IN the move towards a more sustainable future, energy continues to dominate the debate on carbon emissions.

But it is increasingly clear that changing global diets will have an integral part to play in any shift.

Until recently, obesity and health concerns were the main drivers in moving better diets up the global agenda, but we are now seeing growing awareness of the environmental damage caused by meat production.

As part of that, an element of meat shaming is creeping in at the edges. Vegan F1 star Lewis Hamilton, for example, recently opened a plant-based sustainable burger chain as he is so “passionate about being kinder to our world”.

A report from independent think-tank RethinkX has claimed we are on the cusp of the deepest, fastest and most consequential disruption of food and agricultural production since the first domestication of plants and animals 10,000 years ago – and the driving force of this is what is known as protein disruption.

According to the think-tank, the cost of disruptive proteins will be five times lower than existing animal proteins by 2030 and 10 times by 2035.

Even if these figures prove optimistic, the crucial factor for our investment theme of delivering healthier foods is that these alternative proteins are expected to be more nutritious, healthier, better tasting and more convenient.

Alternatives to meat-derived protein currently fall into two camps – plant and insect. Figures from Mordor Intelligence predict that the global market for these will hit $8.2 billion and $1.1bn respectively by 2023, so we are clearly in the early days of growth for both.

Over two billion people worldwide enjoy insects as part of their diet. They are most commonly eaten in Africa, Asia and South America, but very little is currently consumed in Europe and North America.

Insects are a nutritious and healthy food source with high fat, protein, vitamin, fibre and mineral content. The composition of unsaturated Omega 3 and fatty acids in mealworms is comparable with that in fish - and higher than in cattle and pigs - while the protein, vitamin and mineral content is similar to that found in fish and meat.

There is nothing like as much in the news about the impact of meat and dairy production as on renewable energy or transport emissions, but we feel addressing this situation can have a similar impact on climate change.

We expect the same contribution from innovative companies working in livestock, meat and dairy as we have seen in sustainable energy.

Businesses on the right side of this transition are worthy of investigation, whereas those following traditional agriculture models could face serious destruction of value.

And as often happens with our themes, the markets are underestimating the potential speed and scope of this change.

So where are the investment opportunities?

We have to start with the most recognised ‘pure-play’ alternative protein company in the shape of the aptly named Beyond Meat.

The company debuted on the Nasdaq this year and made quite a splash: its shares listed at $25 and rose by over 800 per cent to a peak of $234 in just a few months.

From their peak, the company’s shares then tumbled by more than 60% based on concerns over the valuation.

Additionally, this is a competitive space with many companies recognising the attractive growth rates and profits to be had from the shift to lower meat consumption.

One of our holdings that has benefited from the growth of alternative proteins is Irish company Kerry Group.

Kerry continues to develop its protein offering with its new Radicle ingredient range, and these meat and dairy alternative solutions address taste, texture, nutrition and functionality needs in plant-based products.

Kerry also recently acquired Ojah, an innovative Dutch company that is developing textured meat substitutes with soy and pea proteins.

We are excited to see how Kerry – and other companies operating in the sector – goes about building this technology to tap into the fast-growing alternative protein space.

While there are obvious hurdles to overcome in the meat-free food sector, the direction of travel on livestock, meat and dairy looks as clear today as it is when it comes to fossil fuels.

As a result, we will continue to invest in companies that are exposed to these structural trends because they will undoubtedly go on to shape the economy of the future.

Martyn Jones is a fund manager in Liontrust Asst Management’s sustainable investment team.