A 9th-generation member of the Interbrew-owning family and the owner of a farm run on organic, biodynamic and regenerative principles, Frédéric de Mévius has seen first-hand the impact sustainable agricultural practices can have on the world.
Having helped steer AB-InBev into becoming the world’s largest brewer, in 1995 he set up a new investment vehicle called Verlinvest, where, backed by other family members, he built a billion dollar portfolio of brands, including Oatly & Vita Coco.
Now as co-founder and managing director of Planet First Partners, an investment platform addressing the planetary challenges of sustainability, health, and nutrition, he brings 40 years of experience to bear on investing in impactful and ecologically sound business.
Here de Mévius talks to Campden FB about organic farming, ethical investment and never wasting time.
Where are you right now?
I'm in London. It’s where I reside and where the Planet First Partners team is.
Where would you rather be right now?
Still in London. I left university when I was 22 and I immediately came to London and started my life in the City. I went back to Belgium to work with my family, and lived there from 1991-2012 - so quite a long stint. In 2012, I came back to London and have been here since.
How did Planet First Partners come to be?
I was very interested by agriculture and farming and what it does to the environment. One day, I had to dig a well on the farm and found water that was unfortunately polluted by nitrates. So, we decided to go organic and we managed to reduce the pollution within ten years - now it is drinkable. That convinced me there were things to be done for the environment and so, when I left Verlinvest in 2019, I was able to join my passions for helping entrepreneurs and founders with issues of sustainability, using everything I’d learned in those 20 years in agriculture to face environmental challenges.
"There is a growing consumer demand for
better-for-you, better-for-the-planet products."
Your family owned Interbrew, now AB InBev, did the interest in sustainability grow from that company?
It really grew next to it. Today, the family at large is also very involved in guiding the sustainability of the main company, A group of next-gen investors have been the interface with management on creating a more sustainable future for the brewery. We have worked together with management and the younger generation to see, at every step of the business, where things could be improved. Whether it's in barley production, water usage per litre of beer produced or the sustainable farming practices that have been recommended to farmers. All of that was very much a co-creation between management and younger members of the family group.
For more than 20 years, you have run your own farm on organic, biodynamic, and regenerative principles. How has it influenced your investment decisions?
We have seen that there is a growing consumer demand for better-for-you, better-for-the-planet products. As I co-founded Planet First Partners with my partner Alexander De Wit [pictured above], we developed a very systematic investment approach - sustainability comes first. Any business we invest in must be in line with the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulations (SFDR) of the European Union - for example, it must bring a substantial contribution to one of the EU Green Deal goals, no harm to any other EU Green Deal goals and that must be auditable by third parties.
So really having a hands-on experience has taught me that measuring success and improvement was super important in environmental matters. It's the rigour of being able to monitor every step that has had a big influence on my mindset when co-founding Planet First Partners.
The financial sector has been reshaped in the past nine months by the SFDR directives, which classifies the investors by the type of commitment they make to sustainability. It's an election process, you elect to be in a certain category and we have elected to be compliant with Article 9, which is where no compromises can be made vis à vis the principle of substantial contribution/no harm. The measurability of what we do also has to be auditable. We are also creating a sustainability committee that validates the process and the results.
We believe that investing in the technology companies that will help large sectors to adapt to sustainability policies will be the way to generate the greatest value. For example, it’s not a question to invest in a steel mill that is looking for transformation, but we will invest in the technology that will help the steel mills decarbonise. Every company we invest in will have significant impact on the economy.
What do you do in your downtime?
I have a passion for farming. So, I do spend a bit of time going around the farm, talking to the farm manager and helping him improve sustainability and returns. I took the initiative in 2011 to plant a vineyard in Belgium. Ten years later, we now have a wonderful, but not very big, production of wine which is on the market. It’s a wine that I love to improve and develop. I’m also a great fan of photography, I collect modern photography and 17th-Century art. Education is another of my passions and I support several initiatives which stand at the intersection of philanthropy and investment.
"Don't waste any time, there's so much to do, to see and to love."
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Never waste time. There is so much to do and sometimes you can be bogged down spending time with people who will not help you move the needle. Don't waste any time, there's so much to do, to see and to love.
What keeps you awake at night?
The state of the world and the climate. We are in a race and I’m not sure we will win but I don't think we can afford not to fight it.
Frédéric de Mévius will be presenting at the 18th European Families in Business Forum in Berlin, Germany, from March 30-31. More information here.