Tyson Foods, the world’s largest animal agriculture company, announced the launch of a $150 million venture capital fund, Tyson New Ventures, LLC, on Monday. The fund will invest in “companies developing breakthrough technologies, business models and products to sustainably feed a growing world population.”
The operative word in the announcement is “sustainably,” an implicit admission by Tyson that animal agriculture–their multi-billion dollar business model–is environmentally unsustainable.
Tyson explained that the fund will concentrate on “commercializing delicious, safe and affordable alternative proteins,” a welcome and now less surprising decision following the company’s recent purchase of a 5% stake in Beyond Meat, a plant-based meat company. Tyson stated the Beyond Meat investment is the first investment by their venture capital fund.
“We intend to collaborate with promising food entrepreneurs who are pioneering new products and technology that are making meaningful changes and improvement to food systems,” said Monica McGurk, executive vice president of strategy and new ventures and president of food service for Tyson Foods.
Tyson stated they are “seeking startups that complement [their] existing business and product development efforts” and that they “will focus on the areas of alternative proteins, elimination of food waste and leveraging innovative trends in technology.”
The announcement indicates Tyson may recognize the growing health, environmental, and ethical concerns over using animals for food. The company likely created this fund to diversify its portfolio and stay competitive in a rapidly changing food space. It may also help improve Tyson’s public image after a series of unfavorable lawsuits, undercover investigations, and shareholder grievances that likely contributed to a recent earnings shortfall.
The trend of animal agriculture companies investing in plant-based food startups is encouraging. Last year, General Mills started its own fund and purchased a stake in Kite Hill and Beyond Meat. As the behemoth in the industry, Tyson’s new fund may inspire other animal agriculture companies to follow suit. Tyson’s own plant-based chicken may not be far behind. With their name recognition, consumer acceptance, financial leverage, and shelf space, such a move would be a game changer for farmed animals.