Investors urge food companies to sell less meat

It makes good business sense to use more plant-based protein, say group managing assets worth $1.25 trillion

Fruit aisle of a supermarket

Sixteen global food businesses are being asked by a team of investors to sell more plant-based protein and less meat, with a view to improving the health of people and planet … and their company profits.

In a letter to companies including Tesco and Walmart, the investors say the “material” risks of farming are skyrocketing – pollution from intensive livestock farming is increasing while welfare standards plummet – with no hope that the industry can keep up with world’s ever-growing appetite for meat. The solution, the investors suggest, is for businesses to jump on the plant-based protein bandwagon.

Brought together as part of the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) initiative, they include the fund arms of insurer Aviva and Norwegian lender Nordea, asset management groups Boston Common and Impax, several Swedish state pension funds and several other charities and ethical investors. Together they manage assets worth $1.25 trillion.

The timely intervention by the financial heavy hitters underlines the extent to which overconsumption of meat will come to impact on companies’ bottom lines. With the world’s population expected to hit 10 billion by 2050, neither land nor water resources – let alone the environment – will be able to cope with the growing global appetite for meat.

Earlier this year researchers calculated that if more people went meat free then global carbon emissions could fall by 63 per cent and $1 trillion could be saved on the global health bill, rising to $30 trillion factoring in lives saved. Countries such as Denmark and China have already stated a commitment to helping their citizens cut back on their consumption of meat.

Meanwhile the non-meat market is expected to grow by 8.4 per cent a year over the next five years. FAIRR argues it makes good business sense to be increasing demand for this greener way of eating and then catering to it. FAIRR founder Jeremy Coller, chief investment officer of private equity firm Coller Capital, said: “The world’s over-reliance on factory-farmed livestock to feed the growing global demand for protein is a recipe for a financial, social and environmental crisis.”

Ella McKinley, of Australian Ethical Investment, which is part of the initiative, added: “Forward-looking companies can move now to encourage more sustainable diets by reducing reliance on meat and growing the market for plant-based protein alternatives. In the process, companies make their own protein supply chains more resilient to future shocks.”

The other companies written to by FAIRR were Kraft Heinz, Nestlé, Unilever, General Mills, Mondelez International, Ahold-Delhaize, The Co-operative Group, Costco Wholesale Corporation, Kroger Company, Marks & Spencer, Wm Morrison Supermarkets, Ocado, Sainsbury’s and Whole Foods Market.