The Vegan Mafia – Driving the Post-Animal Future of Food

Vegan Mafia? This particular ‘underworld’ is subversive, for sure, but nothing like as sinister as it sounds. In fact, it’s all good. It’s the nickname given to a group of committed (and super-rich) vegans, including the creator of Google Ventures Bill Maris, who choose to put their money where their mouth is, literally – in plant-based start-up companies. Proving that you can have strong ethical goals and still be hard-headed in business, they reckon their investments are a pretty safe bet on a greener future for food.

“There’s a whole community of us building and funding vegan companies,” says long time vegan Ryan Bethencourt.

Who is Ryan Bethencourt, you ask? He may not be a household name, even in vegan households, but he should be. 38 year old Miami-born Ryan is a highly-qualified bioscientist with degrees from Warwick, Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities. In 2014, he co-founded IndieBio, and has become a major mover and shaker in the post-animal bioeconomy, and advisor to The Good Food Institute

He and his team at IndieBio have funded 68 biotech start-ups to date, including Clara Foods (animal-free eggs), New Wave (algae- and plant-based ‘shrimp’), and Pembient (lab-made wildlife products).

Interestingly, each one of those companies completely independently of the others, describes itself on its website as ‘subversive’, or uses the verb ‘subvert’. Oxford English Dictionary: ‘To subvert’ meaning ‘To undermine the power and authority of an established system” What could be more perfect than undermining the atrocity that is animal agriculture in the 21st century.

Though our mafia are all vegan, what emerged in interviews with a handful of the ‘mafiosi’ conducted by CNBC, was that the start-ups they invest in don’t just target their new products at vegans – though of course we do get to reap the benefits. They love the idea that Beyond Meat for instance, has got their burgers selling from the meat counters in big grocery chains. And that eatery chain Veggie Grill primarily serves people who also eat meat – which is great, because obviously they’re not eating meat while they’re dining at Veggie Grill.

30 year old ‘Robot Guru’ aka billionaire Kyle Vogt, who in September last year hit the headlines by buying the most expensive house in San Francisco, is a VM (Vegan Mafia) newcomer. Just about the same time as he purchased the house, his wife opened Charlie’s Acres sanctuary for farm animals rescued from abuse, or destined for the slaughterhouse.

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Happy animals at Charlie’s Acres (pics from their Fb page)

Kyle figured that if his wife was busy saving them, it didn’t make sense for him to keep on eating them. So he went vegan.

A year on, his business angle is, that though appealing to people’s hearts has its place, creating plant-based foods that taste better and are cheaper than foods derived from animals makes the best business sense.

VM investor Seth Bannon is another remarkable vegan. He was only 14 years old when he began volunteering for advocacy organisations. Fast forward a few years: frustrated by the outmoded technology he found being used in the advocacy world – a good 10 years behind the video games he was playing – he set up Amicus: its mission: “To empower people to advocate for the causes they care about through technology”. Now Amicus’s cutting edge tech powers The Human Rights Campaign, Greenpeace, Everytown for Gun Safety, The Humane League, and more.

Amicus’s success opened Seth’s eyes to the potential for positive social change through business. He co-founded and still runs Fifty Years, a venture fund supportingentrepreneurs solving the world’s biggest problems with technology.”

But back to food. Seth may have ideals, but he has no illusions: “The case for giving up meat is clear: There’s a health case, an environmental case,” he said. (Not to mention an animal welfare/animal rights case.) “But we have largely given up on education as a tool for convincing people.”

As we all know to the animals’ cost, you can show people the horrors of animal ag, you can tell them how it’s wrecking the planet and contributing to climate change, you can say, animal products are bad for your health, but some people just do not want to know. The entrepreneurs Seth is backing, he says, look at the market through a “strict business lens.” 

So the VM look to support plant-based products that will be yes, healthier and environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, but most of all cheaper to produce than the current animal products they are looking to replace.

Geltor is a good example – a less expensive as well as cruelty-free plant-based method of making a replacement for gelatin  (currently produced by boiling the skin, tendons, bones from cows and pigs). Geltor’s aim is to disrupt/subvert the gelatin market with what is hoped will be a game-changing animal-free alternative. Because even if people don’t care about the animals, hard economics is an unanswerable argument.

The Future of Food: The Top 2 Trends Shaping The Food & Beverage Industry In 2018

CB Insights which sifts millions of media articles to track trends, lists the top 8 food trends for 2018. And the top 2 of the 8 are…… (drumroll here please):

Food Trend Number 1 Diet tribalization intensifying

That’s industry in-speak for rapid growth in the number of consumers adopting certain lifestyle-based diets, in particular the vegan diet (we’re a tribe!), and the paleo diet. “The paleo diet emphasizes natural, sustainable, plant-based foods, which relates to overall trends toward plant ingredients within the food space. Vegan and gluten-free foods have also moved into the mainstream since 2012.”

Revere (vegan energy drink powders), Rhythm Superfoods (vegan kale snacks) Koia (plant-based smoothies) are some of the vegan start-ups which have drawn investment this year. And tellingly, while start-ups in vegan and veggie meal kits like Sun Basket and Daily Harvest continue to attract funding, meal kit start-ups that are non-diet-specific (ie for omnivores) are struggling.

Food Trend Number 2: Alternative proteins diversify and attract meat leaders

With the runaway success of companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Food, and ever-increasing consumer demand for plant-based foods, start-ups are sprouting up all over. And some are pioneering new kinds of plant protein – not just nuts and soy. We’re seeing pea protein, algae protein and chickpea protein. Ripple is a great example. Ripple attracted funding of $43.6 million. That is a lot of funding. Its pea-based ‘milk’ is already sold widely in major grocery store chains. And no cows were hurt in the making of this milk.

The Ripple Effect

This time we’re not talking pea milk. The financial and technological stimulus the Vegan Mafia has provided to the plant-based market has created such a stir in the food industry, it’s less like a ripple, more like a tidal wave. Meat corporations cannot afford to be left behind. The US’s biggest meat producer Tyson, last year acquired a 5% stake in Beyond Meat, and followed this by setting up a $150 million venture capital fund to support the development of plant-based foods. Tyson is excited about the fund because it gives the company “exposure to a fast-growing segment of the protein market”.² General Mills, Hormel Foods, and Maple Leaf Foods are some of the other giants grabbing a piece of the plant-based action.

Not satisfied with that, many of the mainstream companies are producing their own plant-based product lines. Pret A Manger for example opened a vegetarian-only restaurant, Veggie Pret.

veggie-pret-outside
UK-based Pret A Manger’s gamble with vegetarian-only restaurants paid off when it registered a 70 per cent increase in sales, enabling it to make it a permanent fixture © Pret A Manger

That proved so popular, this year the company announced plans to make it permanent. Ben and Jerry’s and Hellman’s are among others capitalising on the growing demand for vegan foods too.

Big Investors outside the food industry

Big investors outside the food industry, alarmed by the ravages animal ag inflicts on animals, the environment and the climate, are predicting and promoting a plant-based future too. In 2016 “a group of 40 investors including Aviva and Swedish state pension funds managing $1.25 trillion in assets launched a campaign to encourage 16 global food companies (including Kraft Heinz, Nestle, Unilever, Tesco and Walmart) to respond to the material risks of industrial farming and diversify into plant-based sources of protein.”

“The plant-based meat market is set to reach $5.9 billion by 2022 and could make up a third of the market by 2050 according to some estimates. Worldwide sales of non-dairy milk alternatives more than doubled between 2009 and 2015 to $21 billion over concerns regarding saturated fat levels, lactose intolerance, hormone content and antibiotic use in dairy cows, as well as questions on animal treatment.”

“Our population is set to increase to 10 billion people by 2050 and supplying protein to everyone will prove to be a challenge if we rely only on animal-based sources. This presents a compelling opportunity not only for forward looking investors but also innovative companies who want to profit from a burgeoning plant-based protein market that is set to grow by 8.4 percent annually over the next five years.”²

But would any of this have happened without the initial and ongoing $100s of millions impetus from the Vegan Mafia?

The host of pioneering plant-based companies, and the vegan investors backing them from behind the scenes, give us hope for the future. With the torrents of bad news we get daily on the sorry state of our world, it’s sometimes hard not to get down. But committed, driven, and talented vegans like Seth, Ryan, Kyle, Bill and the rest, still in the summertime of their lives, using their wealth so effectively to address the problems of the planet, set a rainbow for us in an otherwise dark and stormy sky. Long may the Vegan Mafia, and all the animals they are saving continue to flourish. And here’s hoping for a better tomorrow.

Follow Charlie’s Acres on Facebook here


News October 25th 2017 CEO of Vegan Milk and Beverage Company Named One of Goldman Sachs’ Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs!

Update February 5th 2018 Ethical investors have been missing something when it comes to animals, but now it’s here – Our Compass

Sources

¹Wiki

²Plant based alternatives attract investment from meat producers – Lifegate

Vegan mafia: food investor network includes Bill Maris, Kyle Vogt – CNBC

Billionaire tech entrepreneur Kyle Vogt, 30, is revealed to be the buyer of San Francisco’s most expensive mansion after dropping $21.8 million for it – Mail Online

Related posts

Big Meat, We’re Making You History!

When Everyone Is Telling You Meat Is The Bad Guy

This is the Future – 5 Awesome People Make Fabulous ‘Post-Animal’ Food

German Meat Companies Are Investing in Veg Meat

Which is Your Burger of Choice for the Future of Food?

Will New Pea Milk Spell Demise of Dairy?

The Bright New Age of the Humane Economy


This is very interesting – and also hopeful.: Conservation X Labs using the tech startup model to work on challenges in the difficult and complex space of environmental protection.Read more here


5 thoughts on “The Vegan Mafia – Driving the Post-Animal Future of Food

  1. These companies are an encouraging step in the right direction. The financial backing reveals that the development of plant-based vegan foods in being taken seriously.

    I have often wished more people with the financial means would contribute to animals. They don’t have the government support or big donor base that human beings have.

    There is a chapter in Nathan Runckle’s new book, “Mercy For Animals.” He notes that education about animal abuse and the ethics of eating go only so far. But having access to vegan foods that taste great.

    Anyway goods news is nice!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Again a very informative article, I do enjoy your posts as you write so well about subjects of which little is known. All of this comes as a huge surprise, I did not know there are so many business people involved with the production of alternatives to meat or who are vegan and care about animals and can make a difference. Things look more hopeful than I had considered, there is increasingly it seems more alternatives to meat, more going on to promote a better world for animals. It’s good to know about all these positive steps forwards as all the negatives can get so overwhelming at times.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I greatly appreciate your posts too. They are well-researched, well-written and full of passion, and bring to our attention grave wrongs that need to be righted. A very valuable contribution to the goals we share. Going back to the Vegan Mafia – yes, it really does give us a lift to discover that there are good people devoting their time, energies and money to making a difference for the better 😊Human beings have the potential to change the world. It’s in the balance which way it will go, but there’s still hope.

    Liked by 1 person

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