Chris Kerr has a long history with startups and venture capital investing — three decades worth of history, in fact. For the past 10 years, he’s been channeling that energy into impact investments in startups with the potential to disrupt industrial animal agriculture. He currently serves as Chief Investment Officer at New Crop Capital (NCC), a venture capital firm focused on global-food-system-transforming early-stage companies.
Since we interviewed him two years ago, Chris has been at the helm of NCC’s investment strategy during one of the most exciting times for plant-based and clean meat market development. He has also co-founded the plant-based seafood company Good Catch with Marci Zaroff, Eric Schnell, and the Wicked Healthy team. And did I mention that he also moonlights as a senior advisor to GFI? The man does it all!
We’re thrilled to have New Crop Capital as a gold sponsor for The Good Food Conference in Berkeley, CA next week. (Have you signed up to watch the phenomenal speakers and panels on our free livestream?) And we’re thrilled to have Good Catch sharing their wicked delicious fish-free seafood with conference-goers. So we thought we’d pay it forward and share some of Chris’s Senior Advisor wisdom with the wider world.
What market signals make you most excited about the plant-based space?
The #1 signal is that many of the companies in our space cannot keep up with incoming orders in their local service regions. #2 is that export inquiries are also besieging these companies. This demonstrates enormous pent-up demand globally — and all investors seek pent-up or latent demand when assessing opportunities.
How has your perspective shifted since you first became a champion of plant-based companies and entrepreneurs?
When I started working in the plant-based food space over a decade ago, much of what I was proposing was a speculative pitch on how we could use food innovation in commerce to influence long-term behavior change. But it was a really theoretical concept and one where my only data points were a small subset of the US population. In the time since, that shift has become a global mega-trend and one with a lot of staying power. This creates a cycle of investment that creates marketplace competition that creates better consumer experience…and this cycles back to more investment and continues the cycle again. Give us a decade more and our food space should see a major shift toward long-term sustained behavior change that has a global impact. What was theoretical is now factual.
As CIO for New Crop Capital, what advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking for early-stage funding?
Build a good business first. In the more than 30 years I have been dealing with startups, I have never seen a business plan that looks the same on day one as day 365. Be agile, but set a good foundation that allows you to take hold of opportunities as they arise — and these opportunities will likely look a lot different than what you thought you were getting into when you incorporated.
Why is seafood such a priority area for you and for New Crop Capital?
Humans eat somewhere between 200 and 300 different types of sea creatures representing about 90% of all individual animals consumed for food. In comparison, we eat around 30 types of land animals. On top of this, about a third of all protein consumed globally is in the form of seafood. Finally, virtually all large fish species (e.g. tuna) come with a nice little dose of poison in the form of heavy metals. Consumers deserve better and the myriad types of seafood we eat create a wonderful palette of options for the culinary arts and food science to tackle — and we have dozens of tools to work with. This allows us to be agile in our business strategies and will create numerous avenues of opportunities as we grow the companies in our portfolio.
When it comes to developing market penetration strategy, what are the most critical differences between the seafood market sector and that of beef or chicken?
In each case, we are dealing with commodities. But in the case of products like tuna, and unlike chicken or beef, we have a product that is generally eaten cold. This is unique in that we can create a shelf-stable highly nutritious protein that is ready-to-eat right out of a pouch and travels anywhere. One can simply order a salad, rip open a pouch of Good Catch and mix into a salad and you have a great dish — and you can do it in the center coach seat of an airplane flying over the Atlantic and not offend the 20 people sitting around you. There’s really no other meat on the market — plant-based or not — where you can do this (maybe a jerky but that’s not a nice meal).
How do you take your crab-free cakes?
That’s a great question. I take them as often as I can get them, hot off the grill, a little dollop of sauce, and — since I kind of eat like a pelican — generally right into my gullet.