launched ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Four Seasons Doha | Courtesy KBW Ventures

KBW’s portfolio is also filled with another category getting quite a bit of hype that you most certainly haven’t tried yet: cultivated animal protein. The tech includes growing animal cells via various media in laboratory settings, without the need for live animals. These companies are growing steak, fish, and even gelatin, with a fraction of the environmental footprint of live animals. (Singapore is currently the only country in the world that has approved the sale of cultivated meat.)

For the Prince, who straddles the Gen X-Millennial line at age 44, the reason his investment portfolio is so focused on food is that the link between emissions and factory farming—the way 99 percent of livestock are raised—is well established.

Factory farming

“The concept of factory farming is one of our biggest failures as a species in so many ways: it’s a criminal waste of land, water, it offers unspeakable conditions for animals, it’s a main source of polluting many local water reservoirs and so much more,” Prince Khaled told Ethos via email. 

The major problem here, he says, is public perception, “[people] see factory farming as a necessary evil when nothing could be further from the truth.”

Prince Khaled says alt-protein—be it vegan Beyond Burgers or Upside Foods’ cultivated meat—can “elevate the status quo.” 

He clarifies, “By this, I mean that we can all enjoy all the foods we like—exact taste and texture—minus the hormones, chemicals, antibiotics, and more, and simultaneously not have a devastating environmental footprint to show for it.”

Prince Khaled
Prince Khaled at the Venture Forward Summit | Courtesy KBW Ventures

That environmental footprint is significant. The world’s leading climate experts put animal agriculture just behind energy and transportation in emissions production, at about 15 percent of total global emissions. The recent IPCC Working Group III report called for urgent cuts in emissions by 2025, including a 30 percent drop in methane, a common byproduct of ruminant animals such as cows and sheep.

Methane doesn’t have the atmospheric lifetime that carbon does, but in its short life, it traps more heat, something we can’t afford to keep allowing. “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” IPCC Working Group III co-chair Jim Skea said in a statement accompanying the report. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

In February, Pat Brown, founder of Impossible Foods (rival to KBW investment brand Beyond Meat) co-authored research that looked at a climate model based on restoring 30 percent of the planet’s land to native vegetation. This is roughly the same amount of space currently used for raising livestock. The model showed a significant drop in emissions—a 68 percent drop in CO2, a 33 percent drop in methane, and 66 percent in nitrous oxide emissions by making the switch away from animal production.

Changing the food system

In the grand scheme of the pressing climate crisis, changing what we eat is one of, if not the easiest, wins for the planet. Cutting out commute time, using more sustainable energy to cool and heat our homes and offices, finding more sustainable ways to travel—that all takes fundamental, and often structural changes reliant on policymakers and bureaucratic red tape. But opting for a veggie burger instead of beef? You can do that at most major fast-food restaurants right now.  

It’s taken years to get to this point, and it’s by no means a done deal; Beyond Meat’s recent trial expansion with McDonald’s on the McPlant burger hasn’t hit targets. And as subsidies keep the price of beef and dairy abnormally low, it’s harder for plant-based companies to go toe-to-toe with the food giants.  

Moku Jerky
Courtesy

But perfect isn’t the goal here; progress is, and Prince Khaled says there are so many people working to fix the many broken parts of our food system. 

The issues are widespread: on the production side, it’s the ethics and resource-intensive practices that come with raising animals. In plants, it’s using toxic herbicides and pesticides on crops. There are poor labor conditions for field and farmworkers in the U.S. and around the world.

The issues with our food system don’t end there, though. There’s the lack of access to healthy foods in communities of color, the overconsumption of foods linked to conditions including obesity, type-2 diabetes, cancer, and still the number one killer in the west: heart disease.

The biggest problem with our food system though may just be that it’s ill-prepared to deal with a warming planet. Farmers around the globe are already seeing changes in growing cycles. As the planet warms, it’s also making work harder for the people who tend the fields. Earlier this year India and Pakistan experienced a heatwave that saw average daily temperatures hit 92°F, with highs over 120°F, making most work, especially farm work, nearly impossible.

Blue Nalu
Blue Nalu’s cultivated fish | Courtesy

Climate change is impacting the west, too, with soil erosion, drought conditions plaguing the American west, and flooding in other regions threatening crops and livestock. And as war drags on in Ukraine, one of the largest global suppliers of crops including wheat, food prices are going to continue to rise.

“Food security and climate change are intertwined; you cannot discuss one without considering the other,” Prince Khaled says. “I hope someone from COP27 is reading this. It is a clear and simple truth that climate change will make it harder to feed the world, and feeding the world with our current methods will accelerate the climate crisis.”

Future food tech

He says the answer is obvious: “investors need to back future food technologies—alternative proteins and agtech like vertical farming—to put a stop to this circle of environmental degradation and gross inequality in food security.” 

This is where Prince Khaled sees cell-based cultivated meat as a game-changer, even if it’s merely a stepping stone to becoming a predominantly plant-based culture.

“Changing personal behaviors is a grueling task, however, introducing new technologies to slaughterhouses that allow them to produce meat more efficiently and at a faster and higher volume is a much easier task,” Prince Khaled says. “Consumers will soon have less choice in traditional meats—they will eventually buy meat that’s been cell cultivated rather than having animals killed systematically—hopefully that will be a thing of the past.”

KBW Ventures has invested in Upside Foods, BlueNalu, TurtleTree, Geltor, and Bond Pet Foods, all of which are working on bringing “the future of food” to market through various technologies. “The excitement around these companies is that they will actually change the world, the way we consume our natural resources, the way we utilize valuable farmland, everything actually,” he says.

Bond Pet Food
Courtesy

“We stand to benefit reams from these scientific breakthroughs,” Prince Khaled says. “I don’t think anyone—no matter where they stand on the future of food debate—wants to see an earth that is consuming itself.”

He points to Bond Pet Foods as an example. “[W]ho doesn’t want to feed their pet the very best available? But the environmental footprint of traditional pet food is staggering; the global market itself was projected to be worth $110 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $163 billion by 2029. 

“Now, hearing those numbers, how much land, water, crops, and more would we be saving if we didn’t have factory-farmed animals as part of the production of meat for pet food? This is where Bond’s science comes into the picture—using fermentation to grow the meats we need for high-quality pet food will greatly alleviate the perceived need for factory farming,” he says. 

Consumer perceptions

As promising as it all sounds, though, these future foods, whether using cell cultivation or varying types of fermentation, have received backlash.

There are the comparisons to genetically modified “frankenfoods” and the “but it’s not real food” criticisms from respected food justice leaders like chef Alice Waters.

There are also concerns about scalability–many of the companies in the cell-based space have missed forecasts on price and growth time, among other issues. But Prince Khaled sees it another way.

Prince Khaled
Prince Khaled | Courtesy KBW Ventures

“I wouldn’t have invested if I didn’t see the potential to scale,” he says. “That’s one of the first things I look for. Similarly, I wouldn’t have invested if I didn’t truly believe in the market potential. I think, with the proper communications—marketing is key—and the right regulatory framework that makes for a smooth market entry, not onerous and heavy, then yes, cultivated foods will be the key to changing the way the world sees protein and its sources.”

In a recent report, Bloomberg Intelligence predicted “explosive growth” in plant-based protein, growing from just over $29 billion to more than $162 billion within the next decade.

It’s not insignificant, but by comparison, the same report points to demand for traditional meat and dairy to reach $20 trillion in the same timeframe. Meat alone is expected to increase to more than $1 trillion by 2025—up from $838 billion in 2020, says Prince Khaled. 

“Imagine if even a fraction of that demand chooses alt-protein products; the cell-ag products will also be ready for market, so these will claim market share as well,” he says. “My firm belief is that food tech is not just going to make a dent, it’s going to take over conventional animal agriculture at some point.” 

For more info, visit KBW Ventures’ website here.

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