Franklin Templeton has hired Patrick Vizzone to serve in the newly created role of head of agri-food within the asset manager’s Asia Pacific-focused alternative investment unit.
Hong Kong-based Vizzone joins the California-headquartered asset manager from Australian bank and financial services company ANZ, where he led international food, beverage and agribusiness sectors, according to his LinkedIn profile. The profile also shows that prior to ANZ, Vizzone’s experience included ag-related stints with Rabobank and National Australia Bank, as well as 13 years as an independent, non-executive director on the board of COFCO’s Hong Kong-listed affiliate, China Agri-Industries Holdings.
Vizzone told Agri Investor his experience with COFCO and living in China highlighted the strong focus on food security among policymakers and corporates. In his travels since assuming his new position in May, he added, he has encountered institutions very motivated to invest in upstream agricultural technologies.
“In countries that have large trade deficits, particularly in food, we’re seeing an increased focus on food security and an increased focus on investing in agri and getting exposure to agri,” Vizzone said. “Investors, particularly in Europe, are extremely focused on deploying in sustainability and at the intersection of agriculture and sustainability. It’s raising in the consciousness of Asian investors, but I think it’s fair to say that European investors in particular seem to be much more focused on this area.”
Vizzone declined to discuss Franklin Templeton’s future plans for agriculture in detail, beyond explaining that the asset manager’s focus on the agrifood system sits alongside investments designed to electrify transportation as key pillars of its focus on sustainability. In a sector overview published in June, Franklin Templeton Institute analysts explored topics including vertical farming, carbon trading, sustainable beef and the need for financial innovation in ag.
“If we’re expecting the food industry to innovate, the asset management industry must also innovate to create investment vehicles to address these large-scale changes,” wrote chief market strategist Stephen Dover. “This may require re-thinking traditional funding models, including the duration and types of loans, direct impactful investing, and aligning investments to long-term sustainability goals, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
Weather volatility has been an important boon to investments in certain agtech subsectors, like controlled-environment ag, Fizzone said, adding that the preference for investments that help ensure food supply has helped determine the investment structures and approaches preferred by LPs for the sector.
“That has been a growth equity play,” he said of CEA. “At the same time, it’s been a very interesting real estate and infrastructure play. It essentially allows investors the opportunity to gain exposure to agribusiness, while providing an inflation hedge with the lessor providing a degree of risk mitigation at the same time.”
Vizzone said recent institutional interest and activity in food and ag has also been informed by supportive government policy in key markets like the EU and China. A similar dynamic could take hold in US ag, he added, saying he will be watching closely for new inducements designed to help bring down the cost of fresh produce when the Biden administration convenes its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health next month.
Another key trend that Franklin Templeton is observing closely in the context of its push into ag and Asian alternatives, according to Fizzone, is the regionalization of supply chains.
“What corporates are looking for is less complexity and less volatility borne out of geopolitical issues. It’s not just about food miles,” he said. “If you look at China’s pivot towards ASEAN as a sourcing base, that helps inform the focus at the moment within ASEAN and very much leveraging ASEAN as a way to gain exposure to rising demand in China.”