Infinite Foods, a subsidiary of Botswana-based Accite Holdings, plans to tackle Africa’s nutrition problem more sustainably by promoting plant-based food products across Sub-Saharan Africa. Africa’s expanding population and development will see many move into middle-income status and with it increase their meat and dairy intake. Increased meat and dairy intake on a global scale will put more strain on the Earth’s resources which will struggle to sustain the projected surge in demand for red meat and milk using an animal-based system, which is inefficient.
One solution is simple: if we feed cows plants and water to make meat and milk, why not bypass the animal and make meat and milk directly from plants? A study commissioned by Beyond Meat and carried out by M.C. Heller and G.A. Keoleian of the Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan cites that when compared with traditional ways of livestock rearing and processing from cradle-to-distribution cycle, the Beyond Burger plant-based meat production system generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, uses 46% less energy, has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a standard quarter pound of beef.
Just as in the telecoms revolution a couple of decades ago when most Africans were able to leapfrog from fixed telephone lines to mobile phones, Africa presents a great opportunity for a similar effect in the protein industry. Infinite Foods has been importing and distributing plant-based burgers, sausages, and ground “beef” for about a year now. Its partner Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger is currently available in over 700 restaurants across Botswana, Mauritius, and South Africa. They are scaling up operations to include Kenya and Ghana by Q1 of 2020.
Starting with burgers in popular sit-down restaurants makes sense. As more and more people move into the middle class, they will aspire to eat out more and this will result in an increase in meat consumption in these markets. The Beyond Burger is now available in retailers like Woolworths across South Africa, famous game lodges & resorts like the award-winning Wilderness Safari’s Mombo Camp, and popular local hangouts like the Daily Grind in Gaborone, Botswana.
Currently, for most of the population in these countries, the food basket is heavily weighted towards starchy foods due to affordability and the high price of meat. Infinite is now moving swiftly into scale-up, hoping to get pricing closer to being competitive with traditional products riding on economies of scale by moving larger volumes.
Ultimately, Infinite Foods plans to manufacture the plant-based protein products locally in Africa soon. This will unlock more efficiencies in the value chain, driving down the price to levels that will allow the vision to feed the continent to be a reality and not keep key products at pricing that could be considered as catering only to a niche market. This will make a real impact by unlocking opportunities for local job creation and the creation of new food and agriculture businesses. These will include new farms and scaling up existing ones to grow raw materials such as cashews, peas, mung beans, beets and potatoes.
“We are just at the beginning of the plant-based movement — an exciting opportunity of our food system,” says Michelle Adelman, CEO of Infinite Foods.
“Plant-based foods have the ability to improve health, protect the environment and enable transformation of our agriculture system – all while delivering great tasting meat and dairy Africans love.”
We got a chance to taste the Beyond Burger twice so far. First at the Daily Grind restaurant in Gaborone, Botswana and at the Woolworths Café, Nicolway, Bryanston, Johannesburg, South Africa. Both times we had it we loved it. It’s a step up from the old non-meat burgers, and really does taste and satisfy like beef. Infinite Foods is not just stopping at red meat alternatives but is also targeting alternative dairy products by partnering with Nature & Moi on plant-based cheese that is dairy-, lactose-, soya-, palm oil-, and gluten-free. Infinite Foods has also partnered with Miyoko’s for plant-based butter and cheese. More partnerships are coming, including its own alternative milk drinks, yoghurt and ice-cream with Oatly and JOI.
Africa really needs to prioritise natural resource management. The prolonged drought currently ravaging Zambia and Zimbabwe is highlighting the devastating effects of climate change. Both countries have had to throttle back electricity generation at their hydropower plants due to low water levels, resulting in citizens experiencing daily power outages of up to 16 hours. New innovations, including in food, that focus on the more efficient utilisation of precious water resources are critical if we are to combat climate change.