A Year of Transformational Change: Part III—The Food Revolution

A year has passed since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and some U.S. states implemented lockdown directives. For many, the early days of the coronavirus and stay-at-home orders are etched into our collective memory, but the adverse circumstances also paved the way for the acceleration of trends affecting how we work, take care of our health, and consume and connect.

We will be looking at these trends and the investment opportunities they could represent in a four-part series titled A Year of Transformational Change. Each part will cover one of the four themes tracked in ProShares MSCI Transformational Changes ETF (ANEW).

In the third part of our series, we will examine changes over the past year in the ways food gets on our tables, developments in alternative protein production, and the increasing importance of technology in agriculture as we explore the Food Revolution.

Revolutionizing What We Eat

Food is one of our most basic human needs. As the nature of the food we eat and how it is produced and supplied comes into focus, companies and industries that comprise the food supply chain may gain attention.

For example, the meat industry and protein alternatives were forced into the foreground by the pandemic. Twenty-three states reported COVID-19 outbreaks in more than 200 meat and poultry processing facilities by May of last year, resulting in targeted intervention and prevention efforts, plant closures, and significant pressure on the U.S. meat supply.1

Higher prices on conventional meat products brought about by the pandemic-driven supply reduction during the first half of 2020,2 may have contributed to many companies’ increased interest in the plant-based protein industry.3 Beyond Meat, a leading company in plant-based meat substitutes with a strong consumer brand, distinguished itself among competing plant-based products, many of which are distributed by larger and more diversified food companies. What might this signal for the future of alternative proteins?

For 2020, Beyond Meat reported a 37% increase in net revenue from the previous year, and a gross profit of $122 million with a gross margin of 30%.

Source: Beyond Meat Q4 and full year 2020 financial results, February 2021

beyond meat revenue chart

In 2020, 18% of American households purchased plant-based meat substitutes, which accounted for about 1.4% of all retail meat sales,4 and about half of American consumers intended to keep plant-based milk products in their refrigerators.5 Numbers like that seem to suggest we are still in a period of early adoption, which means many more companies could join what seems a growth industry with a consumer base primed for expansion.

Revolutionizing How Our Food Gets to Us

Carryout and delivery services have been a vital lifeline for the food industry over the past year. Going forward, food delivery could remain an important aspect of the growing on-demand trend, however certain aspects of this trend may fade out. For example, the rise of so-called “ghost kitchens”—food-preparation facilities with no actual restaurants—helped lift restaurant sales during the pandemic, however it is unclear whether the trend will stick after the crisis subsides.6 With that said, companies may not be keen on shuttering those facilities after making large investments equipping them and realizing the efficiencies they have gained.

U.S. food and beverage purchases increased by 221% in Q2 2020, and another 162% in Q3, compared to the previous year.

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce

DoorDash Revenue Chart

As vaccine rollouts continue and restaurants return to more normal operations, demand for food delivery should decline. Nonetheless, the pandemic has brought about what may be some permanent change in the global food supply chain and how people will obtain their food in the future.

Revolutionizing Food Production

If we look farther up the food supply chain, food production is also undergoing significant transformations. Innovations in food production certainly predate COVID-19, but the pandemic has brought many of the challenges and needed changes into a starker relief.

For example, with finite agricultural resources, the question of how we will continue to feed our growing global population remains open. Harkening back to the growing interest in alternative protein products, part of the appeal is that these products typically take fewer resources to create than to produce a pound of beef.7

Approximately 50% of the habitable land on Earth is currently dedicated to food production and the United Nations projects that there could be as many as 2 billion more mouths to feed by 2050.

Sources: Our World in Data, “Agricultural Land by Global Diets” October 2017, United Nations report, June 2019

There are a number of fascinating innovations taking hold in food production and farming to help address resource concerns. Greater efficiencies are still desperately needed though if we are to meet the food challenges of the future. Sustainable practices like using smaller, autonomous tractors that place less burden on the land, artificial intelligence algorithms to minimize water use and maximize yield, or drones that identify crop regions to target pesticide use are becoming more commonplace.8 For example, companies like John Deere, a leading provider of agricultural machinery for example, are helping move such innovative efforts and reaping the rewards.

Deere and Company Net Income Chart

Whether eating healthier, adding plant-based proteins to our diets, focusing on sustainable sourcing, or using the latest delivery app, customer behavior and consumption patterns seem to be changing rapidly.

What's Next?

In the fourth and final part of our series, we will look into some of the revolutionary medical advancements brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and examine the resulting transformations in Genomics and Telehealth.

Invest in Companies Involved with Transformational Changes

ProShares MSCI Transformational Changes ETF (ANEW) invests in companies that may benefit from transformational changes in how we work, take care of our health, and consume and connect—changes accelerated by COVID-19. ANEW tracks the MSCI Global Transformational Changes Index.


1CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 2020
2American Farm Bureau Federation Market Intel report, May 2020
3Wired, “Covid Is Accelerating the Rise of Faux Meat,” May 2020
4Good Food Institute, 2020 U.S. retail market data for the plant-based industry
5Veg News, “Nearly 50 percent of Americans plan to drink plant-based milk regularly,” March 2020
6CNBC, “Ghost kitchens and delivery-only restaurants may be too popular for their own good,” February 2021
7CNBC, “Beyond Meat uses climate change to market fake meat substitutes. Scientists are cautious,” September 2019
8United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, 2021

Holdings as of 6/30/2021: Beyond Meat Inc 0.76%, Deere & Co 1.81%. Holdings subject to change.

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