Jim Mellon of Agronomics
Jim Mellon is an author, entrepreneur and an investor with interests in a number of sectors. He has substantial real estate holdings in Germany and the Isle of Man, as well as holdings in private and public companies through his private investment company Burnbrae Group.
After leaving Oxford, where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics, he worked in Asia and the United States in two fund management companies. Mr. Mellon is the co-author of five books, all written with a view to identifying emerging thematic trends leading to investment opportunities.
We had a great chat with Jim and learned about his in-depth and hands on experience within the field of cellular agriculture.
Alex Shirazi (00:03):
Thanks for joining us on The Future Food Show. On this episode, we are excited to have Jim Mellon of Agronomics. Jim Mellon is an author, entrepreneur, and investor with interests in a number of sectors. He has substantial real estate holdings in Germany and the isle of man, as well as holdings in private and public companies through his private investment company. After leaving Oxford where he studied philosophy, politics, and economics, he worked in Asia and in the United States in two fund management companies. Jim is the co-author of five books, all written with a View to identify emerging thematic trends leading to investment opportunities. We had a great chat with Jim and learned about his in-depth and hands-on experience within the field of cellular agriculture. Jim, I’d like to welcome you to the Future Food Show. Thank
Jim Mellon (00:53):
You very much, Alex. It’s lovely to be here.
Alex Shirazi (00:55):
Jim, it has definitely been quite some time in the making to have you on the show, and I’m really glad you’re here. Tell us a little bit about your background.
Jim Mellon (01:04):
Well, I went to university in the uk and school in the uk. We traveled around the world as a family when I was young because my father was a British diplomat. And when I graduated I had a sort of nomadic instinct. So I went to work in Hong Kong and then I ended up in San Francisco for four years. And then I went back to Hong Kong for another 12 years all the time working as a fund manager for mutual funds that were mostly populated by British investors. And then I started my own company, which did the same thing more or less. And in about 2000 the company carried on. But I decided because we took the company public and I got some money to, to do different things. And so I ended up investing in lots of stuff, including German property, which remains my largest single asset.
Jim Mellon (01:54):
And then biotech where we started my two partners. And I started a, a number of companies, one of which we sold at the end of last year to Pfizer. And then because of the biotech background, I got very interested in the know novel protein area and ’cause essentially the techniques come from biotech and coupled with my own desire to see intensive funding at least reduced if not eliminated, and the fact that we don’t eat meat in our household, you know, it, it proved to be a perfect combination for us in terms of our investments. So we started our company Agronomics, and we have another company called New Agro, which does more or less the same thing. And we’ve been on this journey for four years, and it’s very exciting.
Alex Shirazi (02:37):
Four years doesn’t seem like a very long time, but when you look at how much of the activity, I guess, when that activity within the, the cultivated or cultured meat space started, that was actually in definitely the early days. When did you actually first hear about the, I guess, cell cultured meat technology?
Jim Mellon (02:55):
About five years ago. And I mean, maybe I heard about it before, but it became something important to me about five years ago. And as I do with every idea that I’m really interested in and want to do something with, I wrote a book and my book Mo Law was finished during the pandemic times. And I can tell you now, Alex, that there’s no one, I mean, if you, you know, if someone just wants to ring up a company and get information, quite often the company will not be very responsive. But if you say I’m writing a book, there is no one who won’t accept an invite to be interviewed. And so basically during the pandemic, I interviewed all the key opinion leaders, I think at that time in the sector and wrote the book. And that became the basis of our investment strategy. And we are solely focused on cellular agriculture. And as you know very well, there is a big confusion in the minds of the public and the investing public and generalists as to plant-based foods and cellular agriculture. And it’s something that, you know, we, we constantly have to remind people that they’re very different things, but we only invest in cellular agriculture.
Alex Shirazi (04:05):
You know, using the book as a entry point into the industry I think is fascinating. You mentioned that you don’t eat meat in your household. Perhaps this was also part of the inspiration to look into the technology.
Jim Mellon (04:17):
It absolutely is. I mean, you know, we are, I wouldn’t say we’re activists on behalf behalf of animals, but we are very much animal lovers. And my most recent book, which is a children’s book called Juno’s Arc, is a sort of guide to children about the, I wouldn’t call it the evils because it is not characterized as that, but the downsides to current practices and farming animals and it’s, it leads them to what we’re doing, what you are doing, what we’re doing, and selling agriculture as a, as a potential and actual solution to the problems. And it’s done through the eyes of one of our many dogs. We have seven dogs at home, and we also support a charity where the proceeds of the book are going to, which is in Spain where we live some of the time at least, which supports another 28 dogs who’ve been abandoned and mistreated, et cetera. And so we’re, you know, we’re very committed to, to the elimination of the cruel practice that is intensive farming.
Alex Shirazi (05:19):
I love that. And as a children’s book author in cellular agriculture myself, I’d love to kind of, you know, exchange ideas with you offline. But that’s really exciting. You have also written several other books about other industries. Can you maybe tell us at a high level what some of those other industries were?
Jim Mellon (05:39):
Sure. I wrote a book about the biotech industry, which was called Cracking the Code. And as I said, you know, we started a number of biotech companies, and if any of your listeners have migraine, they mo more than likely are using a drug that we developed in our most recently sold company, bio Haven called Neurotech. And Neurotech is a revolutionary anti Negra drug that’s now on sale in the United States. We started that company eight years ago, and it was around, well, slightly before that, that I wrote the book, cracking the Code, and then we embarked on this biotech journey. And then I wrote another book called Vence, which is about the science of longevity. And we’ve got a company called Vence, which is run by a c e o from AstraZeneca, a very large pharmaceutical company. It’s raised over 300 million US dollars in equity, and it’s doing great stuff in trying to extend health span in humans as well as in domestic animals. And so, you know, the books form the basis of the information that allows us as a team to lay out the plan for our, for our businesses. And it, it also, I love writing them and researching them, and I will be embarking on a new book before the end of this year on a new area that I’m interested in.
Alex Shirazi (07:02):
Exciting. Okay. That new journey is yet to be announced, is that right?
Jim Mellon (07:06):
No, no. I’m very happy to tell you what it is. And oh yeah, it’s not like I’m not announcing the lineup for the Super Bowl is <laugh> is just what I’m doing myself. It’s, it’s nuclear fusion. And so I’m doing a lot of investigation and research into nuclear fusion at the moment. And indeed next week I’m going on a trip to Oxford, which is one of the leading centers for fusion technology to spend a day there. And I’ve spent several days around fusion companies in the last few months, so that, that’s my next, my next challenge. But in the meantime, you know, I couldn’t be more excited about what’s going on in cellular agriculture and the fact that as you know better than I do, Alex, we’re now at the point where these products are either about to be commercialized or are indeed being commercialized. And, you know, we want the consumers to try them and we want them to rapidly adopt them so that we can, we can make a dent into the intensive farming industry.
Alex Shirazi (07:58):
And it’s definitely an amazing time to really, you know, chat about these technologies With the recent approvals. I wanna jump into agronomics. So what is it as an entity and how is it structured?
Jim Mellon (08:11):
Okay, so it’s a London listed investment company. It’s based in the Isle of Man, which is our headquarters. Isle of Man is a small island between Liverpool and Dublin, basically, and in the Irish Sea. And we have most of our employees based there. And as I said, it’s solely focused on investing in cellular agriculture. It’s got assets of about 200 million US dollars. Those assets of the asset value per share have quadrupled more or less since the companies started three and a half years ago. And the share price has been pretty volatile, but the share price has more than doubled since it was listed. And I’m the biggest shareholder of it. So I put the most money into agronomics, and I’ve never sold a single share and I’m on the board and very excited about what’s happening. And we have a team of six people working on this full time.
Jim Mellon (09:01):
We hope to expand that team. And as I said, we’ve, we started, maybe I didn’t say, but I will. Anyway, we, we started by investing in the companies that were available for investment. At the time, the, there weren’t very many, about 30 companies and selling agriculture. Now we count about 300, this is in the last four years. And so companies like Blue Nalu that you are very familiar with, vitro Labs, meatball Moosa Meats, those sort of companies, we, we basically invested in and in some cases we are the largest outside shareholders of those companies. But then we pivoted a bit to the model that we’d used in biotech, which is basically to back scientists, entrepreneurs at an earlier stage in white space opportunities and to create our own companies. So we’ve created three companies that we were the founding shareholders of, and that as a result, agronomics and new Agrarian, our other sister company have much earlier and therefore cheaper stakes in.
Jim Mellon (10:01):
And where we backed, as I said, the scientist entrepreneurs and so good dog food recently did a funding round and very, you, you wouldn’t have heard of it, I don’t think, anyway, but a very big British PET related company. It has about 25% of the UK pet market, which is the second largest pet market in the market in the world after the United States. It invested in the company and is going to act as a distributor for the dog. Food that is going to be made in laboratories is being made in laboratories and will be on the market, believe it or not. And this year, by the end of this year in the UK market, and you know, the regulatory pathway for dog food is much faster. The dogs will therefore eat not the sort of bad food that they currently eat, or potentially bad food that they currently eat in many cases.
Jim Mellon (10:50):
And the, in the United States and in the uk, 25% of the meat market is pet food. So this is a big and growing market. And our good dog food, which we’re the larger shellers in, is making incredible progress. And it’ll be the first cell cultured meat sold in Europe, and it will be on the market by the end of this year. We also started a company called Clean Foods Group, which is, again, based in the uk and that is trying to produce palm oil what it is producing palm oil in laboratories. And we hope that it in the future will be able to supplant the very destructive plant oil industry, destructive in all sorts of ways by making palm oil in, in labs. And then the last company, which is the biggest, is called Liberation Labs. I’m, I’m sure you’re familiar with it, which is the company that is building a, its first plant as a contract manufacturer for precision fermentation companies in Indiana.
Jim Mellon (11:43):
In the us 115 million US dollar build and Liberation labs is headed up by the veterans of the precision fermentation industry, which is woefully underserved in terms of the fermenting capacity. And we believe that plant number one, number two, number three, number four, number five in the world of new plants will be built by liberation labs. And that most, if not all of the precision fermentation companies will use its services because they, none of them really can afford to justify the price of building out their own facilities. And it makes a lot of sense to share facilities. So those are the three that we’ve announced. And we have a couple of others in the pipeline, which I can’t talk about, but which are super exciting as well.
Alex Shirazi (12:28):
To throw a, a spin on things I wanted to ask you, what is an example of a bet you made, whether within its cellular agriculture or outside of cellular agriculture, a project that you may have invested in or started that failed or didn’t go as planned?
Jim Mellon (12:44):
Well, there’s been plenty of those, but you know, our motto is we try and fail fast <laugh>, this is the most important thing. So although for instance, in biotech we failed on a number of our projects, we shut down very early so that we don’t just pour more money down a sinkhole. In terms of failures, I, I would say that I would say they’re more than, they’re more disappointments and abject failures where, you know, that we’ve sort of walked away from a project. But for instance, we have a drug for premature, which we’ve been working on for 10 years. It’s been approved in Europe, it’s about to be approved in China. We’re hoping it gets approved in the United States, but it’s been a very, very long road and a lot of money has been put into it. It’s, it’s by far the best product for that particular condition.
Jim Mellon (13:30):
And we think there’s a very big market, and when the company that produces this project can actually get its act together and produce enough of the, of the drug, it sells out straight away. So the, it’s been a long grind, but I’m hopeful that, you know, we’re coming to what will be a successful conclusion. I also have a company that produces a boot for diabetic foot ulcers, which is a very big problem around the world. And again, that product has been approved everywhere. It’s so much better than the standard of care, but it’s just been a very long grind getting it to, to be commercially successful. And again, I’m hopeful that, you know, we’re within spitting distance of seeing that happen. But, you know, I’m very tenacious and when I really like something that’s gonna make a useful impact on humanity, I’ll just carry on putting more money behind it.
Jim Mellon (14:17):
But in some cases, in some of our longevity projects, we’ve just shut down the project when we’ve seen the early clinical data that’s just not good enough and we just don’t carry on. So those are the sort of things in which there’ve been failures in terms of in cellular agriculture, it’s really bit, a bit too early for us to say that there’ve been outright failures. There’s a couple of companies that we are, we’re worried about, I’m not gonna say what they are because I just think that would be very unfair, but they’re not significant investments for us, but we are concerned and we’ve made appropriate write downs in the valuation of the investments were necessary.
Alex Shirazi (14:53):
One thing that is inspiring is that all of the projects that you are working on do have some very direct value or impact to, you know, the world. And so that’s, it’s definitely very inspiring to see that,
Jim Mellon (15:06):
Well, you know, later life you have to do something that’s good, right? So I, I’m trying to do that, but it’s also, I mean, I’ll give you an example of the diabetic foot ulcer thing. There are nearly 500 million diabetics around the world. It’s a disease you don’t want to get. It’s for many diabetics. They end up with these foot ulcers, which is the, the direct result of neuropathy where, you know, you lose sensation in your, your outer extremities and particularly in your feet. And the foot ulcers lead to amputations and lead to death. And we have this shoe, which is something you can just walk around in and do your normal day’s work in, and as long as you wear it, it will cure at least 70% of tractable diabetic foot ulcers against the standard of care that’s less than 50%. So you know, people will live as a result of this rather than die. And that’s really a good thing. So we really want to get that one out there.
Alex Shirazi (15:58):
And a very fascinating approach as well. I I wanted to track back to cell cultivated meat or cultured meat. Now that we have some approvals in the us. Which regions do you think will be next to approve regulation for the technology?
Jim Mellon (16:15):
Well, I mean the, the, it’s quite interesting that the US approved so quickly. I mean, I don’t think that that the industry was expecting such rapid approvals. The big technical challenge now will be to scale up, as we all know, of course, but the ones that we think are, it, it depends on which area you’re looking at. So you’re either looking at precision fermentation for dairy proteins and egg proteins, and that’s already approved in the United States and already on the market. But subject to, you know, capacity constraints, Israel and India have now approved precision fermentation dairy proteins from Perfect Day, and Remi, and I expect that almost everywhere will approve the same dairy proteins and egg proteins in the relatively near future because there’s nothing really controversial about them. Contr the Impossible Foods. Hemog Goblin, which you know, is stupidly unapproved in Europe is now approved for consumption in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Jim Mellon (17:12):
And we think that in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, you’ll get similar approvals for precision fermentation. So there’s a sort of friendly regulatory environment developing in those countries. And indeed in Japan in on the subject of cultivated meat, they are likely to be forward thinking with respect to cultivated meat, especially as a such big importers of meat. China has already included cultivated meat and cultivated products in its latest five year agricultural plan. So again, I would expect that we’ll have rapid movement there in the U A E, which is very food insecure, as you’re well aware, we expect approvals trailing very quickly after the United States for cultivated foods and precision fermented foods. And the u a E is a very interesting place because it’s very forward thinking. They’ve got lots of money and they import 95% of their food. And even here in the UK we’re now beginning to see a divergence with European Union, which as you know, is the most foot dragging of all the international organizations in terms of approval of anything in respect of novel proteins.
Jim Mellon (18:20):
And, but in the uk, the F SS A, which is the food safety agency has set up a dedicated team to assess applications for sell products. And I would expect fairly rapidly, but I’ve spoken to government people here on that, and they, indeed the UK government has announced a 12 million pound investment to launch what’s called Cara, c a r m a as a cellular agriculture manufacturing hub in buff. And our company, which is doing the palm oil, which I mentioned earlier, is based there. So you know, the floodgates are open. Alex, I think that I’m so excited about the fact that the US has approved these two products and it’s gonna be completely different in many, many ways to what’s happened to plant-based foods, which as we know, in many cases have been a disaster. And we’re just, you know, waiting with bated breath to see first, first of all if the company’s gonna execute on building up scale and reducing prices. And secondly, if consumers will adopt. And my general view is that some people will be able to, to execute very successfully and that consumers will buy anything that’s produced for the next 10, 20 years because there just won’t be that much produce so relative to what’s eaten at the moment. So we’re at a very exciting time in our industry, really super exciting time.
Alex Shirazi (19:35):
Absolutely. And I think scale is key. I was actually just chatting with Lou Cooper house earlier today and, and he shares the sentiment. So I think, you know, this is, this is really, you know, you mentioned something like, you know, floodgates are open. I think it is super exciting to hear that
Jim Mellon (19:50):
They are, and Don Lou obviously is a hum or a friend of ours, and we are significant investors in Blue nlu, as you know. And their, you know, their pivot to tuna was a very, I think, intelligent move and hopefully they’ll have a product on the market by next year, and that will just be revolutionary for the fish industry. And, and I think we’ll face very little resistance. They’ve got enough offtake agreements in Japan. They’ve got enough margin because of the high price of Oro Cuttino as you know, to create almost instant profitability. And Lou is just a tremendous veteran and advocate for this industry. And so quite often I end up speaking at conferences or in on seminars and so forth with Lou. And so I’m glad that you were speaking to him. That’s great.
Alex Shirazi (20:36):
For those interested in investing in future food tech or even cellular agriculture, what’s the best way to get involved?
Jim Mellon (20:44):
Well, the only concentrated portfolio of selling agriculture assets publicly available is actually agronomics listed on the London Stock Exchange. And it’s, as I said, about a $200 million asset company. So it’s not very big, but it’s big enough for retail investors and it has a very diversified approach. And I think you are buying, I, you definitely are buying at a discount to asset value at the moment, which is always very attractive. There are other companies such as Stakeholder Foods and B S F Enterprise, but they don’t, they’re not as diversified as agronomics. There’s nothing that we can recommend really in the US or in Canada, which is surprising. One of the reasons there’s that there’s none of the companies are public yet. None of the underlying cell eye companies are public. And so there is a platform called Hack Capital, H A C K capital, which makes it easier for smaller ticket investors to invest in food tech companies. And that’s something that people might want to have a look at. But as yet, there’s very little ways in which people can invest. I think some of the companies that we’ve invested in will go public. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the companies I mentioned earlier, I won’t tell you which one, but that we started, we were, and the founder investors of won’t go public in the next year or so. And so that will be interesting and I think exciting for investors.
Alex Shirazi (22:04):
Amazing. And we’ll put links in the show notes for everything referenced on this call. Jim, I’d like to thank you for joining us. I wanted to ask you, do you have any last insights for our listeners today? Yeah,
Jim Mellon (22:16):
I mean, this industry is, has got a total addressable market. They call it cam, t a m. It’s a sort of, you know, mo jour of about $5 trillion, which is, you know, three times the size of the Spanish economy, slightly less than twice the size of the UK economy. It’s absolutely massive. It’s something we do every day that’s eat as you well know and we have to do. And at the moment, the way in which food is produced is very detrimental in all sorts of ways that your listeners and you, particularly Alex, are very familiar with. We have an opportunity, the confluence of technology with the need to do something about the environmental and other impacts of the food supply system. At the moment. We have an opportunity to change the world, and honestly, this is the first time I’ve ever been involved in anywhere.
Jim Mellon (23:05):
We’ve been part of moving the dial. Like you are moving the dial with your podcast. And so for a young person or an entrepreneur or a young entrepreneur or anyone who’s really excited about this, look at it as a potential career opportunity. This could be absolutely massive. And if you’re a farmer, embrace it. Put these bioreactors, put these precision fermentors on your farms get carbon credits, do all sorts of things to enhance your profitability. Embrace the technology. Don’t try and stand in the way of it because it is the future and it’s such an exciting one.
Alex Shirazi (23:39):
Never said this before, but if you have the chance to rewind as you’re listening to the last 30 seconds, you definitely need to hear that again. That was great note to close on. Jim, thanks so much for being a guest on the show.
Jim Mellon (23:52):
It’s my pleasure, Alex. And one day I hope to meet you in person. Thank you very much.
Alex Shirazi (23:56):
Likewise! This is your host, Alex, and we look forward to seeing you on the next episode.
This transcript was generated by an automated system.