Prince Khaled on Investing in the Future of Plant-Based Food and Clean Tech
Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia has done more to help an entire region go plant-based than anyone else on the planet. He is a member of the Saudi Royal family and is working to bring clean technology, plant-based food systems, and sustainability to the Persian Gulf region.
Prince Khaled was born in California and travels back and forth between the Middle East and the US, and explains that as a vegan since 2009 one of his favorite places to go is Veggie Grill for their plant-based fast food.
Now Prince Khaled is investing in and helping to grow the plant-based and clean energy economy in the US and other countries.
He is pumping resources and his passionate expertise into food tech, plant-based alternatives, and clean-tech companies and focusing on helping to transform Saudi Arabia and its neighbors into a plant-based economy. One notable recent project was helping open Matthew Kenney's plant-based restaurants in places like Dubai and Kuwait City, as part of his effort to show how delicious and satisfying plant-based cuisine can be.
The Prince answered questions we sent to him, and in a stunning statement told us that he expects the Saudi economy to switch from a dependence on oil to a focus on other industries, including a plant-based food system.
Though born in California, Prince Khaled spent his early years in Riyadh under the mentorship of his father, the philanthropist HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family. Prince Khaled is a grandson of King Saud of Saudi Arabia and a great-grandson of King Abdulaziz, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Outspoken advocate of clean tech and healthy living
Prince Khaled is an outspoken advocate for clean energy, healthy living, and the humane treatment of animals. Khaled is also a longtime supporter of plant-based eating and has made the focus of his ventures backing innovative companies that help move our food systems to more sustainable practices. Here are his answers to our questions about what he is trying to achieve.
Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed's Interview with The Beet
Lucy Danziger: What is the main reason that you are investing in plant-based food systems?
Prince Khaled: “I am investing in plant-based food systems because something has to change if we are going to have a habitable planet for our children. There is so much more that can be done; from a health perspective, from an economic perspective, even from social equality and social justice perspective.
I don’t just invest in plant-based ideas, I also back quite a few other types of food tech including cultivated cell foods, precision fermentation, and so on. I’m always looking for the right idea; something that inspires me and it just clicks: ‘this is the solution we need.’
I’m serving on the Advisory Board of XPRIZE’s Feed the Next Billion challenge for this reason: because I believe we can find a better way to source protein for the next billion people. And there are some winning entrepreneurs out there who are working toward sustainable solutions that will catalyze us in feeding the world in a fairer and more sustainable manner.
The Challenge, with a total of $15 million in award money, is backed by Aspire, an Abu Dhabi entity that seeks solutions to big problems. I believe that sourcing sustainable protein for the world is of chief and immediate concern, and I think large-scale undertakings like XPRIZE can help propel our solutions forward.”
LD: Why do you think it’s so vital for the Middle East / Gulf Countries to move toward a plant-based approach?
Prince Khaled: “I want the wider Middle East, including the GCC, and the world for that matter, to move toward a sustainable approach. All roads lead to Rome in this case: No matter your preference regarding plant-based proteins or cell cultivated proteins, there are alternative solutions.
It is vital we begin adopting these technologies, some are already scalable. For the food tech solutions that are still too expensive for scale, investors need to continue backing research that can bring costs down. I realize there is still a lot of education required around what food tech is trying to achieve. We are trying to feed the world, with as little harm as possible, and that includes environmental harm.
We have finite resources; we need our water, we need to stop deforestation, we need to put a screeching halt to the absolutely inefficient factory-farming models; they are quite literally devouring our natural resources and lands.
This, and more, is why I want all countries to move toward a sustainable, equitable approach.”
LD: Is sustainability a major concern? Saudi Arabia is an oil nation, so is the global future one that relies less on fossil fuels? Or is no-animal product a way to offset other emissions?
Prince Khaled: “Sustainability is not just a major concern, it is something that occupies my thoughts constantly. I look at everything through the lens of saving the planet and how we can all participate, whether it’s carbon offsets or just simply switching to less environmentally taxing food choices.
Think critically about your day: How much of the Earth are you personally responsible for harming or preserving?
Regarding Saudi, part of Vision 2030 is moving away from an oil-driven economy. All of the measures we are talking about go hand-in-hand. We can all make a difference, and thankfully Saudi sees this as achievable, having activated numerous countrywide initiatives across many sectors that all help to move the country away from fossil fuel reliance.”
LD: How did growing up and spending time in California influence your plant-based passions?
Prince Khaled: “Actually it didn’t. I feel that my time spent there now is rewarding, one reason is certainly the availability of such high-quality vegan options, but this isn’t something that was seeded from my youth.”
LD: Do you cook? What is your favorite plant-based meal? Snack?
Prince Khaled: “I am actually a great cook; I’m even pretty good at plating. My favorite snack has to be Moku’s jerky, I mean I invested in the company because I loved eating it and I knew other people would too – that includes non-vegans.
Ramen and Bibimbap are high up there for sure, and I love homecooked stuffed veggies. For dessert, I’m a coconut gelato or sometimes just even a whole mango. I still can’t resist a Beyond Burger – it’s really widely available in the region now.
When I’m Stateside, anytime I can drop into Veggie Grill I do, and of course, I add in Rebellyous chicken strips, patties, and nuggets – unbeatable quality. People need to know that when I invest in food, it’s because it’s food that I personally would eat (and have eaten numerous times).”
LD: We love Matthew Kenney. He is a contributor to The Beet. We also love eating at his restaurants! How can we get more consumers to see plant-based as high-end fine dining?
Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed: “It’s all about marketing and language. Vegans already know they love vegan food; what we want is for non-vegans to love fruit and vegetables, legumes, and other plant-based proteins. I think labels and in-group / out-group dynamics play a big role; we never want to alienate people from a fantastic culinary experience.
Matthew Kenney’s strength is that you don’t have to be plant-based to love his creations. I’ve had countless meals by Matthew with non-vegans, and they walked away just as happy as I did. So circling back to your question; high-end dining isn’t for everyone. But looking at his Double Zero concept, for example, now that is what has real mass-market potential. I’m hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love pizza; it’s a different ballgame.
In terms of the larger impact, fast food, even artisan quality like Mathew’s pizza, is so much more likely to make a dent in our sustainability problems. Mass customer appeal means mass adoption. This isn’t the case with fine dining – vegan or not. When plant-based fast food is everywhere, that’s when you’ll see a real impact on the environmental footprint. I’m more concerned with that than I am with the palate positioning of plant-based fine dining.”
LD: What do you think the biggest barrier is to help consumers shift their mindset, and help people go more plant-based? Is it perception? Taste? Price? A love of traditional cuisine?
Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed: “The biggest barrier to adoption is aggressive communications; we need to undo this cultish and counter-productive approach to shaming and rejecting innovation. I consider cell cultivated meat and dairy vegan; it’s straightforward to me as no animals are harmed.
I have reams of vegans commenting relentlessly about this on my social channels. It’s the same thing with the fast-food adoption and their constant accusations of greenwashing. If you don’t want to eat a conglomerate’s vegan offerings, great, then don’t. But the rest of us are thrilled to see the vegan Kit-Kats popping up everywhere, and the plant-based patties and chickens sold right there between the factory-farmed meat.
We need to give consumers great tasting, readily-available choices, and we need to stop being so judgmental and exclusionary in our communications and in who we support and how. Our biggest barrier these days is ourselves; we must learn to communicate that ethical food can be better than the status quo.”
LD: Have you met with any resistance? Are there people who say, “This will never happen?”
Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed: “Personally speaking, I don’t think the whole world will ever be vegan, but I do think flexitarian movements and reducetarian movements are gaining traction daily.
More and more people are opting for the bulk of their week to be plant-based; thankfully non-vegans are seeing plant-based options everywhere. This impacts purchase decisions; availability is key to adoption.
What do I want? Widespread availability of good quality, great-tasting, healthier alternatives. Alt-protein is the way forward; my investments are a very clear indicator of my beliefs and how I intend to continue pursuing an agenda of sustainability and ethical protein products.”