Investing in Food—starter or main course?

Business - October 5th, 2007
Magellan Japan

Provided by MAGELLAN:
Tel. 03-3769-5511 

When one normally thinks about investing—stocks, bonds and cash usually come to mind so why has food become so fashionable for the investment connoisseur?

Well the planet’s population continues to grow so there are many more mouths to feed, and as international travel has become an expectation rather than a luxury, we are all experiencing an increasing range of local delicacies from across the world. The common denominator is that we want and need more food and we are prepared to pay for it.

It used to be that you could not get things like lemongrass, coriander and chillies unless you were in Asia. Now these items sit alongside all the normal staple foods you find in any cornershop or supermarket. With improved transport and packaging these foodstuffs can be delivered around the world in under a day and as fresh as the food was caught, picked or grown in their home country.

The new restaurant, Salt, in the Shin Marunouchi building, flies in fresh Barramundi to Tokyo on a daily basis to meet the demand from the expat Aussie population.

Fusion cuisine has become the flavor of the day, be it an Asian influence or a Californian twist or just some French panache and of course not forgetting good old English comfort foods such as bangers and mash followed by spotted dick and custard!

So how can this be of interest to an investor, how can you make money from food? Well in a variety of ways. You can buy shares in hotel groups, many of whom are opening several restaurants at a time in their glass and chrome towers and some with celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay in the Conrad Hotel, Shiodome. Or buy shares in fashion group Chanel, who boast a restaurant on the top floor of their Ginza headquarters called Beige operated by Alain Ducasse.

Alternatively, what about buying into the raw materials such as rice, wheat, and corn? These can be accessed either through mutual funds or direct share purchases or indeed via commodity funds that trade futures in sugar, pork bellies, coffee, frozen orange juice as well as coffee, cocoa, soya milk, soya beans and of course all of the grains—rice, barley, wheat and corn.

Many fund management groups are cottoning on to this idea and offering Agriculture funds and there is a growing list of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) that give access to specific food groups or combinations of them all. In the last three months this sector has been attracting around 20 percent of all funds that are being invested.

One reason for this is Sugar and Corn—both these crops are capable of being converted into ethanol and this is one of the leading alternative fuels that is being developed to reduce the world’s dependence upon oil.

So, starter or main course? Perhaps you need to give your portfolio a culinary lift and include food somewhere in your investment mix.