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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Vegan Hot Dogs, Unicorns and Other Flights of Delicious Fancy

Lifestyle & Health

Tony Broadbent

Wed, 08 May 2019 10:55 GMT

If you’re a committed meat eater: red or white meat; beef, chicken, or pork; kosher or no; you might prefer to skip this piece as it’s all about meatless meat or ‘fake’ meat, as some die-hards will insist on calling it.  

The same goes for anyone especially partial to a piece of fish, as there’s even ‘fake’ fish on the horizon. The vision of Finless Foods, a company based in Oakland, California, that’s striving to create, on a cellular level, the exact same “fish meat” people currently eat. A tasty morsel of news for any ‘Pesco-vegan’ or ‘Seagan’ that secretly wishes they were fully vegan. 

On the other hand, whatever your eating preference, if playing the stock market is as red meat to you and you hunger for investment opportunities, it’s well worth you reading on, as ‘meatless meat’ and ‘fishless fish’ is going to become ever more pervasive as the plant-based food industry goes ever more mainstream. One sure sign of the coming wave: social media is already awash with tales of committed meat-eaters unable to distinguish ‘meatless meat’ from the real thing.

Or else why would such luminaries as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Virgin founder and multi-business mega-star Sir Richard Branson, and ‘Titanic’ mega-star Leonardo DiCaprio all be such notable early investors in post-animal, plant-based meat’? A little titbit I touched on in a 7DNews Opinion Piece: ‘The Growing World of Post-Animal Meat’ (15 February) where I highlighted Sir Richard Branson’s prediction that: “Within three decades, we’ll no longer be eating traditional meat, at all.”

In light of which, it’s even hard for me to believe just how fast those chickens have come home to roost. On 2 May, but three scant months since writing the piece, vegan burger maker Beyond Meat went public; the first ‘alternative meat’ start-up company to do so; and ended up with the best opening of any US-listed initial public offering (IPO) this year. Demand for shares blowing the lid off most analysts’ predictions, with the stock closing up 163% at end of first day trading; giving the California-based company a very respectable valuation of $3.8 billion.

That’s certainly no chicken feed. Importantly, it also validated Beyond Meat’s “unicorn” status. At least, as the term is widely understood in the ‘magical-thinking’ world of venture capital, where a “unicorn” is a privately held start-up company valued at $1 billion or more. The mythical beast deemed to represent the statistical rarity of such ventures ever achieving real, long term success; but, then, again, not entirely impossible. 

To put it into perspective, “unicorn” companies invariably carry somewhat excessive valuations while privately held. It’s the nature of the beast. A company's worth, in the private and public markets, two very different animals. Lyft, the ride-hailing company, went public, in late March, in an IPO that initially valued the company at around $24 billion and “keep the change.” Since, then, the stock has hit a few bumps and taken a bit of dip. Market adjustment, it’s called.

Lyft, but the first of a veritable parade of "unicorns" soon set to sally forth this year. Including, later this week, Lyft's arch-rival, Uber, looking for a valuation somewhere around $100 billion, give or take the odd $20 billion. Then there’s Pinterest, the social media image-sharing company with a relatively more modest projected valuation of $12 billion. Then, who else, but AirBnB, the home-sharing site, whose most recent internal valuation conducted in preparation for its IPO, assesses them at around $40 billion. All of which, prompts the question: Is any “unicorn” really worth all those many billions that it attracts?

Ilya Strebulaev, Professor of Finance, at Stanford University, in the very heart of Silicon Valley, thinks not: “The data, on average, suggests that ‘unicorns’ are overvalued by about 50%. Typically, venture capital-backed businesses accept losses because, basically, they sacrifice profits to achieve very high growth or scale.”

Yet even a half-sized “unicorn” leaves much to be desired. The obvious caveat: “You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.” The official added rider: “The right of choice is to the buyer.”

In full and open disclosure, in the information Beyond Meat Inc. submitted in preparation for its IPO, the company warned potential investors; that it may never sustain profitability and, in fact, has never once been profitable. Yet that, in no way, diminished the demand for shares in the company. The, seemingly, ever-increasing consumer demand for the new ‘meatless meat’ product offerings in the US, all but guaranteeing the magnitude of investor response.

What’s more, it’s not the only company in the fast growing ‘meatless meat’ market. Silicon Valley start-up, Impossible Foods, recently entered into an arrangement with Burger King and just last month started selling the vegan ‘Impossible Whopper’ burger in a major metro test market, with the promise of going nationwide by year’s end. Reports then quickly surfacing that the fast food chain had fast ran out of the product. The event considered so newsworthy it was even featured on ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ the very same day Beyond Meat went public.

Similarly, in January, here in California, burger chain Carl’s Junior put Impossible Burger on their menus: the demand, by all accounts, insatiable. Which means that every ‘fast foodie’ here, worth their salt, is already asking themselves: Can McDonald's be far behind?

Closer to home, what’s claimed to be the “world's first” realistic vegan hot dog goes on sale in the UK, this very week, courtesy of ‘Moving Mountains’. This, fast following the company’s successful launch last year of the UK’s first ever vegan ‘meatless burger’. You know, the one that “bleeds” beetroot juice in imitation of a “rare beef” burger.

Similarly, last year, good old Waitrose started offering a dedicated vegan section in more than 130 shops. And Iceland reported sales of plant-based foods growing 10% in 2018. Even, Ikea began serving its own version of vegan hot dogs in its in-store cafés, though, thankfully, other than adding tomato-ketchup or mustard, you don’t have to put them together yourself.

Hardly surprising, then, that the ‘meat industry’ has at last woken up to coming tidal wave of ‘meatless meat’ producers. In several American states, and in France, new laws have already been framed that would reserve the word “meat” purely for animal products. Similar laws, seeking to reserve the designation “milk” and “cream” for products by the dairy industry are also in the works.

Not that for one moment I’m in any way suggesting that “unicorns” aren’t real or to be believed; perish the thought. In fact, I’m sure I saw a real one when I was a child. Or maybe I just imagined I did. Anyway, there appears to be an awful lot of them about, these days, and the best of British luck to you, should you, perchance, ever find yourself riding one. 

Yet, even, for all that, changing the way people book short-term accommodation; or book local transport, be it by car, bicycle, or battery-powered scooter; or choose to send or swap images over social media; seems like a mere bagatelle when compared to trying to change what consumers choose to eat after eons of deeply-ingrained eating habits.

Though, as history has long taught us, tastes do change and, oft times, for the better.

Maybe, that’s another reason why Sir Richard has now got his eyes very firmly fixed on space travel, via his company Virgin Galactic. After all, just imagine the huge demand for laboratory-produced plant-based foods there’s going to be in outer space.

Now, if only Sir Richard could cook up some way of fixing the UK Virgin Trains-West Coast Main Line kerfuffle to everyone’s satisfaction. But then, again, some earth-bound problems really do seem insurmountable.

Bring on the empty unicorns.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7Dnews.

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