The Meat-Free Set Has an Unlikely Ally

by Matthew Makowski, Research Analyst, The Oxford Club

 

In the 1960s, Harvey Comics (best known for Richie Rich and Casper) entered the superhero genre. It was a brazen attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Batman TV show. The outcome was the creation of “Bee-Man.”

The character was singularly focused. He had bee powers. He dressed in bee armor. He ate honey (‘cause you know, bees) and stole gold... because it looks like honey?

Slightly less conspicuous (but no less fixated) is the modern-day vegetarian - or their overzealous relative, the vegan.

Dietary fanaticism (or passion, to be a little less critical) is on the rise. According to GlobalData, in the last three years, there’s been a 600% increase in people who identify as vegan in the U.S.

This isn’t just an American trend. Vegetarianism rose by 400% in Portugal over the past decade, according to Nielsen Holdings. And plant-based diets are growing across Asia as well. Research from Euromonitor International suggests the Chinese vegan market will grow 17.2% between 2015 and 2020.

There are several triggers causing this rise. For some, it’s health related. For others, it’s an issue of ethics. And for others still, it’s a matter of sustainability.

Regardless of the motivation, there is a burgeoning market to cash in on. High protein, plant-based food sales are on the rise. Nielson reports that in the year ending July 2017, sales of plant-based foods and beverages in the U.S. increased 14.7%. Prepared foods containing tofu (like the stuff in the frozen food aisle) grew 2% and drove $91 million in sales last year. And by all accounts, these numbers are expected to increase.

In fact, plant-based food sales are growing four times faster than meat sales. And it’s more than vegetarians and vegans driving that rise. NDP Group reports that 70% of meat eaters are swapping in nonanimal proteins at least once a week.

Enter the improbable CEO preparing to seize on this data. Tyson Foods' (NYSE: TSN) head honcho Tom Hayes recently told Bloomberg Businessweek, “I took this job to help revolutionize the global food system.” And he’s living up to that promise.

Last May, Tyson became a seed investor in Future Meat Technologies, a Jerusalem-based biotechnology company developing “cultured meats” from cells in petri dishes. Likewise, the company has invested heavily in Memphis Meats, which is also developing lab-grown beef, poultry and fish. And it jumped in on a round of financing last December for plant-based protein provider Beyond Meat.

There’s also been movement within the walls of Tyson’s own test kitchens. Cooks have been formulating protein bowls full of quinoa, lentils and chickpeas for the company’s vegetarian Green Street brand, set to hit shelves in 2019.

So despite the rise of chicken consumption in the U.S., Tyson isn’t waiting for the birds to come home to roost. A solid diversification strategy and its foray into forager foods bodes well for its success in a fast-growing market with increasing demand.

There’s a reason Bee-Man lasted only a few years. Even Batman knew when to pump the brakes on the whole bat thing and show up as Bruce Wayne...

Just like Tyson won’t be showing up only in the meat department at your local grocery store.

Good investing,

Matthew

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