Thanks to more consumers choosing to eat less meat, demand for plant-based proteins is expanding globally, setting itself up to be a multi-billion dollar industry in the next few years.
This consumer behavioral trend is coined reducetarianism. Unlike vegetarians and vegans, reducetarians don't necessarily give up meat and dairy altogether – they simply want to eat less of these food groups whether for health, animal well-being, or sustainability concerns.
Beyond consumption patterns, sustainability has taken on an entirely new dimension in investments too. As Mark Haefele, Global CIO at UBS, the world's largest wealth manager, explains: "Investors, particularly millennials, are increasingly interested in achieving both an investment and a societal return. At the same time, businesses are under pressure to make money and benefit society. Businesses can build on sustainability programs to develop impactful strategies that make commercial sense, and also generate positive outcomes for society."
Producing food from plants reduces the amount of land needed to produce traditional beef burgers by up to 99%. At a time when 13 million hectares of the planet's forests - that's three times the size of Switzerland - are being lost every year, companies who champion using fewer of the planet's natural resources are resonating with consumers.
Shockingly, more than 80 percent of current Amazon rainforest deforestation rates are driven by beef production. Trees have been cut and replaced by crops to feed cows and allow them room to graze.
The UN has set a Sustainable Development Goal to conserve and restore the use of the world's ecosystems such as: forests, mountains, wetlands, and drylands by 2020. The UN has also previously called for people to move towards a plant-based diet.
Start-ups like Beyond Meat are leading this food revolution. Its signature burger, which looks just like red meat but is made from pea protein, is sold in the meat section of supermarkets and being tested in mainstream restaurant chains.
"We're aimed at meat-eaters," says executive chairman Seth Goldman, "and more of this target market is converting to plant-based foods."
For the growing sector of plant-based entrepreneurs, developing new products is a vital opportunity to address both the UN goals and become a market leader.
"We're lucky that for the first time in a long time, profit-seeking behavior and what's good are aligning" says Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown.
Mark Haefele shares this view. "There is a growing global appetite among client entrepreneurs to look at social and environmental factors not as risks to be managed, but as opportunities to generate commercial and societal returns. Many business owners are responding to shifting demands from their customer and investor bases."
According to forecasts from Allied Market research, the global meat substitutes market is expected to be worth $5.2 billion by 2020 with the fastest growth in the Asia-Pacific market.
"Consumers are buying around sustainability, health and dietary limitations now" agrees Sanjeev Krishnan, CIO and managing director of S2G Ventures, an early investor in Beyond Meat.
"They are able to find new items to try on social media and online. This is allowing for fragmentation and creates opportunities for companies that can use data to find and connect with their customers."
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