Elaine Ferguson CA, CFO at plant-based food manufacturer Enough, on her vision for the future of food
Mycoprotein manufacturer Enough is aiming to reduce carbonemissions by five million tonnes by 2032. CFO Elaine Ferguson CA tells Cherry Casey how the company is scaling to meet its goals
In the five-year period from 2014-19, the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled from 150,000 to 600,000. While much of this can be attributed to growing concerns around animal welfare, it is perhaps the link between meat production and global warming that makes this such an urgent issue (meat accounts for 60% of all greenhouse gases from food production, according to a University of Illinois paper published last year). Sustainability has become a much more mainstream consideration, with nearly one in three consumers no longer purchasing certain products due to concerns around the ethics involved in their production.
Enter Enough. Via the fermentation of fungi with natural sugars from grains, the Glasgow-based company produces a mycoprotein called Abunda, which has a naturally “fibrous” texture, making it a perfect meat substitute. So far, so vegan. But what really makes Enough stand out from the rest, explains CFO Elaine Ferguson CA, is the company’s revolutionary manufacturing technique. “We have a patented zero-waste process, which is about how waste is treated,” she says. “[After fermentation] the residual fermentation media still has glucose in it, so it still has value. We valorise that by putting it into a refinery next door to be fermented again, rather than being disposed of to waste. It’s all about sustainability.”
Enough is currently building its very first factory in the Netherlands, partly because it is working in collaboration with US food corporation Cargill, which has a site there, but also “because that site is completely ideal from a sustainability point of view”, says Ferguson. “It has a glucose factory and an ethanol biorefinery, and we are located in between those two. The supply of glucose and other materials will be transported via pipes, so we’re not having to put anything on a truck and move it around.”
Enough’s innovative process is coupled with an ambitious aim: to produce one million tonnes of mycoprotein by 2032. In doing so, Enough claims, there will be five million fewer cows and 1.25 billion fewer chickens needing to be farmed (and eaten) – and a reduction in CO2 emissions of some five million tonnes.
This vision played a large part in Ferguson’s decision to join the company in 2017. Not simply because she believes in Enough’s mission, but because helping a small business reach its target is what drives her career – which explains why she has worked for SMEs for the past decade. “In an SME you’ll have more impact on the business, compared with a much larger organisation,” she says. “Also, I’m very, very goal-focused, so as we meet milestones and achieve them, that gives me a great sense of satisfaction.”
Plant and machinery
One such milestone, which Ferguson has been fundamental in achieving, is Enough’s series B funding round, which raised €42m (£35m) in June 2021 and has, alongside an EU grant, funded the factory build. “That was the biggest funding round I’ve ever been involved in,” she says. And, she adds, it was “very successful”, raising more than they originally targeted. “We were coming from the sustainability angle. And as impact investors are all well networked, we’d speak to one person, who would recommend we speak to another… so we ended up with a consortium of investors.”
The current focus is ensuring that this project, which Ferguson refers to as “plant number one”, happens “on time and on budget and delivers when it needs to deliver”. But plans are already under way for plant number two – and more. As Ferguson explains, Enough’s biggest challenge is to keep pace with this fast-growing market. “The plant we’re building now is for 10,000 tonnes of mycoprotein, but on that site we have room to build up to 60,000 tonnes, so the plan is to build while looking at other locations. It’s all about scale,” she adds. “And it’s capital intensive. But it makes a return.”
While the manufacturing process is in its infancy, the idea for Enough actually began in 2012, at the University of Strathclyde. “There were years of research and development,” says Ferguson. “We now use our Glasgow pilot facility to solve problems, do more development and train people, like the 20 colleagues from the Netherlands whom we’ve just recruited to operate the plant.”
While Enough is a B2B concern and won’t sell direct to consumers, it will assist its customers, such as Unilever and M&S, with which it announced collaborations in 2021, to develop recipes using Abunda. “We also have many customers which are meat companies and recognise they need to diversify,” says Ferguson.
It’s not what people may consider “conventional” R&D, she adds, but it’s a huge part of Enough’s business model, and one that will be easier to fund once it becomes revenue-generating – a milestone it currently expects to reach during the final quarter of this year.
Despite the multiple aspects of Enough’s business model, plus the pressing need to scale rapidly, Ferguson says she “never wakes up at four in the morning” feeling the weight of responsibility on her shoulders. “I deal with it with the team. We’re very open, there’s no politics and we regularly discuss our risk register, what the mitigating factors are and what we’re doing to mitigate it,” she says. “We’re a very upbeat, optimistic team and that really helps me.”
In fact, it was this driven, exciting team that drew Ferguson to join Enough full-time, after first working with the firm on a part-time consultancy basis, alongside several other SMEs. “I had two years where I wasn’t working full-time for anyone, and it was during that time that I discovered the most important thing for me is working in the right team,” she says. “At Enough we work closely together to make everything happen. And I really enjoy that.”
For its part, Ferguson believes, Enough wants her onboard because, as a CA with 25 years of experience, she offers a different skillset. “It’s not just the fact that I knew how to talk to HMRC, it’s that I could bring a different perspective and I’m good at asking the right questions,” she says, adding that this particular skill was honed while working in the restructuring department at EY in her twenties. “You had to walk into something that you knew absolutely nothing about and figure out how to ask the right questions to learn what was going on,” she says. “So from quite a young age I was learning how to see the big picture.”
A career in accountancy was no accident, but a choice Ferguson made on leaving school, after close analysis of what such a route could offer. “You could work in large corporates or SMEs, the building trade or retail – there was a huge amount of opportunity that you could have in your career. You were never going to be boxed in.”
Taking the CA qualification was an extension of this mindset; something that she believes “absolutely opens the door for you”. For Ferguson, this meant 12 years with EY. “I always had something new to do, which was why I stayed,” she says. On becoming a mother, however, she needed a better work-life balance: “That was what made me leave. But it was probably one of the best things I ever did because it opened up a whole new world.”
After her two-year stint at Scottish Enterprise Investments, that world was one of SMEs, starting with a CFO role at research organisation Biopta, and performing similar roles at pharmaceutical company Aurum Biosciences and research organisation Mironid along the way. The transition to industry was “choppy”, Ferguson says, and being the only accounting professional within a company meant she had to do everything herself, from creating the strategy to paying money into the bank. “I had to relearn a lot,” she says but it was this very variety and challenge that kept her motivated.
Indeed, recruitment has been one of Ferguson’s primary roles at Enough. She has played an integral part in growing the company “from a few people sitting in a room talking about an idea” to one with 45 people on the payroll. “When you work with businesses that are small, you have to be willing to do all the different things that are required – legal queries, HR, IT, finance, all these things will just come to my door,” she says. “But that’s part of the fun of it.”