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  • Writer's pictureXimena Diaz Velazquez

Plant-Based Pioneer: Elysabeth Alfano Shares Her Journey into VegTech and Plant-Based Consulting


In the latest episode of the Plant Based On Fire podcast, host Bryan had the privilege of interviewing Elysabeth Alfano, a prominent figure in the world of plant-based business and innovation. Elysabeth, the CEO of VegTech Invest, an advisor to the VegTech plant-based innovation and climate ETF, EatV, and the founder of Plant-Powered Consulting, shared her inspiring journey and insights into the plant-based industry. This blog explores Elysabeth's remarkable story, her vision for plant-based entrepreneurship, and the transformative potential of the plant-based sector in the business world.


A Lifelong Journey


Elysabeth's journey into the plant-based realm began at an early age when she realized she couldn't eat meat due to an aversion to its texture. Her childhood experiences shaped her perspective on food and started her on a path towards plant-based living. Fast forward to her adulthood, and her commitment to plant-based living was solidified when her nephew, a football player, decided to go meat-free to improve his athletic performance—this pivotal moment inspired her to embrace a plant-based lifestyle wholeheartedly.


The Birth of Plant-Based Business


With her strong convictions and a desire to make a difference, Elysabeth decided to leverage her professional expertise and business skills to promote plant-based innovation. She recognized that the current meat production model was not sustainable in the long term, given its negative impact on the environment, animal welfare, and public health. This realization led her to establish VegTech Invest and develop the EatV ETF, allowing investors to support plant-based companies making a positive impact.


Plant Powered Consulting


Elysabeth's commitment to promoting plant-based innovation extended beyond her investment endeavors. She also founded Plant Powered Consulting, where she collaborates with large multinational companies to identify opportunities in sustainable food systems transformation. By helping these companies navigate the plant-based landscape and adopt more sustainable practices, she contributes to the industry's growth and positive impact on the planet.


The Future of Plant-Based Business


Elysabeth's insights into the future of the plant-based industry are both visionary and pragmatic. She predicts that the next three years will witness a significant upswing in plant-based initiatives, driven by governments, large food manufacturers, and consumer demand. While this transformation may not make daily headlines, it will lead to substantial changes in the food supply chain, ultimately benefiting both the planet and people's health.


How Can You Contribute?


Elysabeth emphasizes that every individual can make a difference by embracing a plant-based lifestyle. Living your best life through plant-based choices not only benefits your health but also sets an example for others. Moreover, she encourages sharing knowledge about plant-based living in a friendly and approachable manner to dispel misconceptions and promote understanding.


Elysabeth Alfano's journey from childhood aversion to meat to becoming a pioneering force in the plant-based business world is an inspiring tale of passion and commitment. Her work with VegTech Invest, Plant-Powered Consulting, and the EatV ETF underscores the growing importance of plant-based innovation in the business landscape. As Elysabeth predicts a transformative shift in the plant-based industry over the next few years, it's clear that plant-based entrepreneurs and advocates like her are driving positive change for the planet, one plant-based choice at a time.


Podcast episode’s transcription:


Bryan (00:00.93)

Hello everyone and welcome to Plant Based on Fire, where we talk about plant-based businesses and their inspiring stories to thrive in our industry. I'm your host Brian and joining us today is Elizabeth Alfano, the CEO of VegTech Invest, an advisor to the VegTech plant-based innovation and climate ETF, EatV.


founder of the plant based consulting and host of the plant based business hour, one of my favorite podcasts and host of upside and impact investing for change on the New York stock exchange platform. So welcome to the show, Elizabeth. Thanks for being here.


Elysabbeth Alfano (00:39.549)

So happy to be here. Thanks for having me.


Bryan (00:42.834)

I have just been following you and I feel privileged and honored to have you on the show and get to know you a little bit better. What I'm so curious, cause I've seen you interview all these other business CEOs and high power profile plant-based businesses. And I'm so curious, what got you into this? What was your sort of transition entry into the plant-based realm that brought you into this world?


Elysabbeth Alfano (01:07.613)

Sure thing. So many different points of entry. Should I start with the business or the podcast or just the general personal story that led me down the path?


Bryan (01:15.11)

Yeah, yeah, you're I'm curious. For me, it was forks over knives like 14, 15 years ago. What was your like, oh, I got a change moment.


Elysabbeth Alfano (01:25.097)

Oh, okay, so mine's maybe even more visceral than this. My earliest memory as a kid is that I couldn't eat meat. It's my earliest memory of life. I just couldn't chew it. I didn't, the taste was okay, but I just couldn't chew it and I couldn't swallow it. And my parents who love me and I love them back, there's no problem, they're beautiful people. They were like, oh my gosh, our kid's gonna die. She's not getting protein. So, and it was, you know.


of strict upbringing and they were like, young lady, you are not leaving your seat until you finish that meat. And I just couldn't do it. So I started hiding it all over the house, like under the radiator, under the table in my jeans pocket. Well, then they, you know, found me for lying and then they really punished me. So everybody else would be, you know, watching TV together in the family room and I wouldn't be allowed to join because I had lied to them about not finishing my meat. So


Bryan (02:11.63)

Hahaha


Elysabbeth Alfano (02:21.893)

Fast forward, I'm an adult in my 20s, and I kind of know about animal factories, and I'm thinking like, well, why, you know, this makes no sense. And I would bring it up to people, and I would say like, ah, you know, I didn't know anything about cheese then, but I would say like, hey, do we really need pepperoni on pizza, everybody? Like, ah, let's not do it. And they'd kind of, you know, today we would call this bullying. They'd say like, oh, you're a nugger, and you're a, you know.


I was like, I can't believe it. People are making me feel bad about something that they're not kids, they know. So I kind of solidified in my head like, hmm, I guess this is what it means to be an adult. You do that which you know is wrong, but you do it anyway. And I was just struggling with this, right? Cause it makes no sense. And then, you know, fast forward, I'm in my thirties and now I'm like, what do we do with this? Like I just...


Bryan (02:59.617)

Yeah.


Elysabbeth Alfano (03:20.225)

Long time, and I'm not a wallflower. I have a, you know, and I'm an outspoken personality. It wasn't until my 40s that my nephew came home from the University of Oregon, where he was playing on the football team, and he came home for Thanksgiving, and he said, coach said, if I'm gonna play for the team, no meat, no dairy. I was like, rat, bastard. I, you might have to bleep that, sorry.


Bryan (03:43.938)

Wow.


Elysabbeth Alfano (03:49.613)

I had been waiting for an adult figure my whole life because my parents had told me no, I couldn't. I was waiting for an authoritarian figure and I was vegan mid-sentence. I was like, I knew it, I knew it all along and I denied my voice and I denied my body. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. Coach said, division one, University of Oregon, no meat, no dairy, I was gone, I was so in.


Bryan (03:49.795)

Hahaha


Bryan (04:07.008)

Mm-hmm.


Bryan (04:15.038)

Wow, that is awesome. What a powerful act. Did you get to, like with the rest of the team, the whole team did the same thing as well. And so.


Elysabbeth Alfano (04:24.505)

Yeah, yeah, that was the rule. That was the nutrition coach. And while you're in season, which you're training almost as long as you're actually playing so like nine months out of the year, no meat, no dairy for them. Fish from time to time, but no meat, no dairy. And so I was, you know, I was like, Yep, no meat, no dairy. And I started exactly like the team, no meat, no dairy, had a little bit of fish. And then I, you know, once you're in it, and you start getting educated about it, you think, Oh, I don't need fish. I'm not doing this either.


Bryan (04:37.582)

Wow, that is awesome.


Yeah.


Bryan (04:53.338)

Yeah, it's a domino effect. Yeah.


Elysabbeth Alfano (04:53.785)

Thanks, I'll forgo the mercury. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And then, you know, once you realize this, you start thinking, this is a really inefficient business equation. This is an awful healthcare cost equation. This is awful for animal welfare. This is awful for planetary health. I think I should use my business skills and my professional skills to now back up what I'm doing on a personal level.


Bryan (05:10.474)

Yes.


Bryan (05:16.889)

Mm-hmm.


Elysabbeth Alfano (05:20.605)

So once I was in for myself, I really thought, oh, the business opportunity is undeniable here because we're not going to be able to create food as inefficiently as we do now through the inefficiency of animals, the waste, the, you know, I don't know how much you talk about it on this show, but the misuse of land and water resources, the leading cause of biodiversity loss is animal factories, 41% of the world's tropical deforestation.


Bryan (05:37.015)

Mm-hmm.


Elysabbeth Alfano (05:50.173)

happening because of animal factories, grazing and raising animals. So, 32% of the world's global methane emissions, one third is coming from animal factors. I mean, these are, you won't impact climate change if you don't address that methane number. So it was undeniable to me that there would be food systems transformation. And so I started working in that arena.


Bryan (05:59.118)

Mm-hmm. I know.


Bryan (06:14.83)

And so how long have you been doing this and you've gotten into, you have created an ETF that's all focused on this. I want to know more about that and how long have you been doing this business realm here?


Elysabbeth Alfano (06:29.397)

So just for those folks who might not know, an ETF is called an exchange traded fund. You kind of think of it like a grocery basket. So you go to the store and you're like, okay, I want, I'm going to get some brown rice and some chickpeas and some fruit and some kale and some Beyond Meat. I'm going to grab some Oatly and I'm going to get some Celsius water and I'm going to get, you know, plant-based pizza and some plant-based chili. And I'm leaving. You leave the store and you've got, you know, 40 different.


items of food in your one grocery basket. Well, that's kind of like an ETF. You have 35, 40 companies in one ETF, and then you buy and sell, you trade the ETF. So in our case, it's ETV is the ticker. And then you get your exposure to that sector, those 35, 40 companies in the grocery basket in the ETF. So I wanted to invest in what I considered to be


an undeniable systems transformation, a business equation that was not only ripe for disruption, but it's unfeasible. It's not feasible that it wouldn't be disrupted because the inefficient way we produce meat means that many people aren't going to get food because there's not enough land and water.


and trees to deforest to get all of those people food in Africa and India and China as they have a growing middle class. Then you're going to have governments that are going to be concerned about feeding people and they're going to start investing in alternative proteins. So I thought, well, this is kind of a no brainer in a sense that I know that this is going to shift. So I wanted to invest in the public markets because those companies that are focused on plant-based innovation, which would include cultivated meat and precision fermentation, as well as plant-based.


Bryan (07:50.542)

That's right.


Elysabbeth Alfano (08:19.809)

items up and down the supply chain, not just the consumer packaged goods at the end, but the whole supply chain. I thought, well, these companies are vetted, they're publicly traded, they're larger, they're more stable. Whereas venture small startups, most of those companies, statistically speaking, fail. And then you've made no impact. And you also have no financial return. In fact, all of your money is gone.


Bryan (08:24.302)

Mm-hmm.


Bryan (08:42.57)

Yeah. Yep.


Hehehehe


Elysabbeth Alfano (08:48.061)

So I wanted to avoid the riskiness of investing in startups, but I wanted to invest in the public markets and I couldn't find an ETF. So along with Dr. Sasha Goodman, we started the EatB ETF.


Bryan (09:02.646)

That is awesome. So check that out on your ticker and buy a few shares of EatVee. And then you do the consulting side of it as well. So what services does Plant Powered Consulting offer and what gap does it fill in the marketplace?


Elysabbeth Alfano (09:17.677)

Yeah, I usually work with large multinational companies, helping them identify the trends and white spaces in sustainable food systems transformation, which is plant-based innovation. So helping them focus their energies on the supply chain or precision fermentation or cultivated meat or, you know, where they might be able to use their expertise to really have market share and importance in the supply chain.


So from a financially beneficial perspective for them, as well as reaping the environmental benefits of lowering your carbon footprint, as well as just being a sustainable player in the market. So I usually work with C-suite and I help them identify strategies in white spaces and help them implement those strategies if they want.


Bryan (10:08.354)

That is awesome. So that consulting stuff and the eat V thing. What, what are some of those key factors that you look for in companies to include in the ETF?


Elysabbeth Alfano (10:19.825)

We really see the growth in the supply chain. So less focused on the consumer packaged goods on the shelf of the grocery store because it's so expensive to get on that grocery store shelf and you have to pay a lot of money and you're already kind of a more expensive product. And so we really like to see the ingredient companies, the flavor and texture companies, the innovation and technology companies.


like Ginkgo Bioworks, for example, that license out its IP so that other companies can create alternative proteins out of precision fermentation. Ingredion, working on, you know, if you're going to replace meat, you're going to need more than just wheat and soy. You're going to need chickpeas or quinoa or fava beans. And then those, that's ingredient, for example, working on those kinds of things, then you're going to need them to taste great. So that's Givaudan working on the texture.


Bryan (11:12.45)

That's right.


Elysabbeth Alfano (11:14.253)

So these are all picks and shovels, if you will, up and down the supply chain. We really see that's where the growth is. That's where the money to be made is. And, and, you know, real wealth happens, not because a company has 3% more sales at the end of the year, but because you went from the horse and buggy to the car. Or you went from developing film for your camera to the iPhone, or you went from the landline to the iPhone. So.


We really see these huge system shifts as opportunities for big pops. And then we also see that the supply chain is really where all the infrastructure is going to be built out, where government spending is going to happen, where industry spending that might be plant-based industry, that might even be the meat industry, you know, investing in new alternatives and innovations, technologies, building plants, building bioreactors, these kind of things.


So we really see growth in that area.


Bryan (12:18.978)

That's awesome. So those are some of the trends you're starting to see in the market for sure. I mean, I guess I equate it to just like all the tobacco companies had to pivot into other areas. I think all the oil companies are going to have to pivot. And I don't think it's going to be long before the meat manufacturers have to pivot. And I think even Tyson foods has got a big plant-based initiative going on and stuff like that, so I'm hopeful that some of the enemies will turn around.


Elysabbeth Alfano (12:29.618)

Yes.


Bryan (12:46.226)

and come to the plant side more strongly as we go. So you mentioned, sorry, go ahead.


Elysabbeth Alfano (12:52.321)

Yes, you see companies like Cargill, JBS all getting interested in having a footprint here.


Bryan (12:55.266)

Yeah.


Bryan (12:58.678)

Yeah. And so you mentioned, you know, like I'm a big investor in some of the smaller startups and I've seen plenty of them fail. I've mentored a vegan Worcestershire sauce company. I'm mentoring a vegan hot sauce company right now. And so I do a lot of that kind of stuff. So what do you see as some of the biggest challenges that plant based startups face today and any tips for how they can overcome them?


Elysabbeth Alfano (13:26.745)

It would be the same for all entrepreneurs everywhere. Those that survive are those that are willing to work the hardest and those who can make their money last the longest. So I would focus less on the press release about how you're saving the world and I would focus more on nose to the grindstone and getting your costs down and finding a competitive advantage either through an IP moat


or just at building that better taste than anyone. And if it's the latter, you're probably going to sell to a larger company, because you don't have an IP mode. So your best bet there, if you don't have an IP mode, is probably to sell kind of on the earlier side. But just make sure, just focus on being best in class at what you do, and less on the press release.


Bryan (14:21.758)

Yeah, I agree. Do you have a favorite success story as you've been on your journey with these plant-based companies? Which ones made a significant impact or stuck out in your mind?


Elysabbeth Alfano (14:34.205)

Well, you're from North Carolina, so you know that barbecue is awesome. Have you had barbecue?


Bryan (14:41.028)

I live in Cornelius and the barbecue headquarters is literally a couple miles from my house. So I know exactly what you mean. And I think they're phenomenal.


Elysabbeth Alfano (14:49.777)

Oh my God, I love that product. I love that product so much. It is so fun. Do they have like a little cafeteria? Can you sneak in and get barbecued?


Bryan (14:57.478)

I wish they did. They've been closed for the longest time, but they did finally do some pop ups and they're at the veg fast and all this stuff around here. So yeah, if you're in the area, I would love to take you on a tour there. See if we can arrange that.


Elysabbeth Alfano (15:06.406)

Um.


Elysabbeth Alfano (15:11.337)

And I love Lee, the CEO, and I, so Lee is a perfect example. You don't see Lee pushing out press releases every day. You see Lee like nose to the grindstone. And he focuses on his business and he's really great at that.


Bryan (15:25.614)

That's awesome. Yeah, that's, I was going to ask you if you knew a barbecue. I think I saw them mentioned on your website someplace. So yeah, that's awesome. So how does the regulatory landscape impact the plant-based industry? You know, like new product development, like the struggle that I see a lot of challenges for plant-based foods going through is just nutritional evaluations and the stickers on the boxes and the jars and stuff.


How do you see that impacting the industry?


Elysabbeth Alfano (15:59.741)

Well, there's regulation and then there's, and I guess regulation would cover labeling. And then there's kind of front of pack marketing. Maybe I'll talk about both. I see governments getting heavily involved because when you have inefficient calorie conversion, according to the World Resources Institute, the best equation you're ever gonna see is nine calories of feed for every one calorie of chicken. It's 25 to.


35 calories of feed for every one calorie of cow, 16 to one for pigs. So what this means is we have forests, they pull carbon from the air, which is great, but oh well we cut them down so they can no longer pull carbon from the air. When we cut them down they give off carbon, it's the opposite of what we want, but oh well we do this and we grow all this food that has protein and fiber.


Do we give this food to people? No, we give it to animals who need land, water, time, up. They need more food because of that bad calorie conversion. Basically, animals are bad business. Then you gotta cut down more trees. You're in a very bad loop, which means you're going to run out of land and water to feed a growing population, because you have more people going from eight billion to 10 billion people, according to the United Nations.


and you have more people on the planet and you have more people who are wealthy. You have Africa with the middle class, India, China. So we have more demand for meat but you're not getting more land and you're not getting more forests and you're not getting more water. So


Elysabbeth Alfano (17:41.705)

Oh, I was so I think governments are very interested in moving regulation along, which is why the USDA as well as the FDA have approved the Good Meat Company and upside foods for their chicken. That's about three years after Singapore approved good meat. So a little late to the game. But both of those have been approved to market. I understand that there are several others in line waiting for that to come through. That should come through in early 2024.


And I think you're going to see with the state of California, shifting gears a little bit, but it's kind of the same topic. State of California has just passed into law that any business, be it private or public that has a billion dollars of revenue or more must disclose their scopes one, two, and three. So scopes are basically carving out each portion of the supply chain.


the whole business equation, and forcing that companies disclose where they're letting out emissions along their entire business equation. I'll say it that way. Well, 85% of the emissions are in scope three, and California is mandating scope three, which is very bold, which means, long story short, meat companies are going to fare very poorly here. And when California does something, it's not just the companies in California that must.


acquiesce. Yes, any company that wants to do business in California has to acquiesce. So you're going to see more and more companies try, you know, invest in plant-based innovation as a way of cleaning up their emissions and then you're gonna see a lot of language on the front of pack like


Bryan (19:06.911)

It ripples through the economy.


Bryan (19:23.137)

Mm-hmm.


Elysabbeth Alfano (19:27.841)

light, I don't know what the verbiage will be, we'll see, but something like, you know, fewer carbon emissions than meat, or if you know, less methane emissions than ground pork, or you know. So I think I'm waiting for that. Just really excited about it.


Bryan (19:33.899)

Yeah.


Bryan (19:39.594)

Yeah, very, very true.


Bryan (19:48.15)

I don't know if you've been to a grocery store in Mexico, but on the front of every package in Mexico, it's gonna say excess sodium or excess sugar or excess calories, like it's mandatory. So you walk down a row of the grocery store in Mexico and 80% of the products have got these big old stickers on it, except for the orange juice that's just, you know, fresh squeezed kind of thing. And so they don't have any stickers. They just look like much more beautiful packages.


But yeah, I hope that catches on in America on that front. So I have to ask you, you're on the forefront of all these plant-based initiatives. What are some of your predictions for the plant-based realm in the next five to 10 years?


Elysabbeth Alfano (20:31.061)

Right, well I'm gonna give you the next three years. I think you're gonna see...


enormous upswing, very different than what we had before. What we had before, I'll say in 2019, was kind of like a blip of happiness in that everyone was bubbling about it. But it was lots of promises for the future. I think what you're going to see in 2024, but really 2025, 26, 27, is more government and more industry. So that means meat companies and large food manufacturers.


investing in the infrastructure to build out alternative proteins, sustainable food systems because they need it. So what's important about this is you then have the consumer, Gen Z millennials much more in tune to planetary health as well as older people in turn to personal health. You have governments and you have large food manufacturers all wanting the same thing at the same time.


So I think you're gonna see exponentially fast, like once the dominoes fall, they're gonna fall really quickly. And I think you're gonna feel that by like 2027. So all of this, you know, it's not so sexy to write a press release about what happens in the supply chain. So all this investment will take place 24, 25, 26, 27, but you'll kind of wake up and it'll be 2027, 2028. And you'll be like, oh my God.


Plant-based is everywhere or precision fermentation or cultivated meat blended products have hit the market. Do think that'll come before 2030. Before even maybe 2028, you'll see plant-based product and plant-based product with cultivated animal fat is blended together to taste more like animal fat, but have a healthier profile for the planet and for people. So it's just not gonna get all the big venture capital


Elysabbeth Alfano (22:34.321)

funding headlines, but the infrastructure is being built. And I think that's gonna happen silently over the next couple of years, and then you're gonna wake up and it's gonna be like, wow, our food system has changed, a certain degree. It won't change 100% in five years, but you'll feel a dent.


Elysabbeth Alfano (22:57.382)

Uh oh, you're on mute.


Bryan (23:01.802)

I spoke with somebody a couple of weeks ago who's been a vegan for like 45 years. And he's just said, in the 45 years I've been doing this, it is a night and day difference. So just some of your perspectives on just the next three years are exciting for sure. Yeah, because I see more and more innovation coming down that supply chain for sure. So Elizabeth, it's been a blast hanging out with you and talking with you. What can we do as a community to help? And what are the best ways to get in touch with you?


Elysabbeth Alfano (23:32.017)

You can always find me on LinkedIn. So feel free to do that. If you'd like to get more information about EatV, you can always go to E-A-T-V-E-T-F.com. What can we do? So I'd like to answer that in two ways. The first thing on the most like lowest hanging fruit, but maybe people don't even realize it is live your best life. If you're at all concerned about the planet,


for you and your family, your health for you and your family, even your investments for you and your family, then I would say, you know, move towards plant-based innovation and live that life.


well and fully. It doesn't mean you have to shout at people or tell, you know, get in people's faces. You don't even have to mention anything. People often say to me like...


Oh, you know, how do you like being 42? And I'll say, well, I'm 56. So that kind of says it all. That's your, of course, sleep and exercise, but you know, diet's gonna play. People are asking, you know, they'll immediately be intrigued. So just live that best life that is yours. And I think that already does a lot. Maybe more boots on the ground kind of perspective.


Bryan (24:34.422)

Yeah.


Bryan (24:37.686)

All right.


Elysabbeth Alfano (24:58.769)

There is so much misinformation out there, so much misinformation that it's even penetrated the plant-based innovation community. And so many people say like, oh, well, beyond meat, it's not healthy. Ah, well, it's not healthy compared to a carrot, but it's healthier in that it doesn't induce trimethylene N-oxide, TMAO. Go ahead and look that up if you're interested. That's bad for your heart. Doesn't have animal heat, doesn't have cholesterol, has a little bit of fiber.


doesn't have salmonella, doesn't have feces, doesn't have antibiotics and hormones, and has a lower risk of pandemics. So these are, don't be afraid to share the knowledge that you have. And that can be done in a smiley, friendly, let me make you plant-based cookies kind of way. It doesn't have to be in your face.


Bryan (25:41.506)

That's right.


Bryan (25:48.654)

Absolutely. I've had some great conversations just by saying, please take the cheese off my pizza. You know what I mean? Like no cheese on the pizza. It's, it just starts a conversation. So, well, thank you very much, Elizabeth, for being here. That's all the time we have for this episode of Plant Based on Fire. We really appreciate you joining us and sharing some of your insights and experiences with our community. Until next time, keep that fire burning.


Elysabbeth Alfano (25:58.799)

Yeah.


Elysabbeth Alfano (26:15.773)

Bye everyone.


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