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FPP Chicago Speaker Interview: Elysabeth Alfano, CEO, VegTech Invest

April 17, 2024

With investment being a crucial factor in the success and scaleup of alternative proteins startups, we ask financial expert Elysabeth Alfano for her thoughts on the current (somewhat stormy) climate as well as her predictions for the future outlook

CEO of VegTech Invest, the advisor to a plant-based innovation and climate exchange-traded fund (ETF), Elysabeth Alfano is one of the experts our delegates are most looking forward to hearing from. She has a long history in food: she began her career with Kellogg Company working on Special K and Frosted Mini-Wheats before investing for a small family office. As well as heading up VegTech Invest, Alfano advises c-suite executives on the sustainable food industry landscape via her other company, Alfano Advisory Services.

Her multiple roles (in addition to the two mentioned above, she also has a podcast and regularly speaks at global events) showcase just how passionate Alfano is about the transformative power of the food sector. What is it that she finds so compelling about this market? “Although I don’t believe in silver bullets, investing in food systems transformation based on plant-based innovation and diversified proteins addresses so many issues that it is the closest thing to a silver bullet,” Alfano begins. “Just consider this list: climate change; biodiversity loss; deforestation; food insecurity; healthcare costs; animal welfare; labor issues, and land and water use/natural resources management. Investment into this sector can have meaningful impact in a short amount of time.”

The headwinds against food systems are almost over and soon it will only be tailwinds: an election over; an economy that has settled; and food systems on the tip of everyone’s tongue

Despite such powerful arguments in favor of alternative proteins, following a boom period lasting several years, in 2022 investment tailed off and the current landscape is turbulent, to say the least. Alfano describes 2024 as a “transitional year filled with volatility and a contentious election”. But, she says, for those who are able to hang in there (and she acknowledges that not all will make it), the future looks much brighter. “I advise entrepreneurs to hold on until 2025 and just try to weather the storm. I tell investors that these deals won’t be here forever. The headwinds against food systems are almost over and soon it will only be tailwinds: an election over; an economy that has settled; and food systems on the tip of everyone’s tongue.”

Alfano has been involved in almost every facet of food-sector investment, and what she’s learned over the years has formed her strategy of focusing on the supply chain and infrastructure build out. Why does she regard this side of the industry as the most attractive from an investment perspective? “Not only is it extremely important for the viability of the sector, this is also where we see the growth opportunities,” she answers. “The food supply chain is to food-tech innovation what semiconductors are to the Internet of Things: everything.”

Infrastructure aside, when it comes to end products, Alfano believes the most promising market segments are food-service and protein powders. “These are opportunities to bring in protein without the confrontational ‘center of plate’ discussions. Most people won’t even notice, or may even be happy, that their options have shifted slightly to include less meat and more plant protein,” she comments.

And behind the scenes, how should alternative protein companies be navigating the challenge of balancing innovation, affordability, and scalability to achieve mass market adoption? “Focus on building an IP moat and showing a path to profitability,” Alfano advises. “If you can do these two things and show results along the way, you will have investors and be able to build. From there, one reaches mass adoption – but remember that true mass adoption may have to come through a merger or joint venture.”

Ultimately, Alfano believes, entrepreneurs looking to enter the alternative protein space should be undertaking their journey in the same way that would determine success in any other industry as well; by working hard and dreaming big. Her final piece of advice those people is simple. “Keep your nose to the grindstone and your eyes to the sky.”

Elysabeth will be joining a panel discussion at The Future of Protein Production Chicago called, ‘State of the industry – investment landscape in 2024', which takes place at McCormick Place on 24/25 April 2024. Book your tickets today to come and hear a further +85 speakers, 30 presentations, eight panel discussions and network with +400 other attendees. Click here

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

About the Speaker

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