September 19, 2016
Twenty years ago an internet pioneer made a fortune for being on the cutting edge of a booming industry, and today he is suggesting food will be the next big thing. Kimbal Musk, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and environmentalist, and yes, sibling to Elon Musk, took the stage at last year’s Life is Beautiful to discuss the reality of food today and how the changing market can lead to large opportunities.
“We produce 30 percent more than we need to eat, in fact measured by the cheeseburger index, we are growing more than two-and-a-half cheeseburgers per person than we need. And the result is massive: obesity around the world 800 million in 1980 had obesity, today 2.1 billion people in the world are obese. And it’s a tragedy for those people and an economic disaster for the world,” said Musk.
According to Musk, the problem is not the food output overall, but industrial or processed foods. These foods are high in calories, lead to obesity, but at the same time lead to malnutrition for those who consume it. However, thanks to the internet, the world is becoming more informed about what Musk refers to as real food.
The Changing Supply and Demand of Real Food
Fast food chains are closing, and sales on microwavable and frozen foods are dropping. According to Musk, 45 percent of Americans want organic foods, but less than one percent of farms in the US are supply it. With information readily available, demand for organic food is rising, but there is still a separation based on age groups. More and more millennials want to see healthier local foods, are curious about where their food comes from, and want natural food. On the other hand, Musk says that baby boomers still see healthier food as slim shakes, fat-free, low-sugar, etc., which certainly has nothing to do with the mass amounts of marketing designed to convince people of such.
“The global software industry, which is where I started, is about a $400 billion industry. And while that sounds very big, it’s the size of the seafood market. When you look at food as a whole, it’s 10 percent of the global GDP and almost $5 trillion ($4.8T) in size. Think about all those friends you know of that mad a lot of money in software, multiply that by 10, that’s the opportunity in food,” said Musk.
In addition to the increase in demand, supply will see a change as well. In Iowa, 25 percent of the farmland is owned by a woman over the age of 75, and 26 percent is owned by a man over the age of 75. This means over the next 5-10 years there will be an avalanche of supply for farm land. Musk also highlights how 25 million acres of land are also used for ethanol, something the EPA has been looking into.
Although the EPA does not regular farm lands, Musk suggests this may change due to the increasing pollutants entering the global water supply as a result of nitrogen based fertilizers. If these changes to occur, and if ethanol producing farms are reduced, there will once again be a large supply of fertile farm lands.
The future of farming consists of as much technology as it does understanding the earth. From engineers building automated machines to do an otherwise unscalable skilled trade, to data scientists analyzing data from satellites regarding soil fertility, moisture, and crop harvest times, technologists will have an opportunity to take a piece of a booming industry. Musk ends his talk with a simple statement. For those who feel they missed out on the internet and .com boom of the past, real food is the opportunity they should pursue.
Life is Beautiful takes place in late September in downtown Las Vegas. Tickets are available now. More information, including the set times to expect each panel or activity, will be available on the website in the near future, but right now, you can browse all the events in the Life Is Beautiful lineup, from music, art, and food to ideas and comedy.
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