(Veteran tech columnist Jon D. Markman publishes Strategic Advantage, a lively guide to investing in the digital transformation of business and society. Click here for a trial.)
An Israeli company developed technology to 3D print meat, and investors are scrambling to gobble up a piece. This is the best way for investors to get a seat at the table.
Managers at Redefine Meat said Tuesday that they raised $29 million from a consortium of global investors to use digital technology to create steaks that look, smell and taste like the real thing.
Innovative companies figured out long ago that they could use state-of-the-art 3D printers for making prototypes and low production parts. The companies literally print the objects the same way office workers use Hewlett Packard ( (HP) - Get ReportQ) inkjets to transform digital bits of information on a computer screen into a physical document. The process involves computation, some physical stock like paper, and ink.
Ink is the tricky bit for 3D printing food.
Engineers at Redefine are using plant based materials similar to nutrients eaten by cows to “ink” printed steaks. This ink contains proteins from grains and legumes to mimic the muscle texture, and fats and other acids to duplicate the juicy flavor, blood structure and color of actual meat.
While all of this might sound far-fetched and maybe gross, Redefine product managers have tested the fillets extensively and won rave reviews in Israel.
The Times of Israel reported Tuesday that Best Meister decided to distribute Redefine products after the Israeli food dealer’s blind audits showed 90% of testers could not tell the difference from the real thing. Investors followed.
VC firm Happiness Capital of Hong Kong, Hanaco Ventures based in New York, the Losa Group from Guatemala, Prime Ventures of the Netherlands, Singapore-based venture capital firm K3 Ventures, and Jeremy Coller, the famous private investor have all committed to Redefine.
The goal is to get in front a larger trend toward plant-based meat substitutes that might grow into an $85 billion market by 2030, according to an October report in the New York Times.
For now, investors should focus on Beyond Meat. The El Segundo, Calif.-based company was a hot initial public offering in May 2019. Shares debuted at $25 and quickly shot up to $65.75, a 135% opening day gain. Within a year the stock reached $240 for a market capitalization of $14.8 billion.
That valuation is far out of the normal for food businesses. Beyond Meat traded then as it does now like a technology company. Investors bought into the big idea that Beyond is blazing a new trail in diet. The idea is to slowly move the needle in the $11.7 trillion global food industry.
From the beginning in the company invested heavily in scale and human resources. Managers used the proceeds of the IPO to build out supply chains, and Sanjay Shah, an Amazon.com (AMZN) logistics veteran joined Beyond in September 2019 as chief operating officer. Within a year he had distribution deals were in place with Walmart (WMT), Target (TGT) and the major grocery store chains in Canada and Europe.
Beyond executives also began courting the quick service restaurant industry. Firms like Carl’s Jr., Del Taco ( (TACO) - Get Report) and Dunkin’ Donuts will showcase Beyond products. And in January the company announced an agreement with Pepsico ( (PEP) - Get Report) to jointly develop plant-based proteins for snacks and beverages.
Today company managers say Beyond Meat products are available in 112,000 grocery stores, restaurants, hotels and universities.
Makes sense. A cow is largely just a machine that turns grass into meat through gastronomic chemistry. Beyond just bypasses the middleman.
Following the third quarter financial results last November Ethan Brown, chief executive officer, refused to withdraw previous aggressive expansion plans. He also noted that sales growth accelerated 63% year-over-year despite the pandemic. Sales velocity, a food business metric that measures sales across distribution points, was 3.5x higher than the industry average.
This is significant because sales velocity normally declines as businesses add distribution points.
Beyond Meat is the category killer in plant-based proteins, the fastest growing part of the food services ecosystem.
This space will only grow as innovative firms like Redefined Meat make headlines with printed steaks and other meat-like products.
Beyond shares trade at 27.3x sales and 933x forward earnings, although profit is irrelevant at this stage of the growth cycle. Based on sales growth alone the stock should trade back into the middle $200s, a gain 44% from the current price of $173.04.
Growth investors can buy Beyond shares into any weakness.