Investing in the Future of Food: Manna Tree investors seek emerging brands focused on human health

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Investing in the Future of Food microbiome personalized nutrition Protein Investment

As the ongoing pandemic accelerates consumer interest in the role of nutrition in wellness and underscores the supply chain’s fragility, the investors at Manna Tree Partners are looking for at least three growth stage companies that are revolutionizing the production, delivery and consumption of food to support human health.

With $235 million in assets under its management as of last month and six investments already in its portfolio to date, Manna Tree’s managing director Pam Shepherd shares in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food​ where she see the most potential to improve human health and create a more transparent, stable supply chain.

At the top of her wish list are companies offering clean proteins and nutrient dense products with fully transparent, environmentally sustainable and reliable supply chains.

“A category for us that we talk about is clean protein, and that can be animal protein as well as plant-based proteins. It can be both. But for us, again, the key word there is clean,”​ Shepherd said, explaining that ‘clean’ for Manna Tree means a fully transparent supply chain and production practices that are environmentally- and worker-friendly.

For example, she pointed to Manna Tree’s recent investments in Vital Farms​, which partners with small farms for its eggs, and Verde Farms​, which offers 100% grass fed and grass finished beef. On the plant side, Manna Tree has invested in Nutriati​, which offers a fresh approach to pulses and grains for more nutritious ingredients.

Shepherd notes that Manna Tree also gets “really excited” when a company has a fully integrated vertical supply chain, as in the case of the greenhouse produce supplier Gotham Greens, in which Manna Tree invested recently.

“We are really excited about our investment in the greenhouse category simple because from a business economics [stand] we think it is a strong investment, and the market for leafy greens is so huge,”​ and consumers increasingly want fresh, local product, which Gotham can deliver, she said.

Manna Tree also is interested in advancing human health through personalized nutrition, and in particular through the microbiome, which Shepherd described as “low hanging fruit.”

“Personalized nutrition, we really think, is kind of the next phase … not everybody needs the same thing,”​ and offering products tailored to those different needs will deliver a bigger health impact, she said.

As an example, Shepherd points to Manna Tree’s investment ​earlier this year in Evolve BioSystems, which is a microbiome company that makes Evivo – a proprietary probiotic that repairs and maintains healthy infant guts.

Ultimately, all of these interest areas fall under Manna Tree’s investment evaluation framework, which Shepherd calls ESG+H – where the H stands for health and is used to focus and magnify a company’s environmental, social and governance goals.

“Health has a huge impact – especially on social and environmental … and focusing on it has a great impact”​ and is the foundation of what Manna Tree believes is a “really strong investment thesis,”​ she explained.


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