Is that a Beefburger I see on the horizon? Probably not…
Horizon-scanning is an important element of Business Continuity, on the simple premise that the best crisis is the one you don’t have to go through because you’ve seen it coming, and the best opportunity is the one you can exploit, again because you’ve seen it coming.
And the apocryphal, apocalyptic stories of businesses which did not see the crises or opportunities coming are too numerous to list here, but Kodak is probably the most famous of them all.
As an unashamed omnivore who enjoys little more than steak tartare with a cru Beaujolais, and someone who scans horizons for both business and intellectual stimulation, I find myself this week gazing into the future of the food and drink industry.
This recent article in the Irish Times (quoting global consultants A T Kearney) highlights that:
By 2040 (when I hope that cirrhosis and gout will not quite have carried me off yet….), 60% of meat will either be grown in laboratory vats or replaced by plant-based products that look and taste like meat.
The large-scale livestock industry currently turns over $1tn a year, but it is also viewed by many as an unnecessary evil, with its emissions a climate crisis driver as wild habitats are destroyed for farmland and rivers and oceans are polluted with persistent fertiliser toxins such as phosphates and nitrates.
Almost half the world’s crops are fed to livestock, but only 15% of the plant calories are eaten by humans as meat. By contrast, cultured meat and vegan meat replacements retain about 75% of their input calories.
From steaks to seafood, a full spectrum of options is emerging to replace traditional animal protein products with plant-based and cell-based meat technologies.
And in other reports;
Scotlands Beef Sector is on the brink of Collapse.
Sainsbury’s will soon open its first meat-free butcher.
Gregg’s this year announced a significant jump in profits, partially attributable to their vegan sausage roll.
Goldsmiths, University of London is banning all beef products from sale to help tackle climate change (beef farming is widely believed to damage the environment more than other types of farming because cows require more land and water than other livestock and produce more methane).
World demand for water is likely to grow 20 – 30% by 2050, to an annual consumption of 5million km3, 23% of it for agriculture, whilst the global water supply is shrinking just as fast. Large aquifers are being drained at an unsustainable rate and glaciers are disappearing.
One hectare of rice or potato cropland can feed between 19-22 people per year, whilst a similar hectare sustaining beef or lamb will feed only 2 people per year.
2-3 calories of fossil fuel will produce 1 calorie of protein from soybeans, corn or wheat, whereas 1 calorie of beef protein takes 54 calories of fossil fuel to produce.
My initial conclusion here is that we may soon be looking at a situation where demand for meat-from-livestock is reducing, and large-scale meat production becomes unsustainable, both practically and environmentally.
The secondary conclusions therefore are:
If you are a large-scale livestock business, diversify or specialise. Or at least ensure that you have the ability to diversify or specialise. Because within our lifetimes we may well see a situation where there is insufficient water for the world’s current scale of meat-farming, the environmental protests against agriculture will grow too loud to ignore, many fewer people will want to buy your meat even if you are able to produce it, and your competition (laboratory meat or vegan substitutes) will be cheaper, cleaner, greener and indistinguishable in taste.
If you are a food group, ensure that you are not too heavily reliant on a meat-from-livestock product line, and invest time and money in the alternatives.
I suspect that there will always be a small meat-from-livestock market from gastronomic traditionalists like me who would happily eat Chateaubriand until the day we die. (And if Chateaubriand is the reason that we die, at least we’ll die happy and full). So, niche meats and specialisations are likely to survive the longest, particularly because at small scale they can probably avoid being seen to damage the environment.
And what do we think of meat substitutes? Well, whilst I can hear my fellow carnivorous recidivists howling through their bacon sandwiches that “it’ll never taste the same as the real thing!!”, consider this. Richard and Maurice McDonald, the original founders of the Golden Arches chain which now serves 68 million customers per day, were convinced that the switch to powdered milk for their shakes would spell disaster because “it wouldn’t taste like the real thing”. Hmmmm…
So within a relatively short space of time, niches may be all that is left of the current $1 trn industry. If it’s going to affect you, ensure that you are prepared for it. And in the meantime…
“Waiter, please bring me another steak. How do I want it cooked? Well, just take the horns off it and wipe it’s ass…” (The Cowboy Way, 1994)
It’s food for thought, and it’s thought for food………