Drought Hedge: Fake Meat

A corn plant grows in a field parched by drought in Olmsted, Ill.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Corn prices, which moderated a little bit last week, are up to a new record high this morning as drought continued to batter the American farm belt.

The biggest impact of this grain shortage, in the end, may not be on the price of grains. That’s because growing corn and then eating the corn turns out to be a pretty efficient way of translating corn into calories. An alternative method—much less efficient but wildly popular nonetheless—is to feed the corn to animals and then eat the animal. So meat consumption ends up being very intensive in its dependence on basic commodity inputs like the increasingly scarce corn and soy.

One possible consequence of this is a growth opportunity for fake meat products. These have traditionally been targeted at a strict vegetarian popupation, which is a small—and seemingly not growing—slice of the population. But over the past few years more and more meat eaters have at least tried to experiment with less meat-intensive diets so there’s more familiarity with the basic product. And if higher prices are going to force people to shift away from their favorite cuts over to stuff they don’t like as much, that can create more openings for a switch to fake meat. In pure pun terms, my hope would be that the high price of corn would be good news for Quorn, but Farhad Manjoo writes that it’s actually a new company called Beyond Meat that’s really cracked the code in terms of deliverying a faux-chicken product that tastes like the real thing. Its availability is limited to a relatively small number of stores now, but with poultry feed prices skyrocketing there’s a big opportunity here.