Reed is best known as one of the founders and driving forces behind smoothie and drinks group Innocent, which was sold to Coca-Cola five years ago for an undisclosed but reportedly substantial sum.
Now he focuses on early-stage and seed investment opportunities and AIM-listed Agronomics, where he is chairman and a sizeable shareholder, is one of his highest-profile projects.
The company is an investment vehicle that is taking stakes in companies pioneering alternatives to meat and fish.
And the way he describes it, the business does indeed sound compelling.
‘Cellular agriculture really represents a paradigm shift in how meat can from produced.
“Moving away from intensively rearing livestock, that you then have to kill, to being able to grow meat cleanly without all the environmental and animal welfare consequences.”
Reed likens the change as going from analogue to digital or from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles.
Once in a generation event
These are very rare, once in a generation events, he adds.
“Anyone working within agriculture will tell you that by 2030 there won’t be the need to rear animals to kill them anymore.”
If he is right, the potential is enormous.
Trillions are spent each year through the global meat industry by consumers on what remains a sizable, regular purchase.
“Most people in the world buy meat most days and there are not many products like that.”
Consumers do it because they want something delicious to eat like a meat, says Reed.
Increasingly, though, they also ‘want it without the massive environmental consequences of the traditional way of growing meat and without the animal slaughter’.
FF to a new reality
Agronomics wants to fast forward to this new reality as quickly as possible.
“There is money to be made, an environment to be saved and animals to have happier longer lives.”
Reed explains he himself had to stop eating bacon some years ago when found out the trauma caused to the mother when her when piglets are removed.
“I like bacon but not enough to inflict that misery and pain.”
New Age Meats, one of Agronomics investee companies, has already developed a bioidentical pork sausage.
It sizzles, smells and tastes like a pork sausage but not a single animal is killed in the process, says Reed.
“So, now we can have the same sausage without killing the animal.
“Would you rather have that one or the one where you have to kill the animal?”
Reed says this not a plant-based substitute but meat grown in a lab.
Plant-based alternatives ask the consumer to make a taste and consistency compromise but that is not the case with lab-grown products.
The issue currently is cost, but here Reed is confident this hurdle will be overcome relatively rapidly.
Eighteen months ago, the price to make that bioidentical sausage was US$3,000. Now it is US$190.
Of course, that is still way too expensive says Reed, but in two to three years’ time there is going to be price parity.
“Same bioidentical sausage, same price, but one involves killing loads of animals and putting out a massive environmental footprint, opposed to the one we have invested in, which is clean with no animal welfare issues.
“It’s still a sizzling sausage that tastes delicious.”
Big names pile in
Agronomics raised £4.5mln at 5p per share ahead of its listing on AIM in July.
A raft of well-known investors including Jim Mellon backed the funding, which was 30% over-subscribed.
At present, the portfolio contains six alternative food holdings; San Francisco-based New Age Meats; cellular aquaculture company BlueNalu, developing cultivated fin-fish such as bluefin tuna; Bond Pets, which is developing animal-free pet food; Rebellyous Foods, a maker of plant-based chicken nuggets; lab-grown leather group VitroLabs and cultured seafood specialist Shiok Meats – the latest addition.
The target is a portfolio of 15 companies, amounts invested at the moment have ranged between £150,000 and £1.5 million and stakes up to 7%.
As the portfolio builds, and the start-ups move to larger financing rounds, Agronomics says it has every intention of increasing its stakes and providing more capital when necessary.
Cellular-based agriculture and clean meats
It’s very early stage, at 5.75p the tightly-held Agronomics is valued at £6.4m, but Reed is convinced he is onto a winner on all fronts.
The livestock industry is the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gases.
“Once you realise an alternative is scientifically already here, you see it doesn't make sense to carry on doing this.”
And in his opinion Agronomics is the best play to back the trend of cellular-based agriculture and clean meats.
“I know a good proposition when I see one.”