Plant-based food is hot. Maybe you’ve thought about investing in it, either just because you think such an investment might yield a good return down the road, and/or because you want your investments to align with your values of sustainability, health and compassion for animals. This article provides a brief overview of the options you have for vegan investing. It’s written in a way that should be understandable for people new to investing.
I’m assuming here that you’re interested in investing and don’t need to be convinced of the value of investing. But if you, like many people who try to make the world a better place, believe that money, profit, investing… are all just dirty words or things that you should stay away from as far as possible, you should read this article I wrote previously.
Three caveats before we dive in:
- I’m definitely not an investment specialist, and there’s many people who are much more versed in this subject matter than I am. By all means, send me corrections if you see any mistakes.
- This is a snapshot. Even as I will add more options as I discover them, things are probably moving too fast for this article to offer an exhaustive overview of what’s out there. Feel free to put additional companies, platforms, resources in comment.
- None of what I write below is meant as investing advice
- The word vegan may mean different things to different people. Please don’t get hung up on when I do and don’t use the word.
Investing in individual stocks from publicly traded companies
For regular (potential) investors – i.e. people who don’t have hundreds of thousands of euros or dollars to invest but rather a few thousands or ten thousands – publicly traded companies (i.e. companies listed on a stockmarket) are the most obvious route. To invest in a publicly traded company (think Tesla, Amazon, Facebook…) you just have to open a brokerage account (a special account used to make investments), transfer some money to it from your regular bank account, buy the stocks you want to buy, and then basically wait and see how they do before selling them or buying more of them.
You can open a brokerage account with your bank, but note that investing through a big, traditional bank is usually more expensive than investing through banks or brokers who specialize in investing, and who usually mainly have an online presence rather than being a brick and mortar bank. Investing costs some money (you pay the broker a commission on transactions, and there will be taxes to pay as well). Down the road, over several decades, a difference in a couple of cents in costs can have a counter-intuitively big impact, so try to keep them as low as possible.
So, what are the publicly traded companies you can invest in if you’re interested in the plant-based space? There’s not a huge amount of choices, but at least the options are slowly increasing. An important note here is that with some of these companies, you can see the symbols OTC or OTCPK after their name, indicating that these are stocks that are not on a regular, centralized stock market. OTC stands for over the counter, PK for pink slip. You can google what those terms mean but suffice it to say that stocks like that are considered much more risky. Also, quite a few of these companies are so-called penny stocks, which is a term used for stocks that trade at a value of less than 5$ per share, and are considered highly speculative (also, see the first comment on this post for some thoughts on the Canadian Stock exchange, where quite a few of these companies are listed).
Also note that depending on which stockmarket these stocks are listed on, not all brokers may give you access to all of them.
First there are the purely plant-based, mission driven companies, making actual alternatives for animal products. Below are some of them (writing April 2021), but the list is growing steadily.
Beyond Meat (BYND, Nasdaq) is undoubtedly the most famous one of these. BYND has been on the stockmarket since early 2019, and has done pretty well since its launch. The stock is volatile though, and while Beyond Meat is a first mover, it is not clear how much it will be able to profit from this advantage, as the so-called “barriers to entry” to this market are not very high (or in other jargon: the “moat” is not very wide). Any food company can produce vegan products, and that’s certainly what the big ones are doing more and more: Nestlé, Unilever and other Big Food companies have all brought their own meat alternatives to the supermarket shelves. Still, if you bought BYND right when it emerged on the stockmarket, you’ve certainly seen its value quintuple or more.
Else Nutrition (BABY; TSX) is another mission-driven and vegan company that recently went public. It’s an Israeli producer of plant-based baby formula.
The Very Good Food Company (VRYYF; CSE) is a Canadian company producing meat alternatives alternative meat products (OTCPK).
Senza gen (SENZA; STO) creates non animal allergy tests https://senzagen.com/
Simris (SIMRIS ALG; STO) creates omega 3 supplements from algae, among other things.
Modern Meat (MEAT; CSE) is a Canadian company producing meat alternatives
Meat-Tech 3D (MITC, NASDAQ) is an Israeli company that is developping technologies for the 3D printing of meat. In February 2021 Meat-Tech 3D acquired the Belgian clean meat company Peace of Meat.
Plantx Life inc (VEGA; CNSX): is basically an online store that’s publicly listed
Less explicitly plant-based companies
There are also publicly traded companies that are less explicitly vegan, in that they focus on plant-based products that are not necessarily direct replacements of animal products. These companies may also deliver ingredients to vegan (as well as other) companies.
Ingredion (INGR, NYSE) produces plant based ingredients like oils and grains for other companies. It’s a company with over ten thousand employees worldwide that seems to score well in terms of diversity/sustainabilty/equality.
Bunge limited (BG, NYSE) “connects farmers to consumers to deliver essential food, feed and fuel to the world.” Plant-based products, but they also include animal feed.
Burcon Nutrascience produces pea and canola proteins and protein blends
Other companies producing only or mainly plant-based products you could look into are
Limoneira (citrus fruits), Total Produce (fruit and vegetables), Archer Daniels Midland (crops, oils).
Non-vegan publicly traded companies
Another option could be to invest in companies who are making nice efforts in the plant-based space, but who aren’t otherwise vegan companies. That can certainly be problematic if you’re a mission-driven investor (you probably won’t invest in Danone as a vegan, even if it has committed to significantly increasing its sales of plant-based products). And from a profit viewpoint, the big companies’ plant-based range – even if it’s growing – is usually only responsible for a small part of its sales. So we can’t be sure that if plant-based takes off further, this will be reflected in the companies’ valuation.
That said, some publicly traded non-vegan companies that are proportionately heavily into plant-based food may be worth checking out. Maple Leaf Foods (MFI, TSE) is a Candadian company. Hain Celestial (HAIN) covers several vegan brands, but also animal ones.
Tattooed Chef (TTCF; NASDAQ) is a producer of vegan and vegetarian frozen foods, like cauliflower pizza.
Tofutti brands (TOFBOTC; OTCMKTS) seems less mission-driven, but almost all its products are vegan alternatives to animal foods. Some of its products contain egg whites, so technically this is not a vegan company.
Finally, some companies like Oatly, Impossible Foods and Just Eat have expressed interest in going public. You can keep your eye on them if you want.
Spreading your risks: holdings, mutual funds and ETFS
One of the first rules in investing is to spread your risk, meaning that you shouldn’t put all your tofu in one basket, so to speak. Rather than picking one or a few stocks, it’s better to spread your money over a dozen or maybe two (and take into account that vegan public stocks are much more risky than stocks of well established companies). Or you can invest in financial products that automatically entail a spreading of risk (that’s often much wider still).
Investment companies invest in other companies, so if you invest in this one investment company, you are spreading your investment over multiple companies in one go.
Agronomics (ANIC, LSE) is a publicly listed investment company which has so far made sixteen investments in alternative protein companies. These companies are not publicly listed, so investing in Agronomics means you invest in some new companies that normal mortals (small time individual investors) cannot invest in. Examples are BlueNalu, Mosa Meat and Shiok Meats.
The same goes for Eat Beyond Global Holdings (EATS; CSE), a publicly listed holding company that invests in several vegan companies which are not publicly traded, like Eat Just as well as publicly traded ones, like Good Natured.
Another such holding company is Kale United, but it’s not publicly traded yet and I discuss it further below.
Popular ways of spreading risk are of course mutual funds and ETFs (exchange traded funds, also known as trackers). With both, you would be investing in multiple stocks (up to hundreds or even thousands!) at once. The difference is that mutual funds are actively managed by human managers, while ETFs are not. This means that funds will always be more expensive than ETFs, which is not necessarily reflected in the returns. There’s a lot to say about funds and especially ETFs (with ETFs being many people – including me – preferring them as investment products) but regarding the plant-based space we can be brief: there is as yet no thematic publicly traded mutual fund or ETF that is centered around plant-based alternatives.
There, however, the US Vegan Climate ETF, which is a version of the S&P 500 (the 500 biggest publicly traded US companies) that steers clear of companies involved in animal exploitation in all forms as well as fossil fuel and other types of environmental issues, while adding some plant-based and renewables stocks outside the S&P 500 Index)
There are funds and ETFs that are about sustainability, alternative energy, electric cars, batteries, and so on, but we’ll have to wait a little bit for a true plant based one. In the meantime, definitely worth mentioning is Sagefund, a platform run by vegans designed to ensure that your investments are well-diversified while maintaining strong sustainability standards. In the future, Sagefund plans on offering more narrow investments, targeting vegan companies and funds directly.
Investing in non publicly traded companies
Especially when companies are young, they are not traded publicly on the stock-market, and thus merely having a brokerage account will not give you access to them. To be able to invest before a company becomes publicly traded (and potentially stand to make a lot of money when it does) you usually need to be a professional investor and/or quite rich. Yet there are some possibilities even if you’re not.
As noted above, there are investment companies or holdings that have invested in companies that are not publicly listed, and you can invest in them (see Agronomics and Eat Beyond Global Holdings, above).
Apart from those there are…
Beyond Animal connects stakeholders of the plant-based ecosystem for networking and business collaboration, and offers a funding platform for vegan, plant-based and alternative protein businesses via its investor matchmaking tool and complete deal management system, Funding by Beyond Animal. Investors are directed towards deals that meet their investing criteria saving time and effort. Investors and entrepreneurs can make contact with each other through the platform and close deals in a secure dealroom. Leading sustainable foodtech funds, accelerators and corporate VCs such as Cibus Fund, Astanor, SOSV and Danone Ventures recently joined the platform and participated in the New Food Invest conference.
Kale United is a Swedish company that crowdfunds money from both smaller and bigger investors and invests it in vegan companies, most of which are very young, as well as in some vegan publicly traded companies like Beyond Meat and Else Nutrition. For now, you have to wait to invest until the next fundraising round, but the plan is to create a platform for continuous trading of shares. To stay in the know, subscribe to their newsletter.
Vevolution is a fintech platform that brings investors and startups together who are creating solutions for a better world. Vevolution offers professional investors an opportunity and smart technology tools to meet hundreds of plant-based and cell-based startups. Since launching the new platform in Dec 2020, the startup has attracted investor members including the likes of Blue Horizon Corporation, New Crop Capital/Unovis, Veg Capital, Kale United and Veg Invest as well as a host of leading investors in plant-based and cell-based startups.
There are also generic crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or Seedrs (seedrs.com), which may offer plant-based investment opportunities from time to time, but it is not their specialism. See for instance the projects tagged vegan on Kickstarter.
Just in case you’re a professional and/or larger investor, there are by now quite a few venture funds that invest in vegan companies, both public and non-public. You can check them out and see what the requirements are in case you’re interested:
Big idea ventures (New Protein Fund)
Stray Dog Capital
Sustainable food ventures
Unovis Asset Management (previously New Crop Capital)
Other resources and further reading
Crueltyfreeinvesting.org is a non profit organization that helps you align your investment with your values. They explain to what extent publicly listed companies use animals.
veganinvestors.com is an investor network committed to building a community of like-minded investors to support the growth and succes of vegan-led vegan companies.
The Glass Wall Syndicate a large group of venture capitalists, foundations, trusts, non-profits and individiual investors who want to accelerate products and services that will make a difference in the lives of animals and people.
VegTech is the Global Vegan Impact and Innovation Index, a basked of 22 global companies that are innovating to take animals out of the supply chain.
Disclosure: I’m involved with Kale United as an advisor and have invested in them, as well as in some of the invidivual stocks mentioned above.
Thanks to Claire Smith, Mans Ullerstam, and Michiel Van Deursen for comments on the draft of this article;