Maple Leaf Foods to build largest plant-based protein facility in North America
James Cameron has thrived on disaster and dystopia over his 40-year career. But when it comes to personal investing, the Hollywood director is betting on a better future.
Cameron, whose films have grossed about US$6 billion worldwide, and his wife Suzy Amis Cameron have increasingly focused their family office on plant-based investments, from an organic farm in New Zealand to a Canadian plant that makes protein concentrates from peas and lentils.
“From the moment we went plant-based, our world did a 180,” Amis Cameron said in an April interview. “We started looking at our investments, our business opportunities. At this point, aside from Jim’s film work, they all go through a plant-based lens."
More and more investors are turning to plant-based investments as younger consumers increasingly weigh sustainability when it comes to what they consume. Retail sales of plant-derived meat alternatives rose by almost 25 per cent to an estimated US$770 million in the 12 months ended August 2018 from a year earlier, according to a February report by Rabobank, while vegan alternatives to products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are estimated to ring up US$4.1 billion in sales.
Among attendees at this year’s Milken Institute Global Conference, there was ample appetite for food-related ventures. Shares of Beyond Meat Inc., the maker of vegan chicken and beef substitutes, have more than quadrupled since its trading debut this month, giving the company a US$6.2 billion valuation.
“With the Beyond IPO, you’re in the right place at a unique time in human history,” said Barry Didato, who advises the Camerons. “Plant-based food is the internet in 1994.”
The Camerons founded Verdient Foods, whose facility in Saskatchewan processes plant proteins used to make products like pasta, sauces and butters and recently entered into a joint venture with U.S.-based refiner Ingredion Inc. Cameron Family Farms in the countryside of South Wairarapa in New Zealand grows crops, vegetables and fruit. The couple’s vision for a vertically integrated food company even extends to breeding their own seeds.
For the Camerons, these investments align with their focus on climate change. The agricultural sector produces about a quarter of all greenhouse gases, second only to energy generation.
A report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 warned of drought, extreme temperatures and rising sea levels based on the current pace of climate change. Among its recommendations was adopting less resource-intensive diets. A 2018 article in Science showed that meat and dairy farming uses about 83 per cent of farmland and contributes around 60 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, despite providing only about a fifth of calories.
Sustainable investing has been booming among the wealthy. Firms including BlackRock Inc. and T. Rowe Price Group Inc. are among those bulking up such offerings, which have become a key strategy for attracting assets from wealthy individuals, foundations, endowments, pensions and family offices.
Jeff Tannenbaum’s new firm, Titan Grove, is funding businesses rooted in sustainability. Lake Nona Institute, backed by billionaire Joe Lewis, hosts an annual forum to explore health and wellness solutions. Socially responsible investments reached US$31 trillion at the start of 2018 in Europe, Japan, Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, a 34 per cent increase in two years, according to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance. About 45 per cent of family offices have said they plan to increase their sustainable investments over the next 12 months.
The Camerons, who met on the set of “Titanic,” have gone further than most. They now solely eat plant products and have stretched their holistic approach to their children’s education. In 2006, Amis Cameron and her sister Rebecca Amis opened the private Muse School in Calabasas, California, the first in the U.S. to be solar powered, zero waste and with a fully organic, plant-based lunch program.
They shifted the lunch offering to entirely plant-based in 2015 over the objections of some parents.
“We had major pushback and we actually lost quite a few families,” Rebecca Amis said. “But now we’ve got families moving from all over the United States and even some families from Europe coming to the school.”
Amis Cameron’s One Meal a Day initiative is designed to make her call for a vegan approach accessible for people without the resources of a Hollywood couple. It aims to persuade people to eat one plant-based meal daily.
“One person eating one plant-based meal a day for a year saves 200,000 gallons of water and the carbon equivalent of driving from Los Angeles to New York,” Amis Cameron said. “Every time they look at what they’re putting on their plates, they can make a difference. That’s really empowering."
Even Cameron’s movie productions have joined the movement. He’s working on two sequels to “Avatar,” his science-fiction blockbuster set in a universe where Earth’s natural resources have been depleted. Catering on set was solely plant-based, while his studio operates on solar power.
The potential of the kind of incremental progress championed by his wife has been enough to make the director of such dystopian films as “The Terminator,” “Aliens” and “Avatar” feel some optimism, Amis Cameron said.
“My husband’s a doomsday kind of guy,” she said. “But we were walking on the beach about a month afterwards and he stopped and he said, ‘For the first time in my life I have hope.”’
--With assistance from Blake Schmidt.