Across the pond in the United Kingdom, Goldsmiths, which is part of the University of London system, made news with its announcement that beef products will no longer be sold beginning this academic year. The decision is part of the college’s climate action plan, which includes imposing fees on plastic cups and plastic water bottles, as well as investments in renewables. Goldsmiths has a message to investors and energy companies as well: The college’s endowment fund will divest from any company that generates more than 10 percent of its revenues from fossil fuels, the Guardian reports.
This news coming out of London does not necessarily mean we'll see a rapid domino effect of more colleges and universities nixing meat companies from their list of approved suppliers. Such a move could be a tough sell in other corners of the globe—after all, at least one U.S. state has banned the use of terms of such as “veggie burgers” in retail outlets, even threatening jail time for offenders. Higher-ups within meat industry trade organizations may feel smug for now, but while they won that battle, they are risking losing the plant-based versus animal-based war in the long run.
The stubborn reality is that the likes of Goldsmiths and WeWork will not be outliers for long. The fact is, if we see more bans like this take hold—even if it's only in states and cities like the usual suspects including California, Massachusetts, Austin and Seattle—the message will be clear: Transform your business models if you want to do business with us. If you want to score those lucrative supplier contracts, adapt or lose out.
Companies are already getting the message. Nestlé, for example, will soon roll out its version of a plant-based burger in the U.S. and Europe. Smithfield Foods has launched a line of soy-based meatless products, which could be available in 5,000 stores by February 2020. Tyson Foods was once an investor in Beyond Meat, only to terminate that relationship. But not to be outdone, the Arkansas-based food giant recently released its own alternative meat product.
It’s an exciting time to be a foodtech startup. New products keep rolling out, and this era is reminiscent of the dot-com years of the early 1990s: New startups emerging on the scene, with many of them hoping (but not admitting) to get gobbled up by a larger company that has the cash, resources and talent to bring them to market.
The outlook for this sector is not all rosy. There is still the challenge of addressing overfishing with plant- and legume-based alternatives to fish. And the “beef is bad for the environment” argument is a nuanced one. As TriplePundit’s financial writer Amy Brown has pointed out, there are plenty of cattle operations that actually double as carbon sinks, and the argument that plant-based burgers are healthier for you is not necessarily the case. Finally, as all of the chatter on financial news channels and websites keep reminding us with Beyond Meat’s IPO, there could always be a crash, akin to how the dot-com sector finally took a nosedive in the early 2000s.
The companies that can successfully market to the Goldsmiths of the world, however, will still be standing.
Image credit: Camila Melim/Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.