Your business: Investing in gourmet foods

Beware, few industries are as insecure but rewarding as food and restaurants.

food (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Developing countries with a growing middle class beget a developing gourmet-food industry. New investment opportunities abound for those not risk-averse. Beware, few industries are as insecure but rewarding as food and restaurants.
In May 2013, The Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute issued a report, “Taste Israel, A World of Flavors,” that said: “Israel’s vibrant and growing food industry has become synonymous with gourmet cuisine, quality and rich ethnicity.”
Investment opportunities in gourmet food are largely limited to publicly traded conglomerates and angel investing in restaurants and specialty food stores.
A plethora of publishing outlets, websites and TV shows for “foodies” has created celebrity chefs that gives impetus to the gourmet food industry. Gourmet food is a growing niche, with disposable income adding to the traction. The middle class celebrates meals in Michelin-starred restaurants and is able to afford kitchen envy. This is a new genre of “star” as food becomes entertainment.
Gourmet means haute cuisine. The culinary arts are individualized and unique, and preparation and presentation is aesthetically inspiring art. It became a nearly generic term used by marketers for products perceived to be ever so slightly better than the rest. A mix of terms – “fine dining,” “high-end” and “gourmet” – refers to a class of opportunities for investors.
Here are several sectors of the gourmet industry worth evaluating as investment opportunities: • Conglomerates that gobble up gourmet companies purveying confections and coffees.
Nestle is searching the globe for an acquisition for highend chocolates to complement its luxury line of coffee.
Strauss Group, Israel’s second-largest in food and beverages, owns Max Brenner, a retail brand of exceptionally fine chocolates with chocolate restaurants and retail outlets worldwide, where chocolate connotes “sensuality” and “indulgence.”
An Israel online start-up company, European Coffee Society, markets bio-organic coffee beans from roasters that sell to Michelin starred restaurants.
• Publicly traded companies in the restaurant business are acquiring fine-dining establishments. “The core strength for Del Frisco is in fine-dining steak restaurants,” food-industry analyst Nickey Friedman said. Red Robin is a casual, family friendly hospitality chain “serving an imaginative selection of high-quality gourmet burgers in a family-friendly atmosphere.”
Online investment bank Smergers sees potential in India, a country with a rising middle class with increasing disposable income, an expanding working population, urbanization and private-equity interest. India and the US trail Singapore, Thailand and China, in most people patronizing restaurants. “Even a small increase in this number [in India] provides a huge market opportunity,” Smergers said. Hedge by finding private-equity and venture-capital firms investing in India restaurants and food exporters.
• Manufacturers and distributors. Chef’s Warehouse, a $474 million company that distributes 23,000 products to more than 17,000 customers, sells specialty seafood and meats, foie gras and pate, gourmet chocolates, coffees and teas, sherry vinegar glaze, plum bitters and organic brown-rice syrup.
Middleby Co. added Viking Range to its extensive collection of high-end brands. It opened in 1997 at $10 a share. It now sells for $250 after touching $306 per share. It is soon to split 3-for-1.
Dr. Seuss, a cultural icon, loved gourmet food, and his devotees created tasties like Lorax Cake Pops, Truffula Tree Cupcakes and Cat-in-the-Hat Smoothies served with Green Eggs and Ham.
There are Tomato-and-Cheese Hats, Star-Belly Sneech Pancakes, Who-roast beast with Who-hash, Turtle Ice Cream Pie, Gourmet Hop on Popcorn and the ever favorite, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, washed down with Pink Yink Ink Drink.
The gourmet-food industry is more than a fad. It is an industry for long-term investment rather than quick-dollar turns. Sixty percent of restaurants fail in a few short years. Angels usually privately fund restaurants more dedicated to the culinary arts.
Advice from a good accounting firm with experience in this end of the business will be invaluable.
Dr. Harold Goldmeier is the managing partner of Goldmeier Investments LLC and an instructor of business and social policy at the American Jewish University, Aardvark Israel Gap Year Program, Tel Aviv.