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Ousted Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber joins agritech VC Astanor

Emmanuel Faber, the former Danone chief executive and sustainability champion who was ousted from the French consumer goods group this year, has joined agritech venture capital firm Astanor as a partner.

Faber on Tuesday said his new role would allow him to continue supporting change in the food and agricultural sectors.

“As far as I’m concerned I’ve been working for 20 years transitioning the current business model of food and agriculture into the future by moving the needle at Danone,” he said.

Before his dismissal in March after a boardroom struggle and shareholder campaign, Faber turned Danone into a leader in organic food and plant-based yoghurts and milks, as well as creating Danone’s own venture capital fund in 2016. “There’s a lot of continuity here,” he said regarding his move.

Investments in food and agritech have been rising in tandem with concerns about the impact of climate change and growing global population on food production and the environment.

The way food is produced and distributed has come under the spotlight as the world seeks to meet climate goals and limit hunger at a time when production is coming under threat. Funding of agritech and food tech start-ups totalled more than $30bn last year, almost triple the total in 2015, according to data from VC firm AgFunder.

Astanor, launched by former Benchmark Capital Europe co-founders Eric Archambeau and George Coelho in 2017, raised $300m to invest in food and agriculture last year. David Barber, a US “farm to table” advocate for linking farmers to restaurants and consumers, is also joining as partner.

Its portfolio includes edible insect producer Ynsect, vertical farming start-up Infarm, and Apeel, a US start-up behind an edible plant-based protective coating that extends the time fruit and vegetables stay fresh.

Faber said his time at Danone was “the past” and that since he left he had been contacted by dozens of food and agritech entrepreneurs seeking advice and backing. He added that he was “passionate about making a difference” and that transforming food production and land use was critical to achieving climate and health.

Faber, an avid mountaineer who eats little meat, said the alternative protein sector, which includes meat, dairy and eggs, was going to become “huge — the space is going to grow so big over the next 10 years”, he said.

Consultancy BCG forecasts that alternative protein sales will reach $290bn by 2035, accounting for 10 per cent of all the meat, eggs and diary eaten worldwide.

Faber, whose deals at Danone included its $12.5bn acquisition of US plant-based dairy company WhiteWave in 2017, said that as large companies entered and expanded in the space, there would be tensions within the organisations and with shareholders.

“You have got this legacy and culture that is there that goes against” such investments, he said, “because in many ways you are shooting yourself in the foot.” And while companies make a “huge investment” in alternative proteins with an eye to future growth, “you are not rewarding your shareholder base”.

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