A Clean Food Stock That’s Not Beyond Meat
If you’ve not spent time in the United Kingdom, you’d be excused for not knowing about a company called Innocent Smoothies. The three founders famously gave away their smoothies at a music festival with a sign that said “should we quit our jobs to go make smoothies” asking the empty bottles to be thrown in one of two boxes – one labeled “yes,” and one labeled “no.” With the yes box filled up to the brim, all three men quit their jobs the next day, and Innocent Smoothies was founded in the year 1998. When they went to look for funding, every bank, venture capitalist, and business angel in London turned them down. Nevertheless, they persisted.
Fifteen years later, Europe’s largest and most environmentally sustainable juice company, Innocent Smoothies, successfully exited to Coca Cola for a whopping $600 million. All three founders went on to form a venture capital firm called Jam Jar Investments where their windfalls were plowed back into promising startups fighting the same battle to find angel funding. One of those founders, Richard Reed, is also behind a little-known publicly traded stock called Agronomics (ANIC) which invests in – among other things – clean food companies.
Agronomics Limited is an investment company focused on opportunities within the Life Sciences sector, concentrating on, but not limited to, environmentally friendly alternatives to the traditional production of meat and plant-based nutrition sources or “clean food.” It established an investment policy in April 2019, with a board of directors consisting of highly experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and advisors with a track record of success. They plan to invest with a “moderate” appetite for risk, investments will remain ungeared (not backed by debt), and they’ll make investments passively (no Shark Tank, “we’ll hold your hand through the tough times” stuff).
We’ve recently published a piece about investing in publicly-traded venture capital firms noting that the idea of owning a portfolio of startups sounds really exciting but the reality hasn’t matched expectations. At least that’s what we’ve observed with firms like 180 Degree Capital. However, a portfolio of startup investments does provide a form of diversification since the returns won’t be overly correlated to the public markets. Private market investors typically do well in times where it’s difficult to raise capital since they hold all the leverage and can get the best terms.
In the case of Agronomics, we like that their Chairman also happens to be Partner at an early-stage VC firm along with the other two co-founders of Innocent Smoothies – or co-CEOs as they refer to themselves. Three people don’t grow a $600 million dollar business in 15 years if they don’t mesh well, and they’ll be able to identify those qualities in other founders.
So, what startups has Agronomics invested in? The first name might surprise you.
The Agronomics Portfolio
Looking through this portfolio kind of makes you want to work every waking hour building some meaningful wealth so you can dabble in interesting startups. Half the fun is looking at what they’ve invested in and the creative ways in which they were able to invest. We’re not going to list all their holdings, just some that caught our eye. We’re also going to use USD since the majority of our readers hail from ‘Murica.
What does Insilico Medicine have to do with clean food? Nothing. The Agronomics investment policy lets them dabble in Life Sciences outside of just clean food. That’s great to hear, because in a previous article titled “Insilico Medicine Becomes the Face of AI Drug Discovery,” we sat down with their CEO to learn about how the company is working on longevity, what some say is the economic opportunity of a lifetime. Agronomics agrees, stating that Insilico – part of the Agronomics’ legacy portfolio – is “an extremely exciting company with disruptive technology.”
Don’t get too excited though. Agronomics originally invested in Insilico in May 2017. At the latest round, that stock had a book value of $193,222 at the Series B price per share which represented a 57% uplift on cost. It’s a small fraction of their $10.9 million in total assets (about 2%), but nice to have some skin in the game with an exciting startup like Insilico. Now, on to some clean food.
We first came across this company in our piece on “9 Alternative Seafood Companies Saving the Oceans,” and they’re all about manufacturing ‘clean’ seafood by growing cells of certain species of seafood in bioreactors which will ultimately be for human consumption. Agronomics owns approximately 5.9% interest in the company as a “major investor,” providing additional information rights unavailable to smaller investors. Since our last article, BlueNalu completed a $20 million Series A in December 2019, and of that amount, $2.75 million came from Agronomics.
Around the same time their Series A closed, BlueNalu’s Corporate Chef cooked up yellowtail amberjack in various forms – fish tacos, seafood bisque, poke, and kimchi dishes – for a crowd of investors and global partners. Producing enough faux fish to throw a dinner party lends credence to their claim of being able to feed 100,000 people from a single fish. For us commoners, they’ll need to nail the right price point. We’ve always been skeptical about over-priced alternative proteins like the $4 hamburger patties being peddled by Beyond Meat. Speaking of which.
A few years back we wrote about “7 Startups Creating Lab-Grown Meat,” and one of those was a Dutch startup called Meatable. In December of 2019, we noted that they were pivoting to pork production with a $10 million round of funding. Their CEO posted on Medium about how their OPTI-OX technology is going to disrupt the meat industry.
Current protocols can take months, but Meatable’s technology, built off Nobel Prize-winning research and optimized by Stanford and Cambridge scientists, can produce large batches of the cells needed to make meat in a matter of days to weeks. Only one cell is needed to start the process. We can get that cell from a real animal in a completely painless way — and because it comes from an animal, the meat that we can make with it is real meat, not a highly processed substitute.
Not sure about you but we’re just happy to hear that Betsy the cow won’t feel any pain when that single cell gets extracted to feed thousands of humans. Agronomics gave Meatable a $2.17 million convertible loan note that upon conversion will give them an approximate equity interest of 5.26%. The recent funding will be used to accelerate the development of Meatable’s prototype in Summer 2020 and support its plans to have a small-scale bioreactor operating and producing meat. According to Agronomics, Meatable is on track to reach their targets of having an industrial-scale manufacturing plant producing thousands of kilograms of meat by 2025.
We’ve talked about startups that are making fake leather from mushrooms, or Modern Meadow and their synthetic collagens that are used to make some dreadful looking t-shirts. A company called VitroLabs is planning to create real leather using cells from actual cows to create – wait for it – real leather. Same same, but different, as Southeast Asian vendors would say. The company plans to grow slaughter-free leather from stem cells in the world’s first large-scale tissue-engineering platform. Agronomics made a $1.5 million investment in VitroLabs that will convert at the next funding round into an expected interest of approximately 3.79%.
We’ve become quite the experts in dairy cows after one of our MBAs spent a month in All Blacks country last year looking at How New Zealand’s Dairy Industry Innovates. What we didn’t find was any fake dairy stuff, but leave it to zee Germans to try and take something cows have been doing perfectly fine for centuries and make it better. Legendairy is a German company focused on harvesting real dairy proteins, using the same fermentation process used for producing insulin and rennet for cheese, to produce dairy products once combined with plant-based fats. The team is focusing on cheese products initially, recognizing that existing vegan cheese on the market lacks the identical proteins found in dairy cheeses – casein and whey protein.
Agronomics ponied up just over $1 million for a 6.3% interest and has representation on their Board. There are already many players in this space, some of which we covered in last summer’s piece titled “Alternative Dairy Startups Disrupt the Dairy Industry.”
Anyone who lived in the U.K. while Innocent Smoothies became famous would recall with fondness how clever their marketing actually was. A bit of irreverence, always a bit of cheeky British humor (remember “shake before opening, not after?”), and of course a really great product. That company absolutely nailed it, and now those same creative geniuses are out there looking for the best early stage investments to make. While we’re not overly keen to take on more risk in today’s uncertain markets, it’s kind of tempting not to throw in a few quid and take a punt on Agronomics.
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