A private equity firm and a group of venture capital investors have exited their investments in two plant-based alternative meat companies. The deals were announced within a week of each other. These deals provide exits for VC PE investors.
Brynwood Partners, a US private equity firm, sold Lightlife Foods to Maple Leaf Foods, and a group of Dutch venture capital firms sold Ojah to Korys, the investment arm of the owners of a Belgian supermarket chain.
The news comes as global sales of meat substitutes jumped to $4 billion in 2016, a 42% rise since 2010, according to Markets and Markets. It also comes after $111 million was invested in Innovative Food startups in 2016, according to AgFunder data. The vast majority of the 25 startups that raised funding during the year are creating meat or milk alternatives.
“Plant-based and “clean meat” are two market sectors that are about to explode. Anyone getting in now will be rewarded in very short order,” said Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute. “Our expectation is that we will see more and more activity along these lines, and to see two such important investments in just a few days is a great sign.”
Maple Leaf Foods, the Canadian consumer packaged meats company, which raises and processes pigs as its main business, is paying $140 million for Lightlife Foods. Lightlife owns 38 percent of the US market share for refrigerated plant proteins and sells a range of products from tempeh to Teriyaki Smart Jerky. Brynwood Partners purchased the company from ConAgra Foods in September 2013.
The deal is reminiscent of when Tyson Foods bought a 5% stake in plant-based burger company BeyondMeat in October last year. In the wake of Tyson’s investment, Reuters identified a trend for meat retailers to start offering plant-based alternatives, typically made from peas and soy, as part of their ‘protein’ business, including Maple Foods and German sausage-maker Rügenwalder Mühle.
Maple Leaf’s senior vice-president of marketing and innovation Adam Grogan said at the time: “It’s an incredibly hot area right now. We view it as no different than chicken or pork. We view ourselves as a protein company first.”
Other large food companies have made a play in the space too with Pinnacle Foods, the owner of Birds Eye, acquiring Canada’s Garden Protein, maker of the Gardein range of meat alternatives, in 2014. And in 2015, Monde Nissin, a leading food company in the Philippines, bought the UK’s Quorn Foods from Exponent Private Equity and Intermediate Capital Group for £550m.
“LightLife has some great products now, and we are big fans, but we would love to see the company putting even more into R D for new products that can compete against all the start-ups; this investment from Maple Leaf Foods, like the Tyson investment in Beyond Meat, is an excellent sign for both LightLife and MLF, as well as for the entire plant-based foods market sector,” said Friedrich.
Korys, the investment arm of the Colruyt family, which owns one of Beligum’s biggest discount supermarket chains, acquired Ojah for an undisclosed amount. Based in Holland, Ojah produces textured meat alternatives from plants. It markets its products under the brand names Beeter and Plenti in the domestic and international markets respectively.
Ojah’s products are gluten-free, 100% plant-based and non-GMO. They are also low in fat and salt, high in fiber, and contain 0% cholesterol, according to a press release.
Ojah first launched its products in 2010, opened its own production facility in October 2011 and won the award for most innovative SME in the Netherlands in 2012.
Korys, alongside the management of Ojah, is buying the company from the existing shareholders including Dutch venture capital firms PPM Oost, StartGreen Capital, and Holland Food Ventures. The investors held their stake in the business since 2010, according to the press release.
“Ojah’s products are superb, and we are excited to see Kory’s recognizing their value,” said Friedrich. “Hopefully, that investment will lead to much broader distribution through the power of Kory’s other investments in the international food sector.”