Immi takes in $3.8M to cook up plant-based instant ramen

Immi is putting a healthy spin on instant ramen by going plant-based and offering more bold tastes. The company announced Tuesday that it raised $3.8 million in seed funding.

Co-founders Kevin Lee and Kevin Chanthasiriphan both grew up in food families from Taiwan and Thailand, respectively, and met a decade ago while working at the same tech company. They bonded over getting noodles every day.

Fast-forward to today, and they both saw family members stricken with diabetes and high blood pressure and started thinking about what a better-for-you food and beverage brand would look like.

Taking the love of the Asian food they grew up with, they wanted to develop one of those brands for the U.S.

“We immediately agreed on instant ramen,” Chanthasiriphan told TechCrunch. “My dad still eats instant ramen each night, and it is such a massive market: 4 billion packets are sold per year, but it is also a product that has been dominated by the same three incumbents for years.”

The global instant noodle space is projected to be a $32 billion industry by 2027, with $7.7 billion of value in the U.S. However, the ramen most people buy in the grocery store includes noodles made of refined carbohydrates that get cooked in oil, while the soup packets are high in sodium and preservatives, he said.

Their take on it is Immi, which is plant-based, low carb and low sodium, high fiber and has 22 grams of protein on average. The product comes in three flavors — Black Garlic “Chicken,” Tom Yum “Shrimp” and Spicy “Beef.”

The pair went into the company full-time in 2019 and have spent the better part of the last few years heads down in R&D, but the finished product didn’t come easy. In fact, when speaking with people in the industry, they were told that creating a healthier version of ramen would be “kind of impossible,” Lee said. They had to start from the ground up and make it themselves, formulating the first recipes in their own kitchens.

Immi’s variety pack includes Black Garlic “Chicken,” Tom Yum “Shrimp” and Spicy “Beef.” Image Credits: Immi

The funding raise comes as Immi releases a reformulation of their product this year aimed at replicating traditional instant ramen in broth taste, mouthfeel, texture and slurpability.

Siddhi Capital led the round and was joined by Palm Tree Crew, Constellation Capital, Animal Capital, Pear Ventures, Collaborative Fund and a group of individuals, including Patrick Schwarzenegger, Kat Cole and Nik Sharma, as well as executives from Thrive Market, Caviar, Daring Foods, Madhappy, Twitch, Kettle & Fire, MUD\WTR, Native, Amity Supply, Visionary Music Group, Italic, Tatcha and Casper.

Melissa Facchina, co-founder and general partner at Siddhi Capital, said her firm invests in food and beverage brands and its investment arm is a mentor to the Immi team.

“We were blown away by them,” she said. “It costs a lot of money to innovate in this industry, and it is exciting for myself and family to have something that we can grab and go. The second version launching looks exactly like the traditional brick pack and now has adult flavors that attach to a different culinary pallet.”

The natural or better-for-you foods industry has changed “dramatically” in the last decade,  Facchina said. Most of it is driven by consumers that want transparency in the supply chain, cleaner ingredients and authentic brands.

Consumer packaged goods brands that are reinventing themselves already have successful product lines, but few brands are taking a look at certain categories she said are ripe for reinvention, like cereal. Her firm is an investor in Magic Spoon, and she sees Immi reinventing ramen and Asian cuisine, saying “the Kevins as a founder group are highly moldable, high-achieving and want to surround themselves with best-in-class people.”

Meanwhile, the new funding will be split between R&D, hiring and marketing, Lee said. The company is taking in customer feedback to enhance the flavors, and would like to optimize its supply chain, hire for key executive roles and put spending toward testing new marketing channels. Immi sells its product via its own online store, but would like to expand into wholesale channels and online grocers.

Immi’s products were launched in January and saw inventory sell out in the first month without any marketing. They have since sold over 10,000 orders across the U.S. and are even looking to go international.

Going forward, the company will be working on two initiatives: The first is to develop an infrastructure to expand its product offerings, like more flavors and noodle types, so it can launch a new flavor every few months. Lee and Chanthasiriphan also aim to develop additional Asian food products that have cleaner ingredients, like snacks and confections, that they loved eating when they were children.

The second is marketing and distribution. The company has amassed a community of 4,000 members that help Immi with rapid taste testing.

“We are figuring out how to bring our products to a more mainstream audience, especially those that may not be following a certain diet, but want to bring in food and beverages that are healthier,” Lee said. “We are also bringing in taste makers of culture, celebrities and TikTok influencers to broaden consumer interest and bring Immi into the mainstream cluster.”

 

Glovo bags two grocery picking and delivery startups

More startup swapping in the food delivery space: Spain’s Glovo, an on-demand delivery platform which operates a network of dark stores focused on urban convenience shopping, is pushing deeper into planned grocery shopping — announcing the acquisition of two regional ‘Instacart-style’ grocery picking and delivery startups, Madrid-based Lola Market and Portugal’s Mercadão.

Terms of the acquisitions are not being disclosed.

2015-founded Lola Market had raised around €3M, per Crunchbase. It’s not clear how much Portugal’s Mercadão — which was founded in 2018 — had raised over its shorter run.

Glovo, meanwhile, raised a meaty $528M Series F back in April — but quickly splurged $208M to pick up three food delivery brands from rival Delivery Hero in Central and Eastern Europe.

The Spanish on-demand delivery platform is facing challenges to its model on home turf where the government has applied a labor reform aimed at delivery workers in the gig economy.

The reform, agreed earlier this year, came into application last month — recognizing delivery platform riders as employees, or at least on paper.

Glovo responded by imposing a new self-employment model on the vast majority of riders on its platform, hiring only around a fifth. So the scene looks set for legal challenges in its home market.

At the European Union level, lawmakers are also eyeing how to improve conditions for platform workers — and could come with pan-EU legislation that has wider implications for the business models of regional players like Glovo.

Ongoing regulatory challenges over employment classification and algorithmic management of workers in the gig economy may offer some context for Glovo’s expanding interest in grocery purchasing in Europe, where it has been building out a network of dark stores to power what it calls ‘Q-commerce’ (aka, quick urban convenience shopping).

As well as for its recently announced international expansion in Africa, where it has said it will be doubling down investment over the next 12 months.

But also the challenge of hitting profitability for pure on-demand food delivery looks like a sizeable piece of the puzzle here driving consolidation.

By adding players in the supermarket and retail outlet picking delivery space, Glovo expands its coverage of shoppers’ needs — and can nudge users to spend more by being able to cross-sell them on planned purchases (such as the weekly grocery shop), as well as what it bills as “emergency essentials” and “fast action convenience” powered by the more limited inventory it can offer in its city center dark stores.

Both Lola Market and Mercadão’s brand identities will be retained, per Glovo, which also says they will operate independently — led by Gonçalo Soares da Costa, CEO of Mercadão.

It touts the acquisitions as strengthening its competitive position in Europe in “key markets” — going on to suggest it will add grocery picking and delivery across its entire market footprint, with an initial expansion planned for Poland and Italy.

Also today it said its Q-Commerce division is “on track” to reach an annual Gross Transaction Value (GTV) of more than €300M this year — adding that it expects that to more than triple by the end of 2022, projecting it will surpass a run rate of €1BN.

Commenting on its latest acquisitions in a statement, Oscar Pierre, CEO and co-founder of Glovo, added: “We see huge potential in the on-demand groceries marketplace and both companies are strong local players in their respective markets, and further strengthen our Q-Commerce offering.

“With Lola Market and Mercadão on board, we can build stronger partnerships with retailers, offer our users big-basket purchases and provide a more complete service. These acquisitions represent a significant step forward for us, as we’re now able to cover all of the main purchasing considerations for groceries customers, making Glovo a one-stop-shop for e-groceries.”

AgBiome lands $166M for safer crop protection technology

AgBiome, developing products from microbial communities, brought in a $116 million Series D round as the company prepares to pad its pipeline with new products.

The company, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., was co-founded in 2012 by a group including co-CEOs Scott Uknes and Eric Ward, who have known each other for over 30 years. They created the Genesis discovery platform to capture diverse microbes for agricultural applications, like crop protection, and screen the strains for the best assays that would work for insect, disease and nematode control.

“The microbial world is immense,” said Uknes, who explained that there is estimated to be a trillion microbes, but only 1% have been discovered. The microbes already discovered are used by humans for things like pharmaceuticals, food and agriculture. AgBiome built its database in Genesis to house over 100,000 microbes and every genome in every microbe was sequenced into hundreds of strains.

The company randomly selects strains and looks for the best family of strains with a certain activity, like preventing fungus on strawberries, and creates the product.

AgBiome co-CEOs Scott Uknes and Eric Ward. Image Credits: AgBiome

Its first fungicide product, Howler, was launched last year and works on more than 300 crop-disease combinations. The company saw 10x sales growth in 2020, Uknes told TechCrunch. As part of farmers’ integrated pest program, they often spray fungicide applications 12 times per year in order to yield fruits and vegetables.

Due to its safer formula, Howler can be used as the last spray in the program, and its differentiator is a shorter re-entry period — farmers can spray in the morning and be able to go back out in the field in the afternoon. It also has a shorter pre-harvest time of four hours after application. Other fungicides on the market today require seven days before re-entry and pre-harvest, Uknes explained.

AgBiome aims to add a second fungicide product, Theia, in early 2022, while a third, Esendo was submitted for Environmental Protection Agency registration. Uknes expects to have 11 products, also expanding into insecticides and herbicides, by 2025.

The oversubscribed Series D round was co-led by Blue Horizon and Novalis LifeSciences and included multiple new and existing investors. The latest investment gives AgBiome over $200 million in total funding to date. The company’s last funding round was a $65 million Series C raised in 2018.

While competitors in synthetic biology often sell their companies to someone who can manufacture their products, Uknes said AgBiome decided to manufacture and commercialize the products itself, something he is proud of his team for being able to do.

“We want to feed the world responsibly, and these products have the ability to substitute for synthetic chemicals and provide growers a way to protect their crops, especially as consumers want natural, sustainable tools,” he added.

The company has grown to over 100 employees and will use the new funding to accelerate production of its two new products, building out its manufacturing capacity in North America and expanding its footprint internationally. Uknes anticipates growing its employee headcount to 300 in the next five years.

AgBiome anticipates rolling up some smaller companies that have a product in production to expand its pipeline in addition to its organic growth. As a result, Uknes said he was particular about the kind of investment partners that would work best toward that goal.

Przemek Obloj, managing partner at Blue Horizon, was introduced to the company by existing investors. His firm has an impact fund focused on the future of food and began investing in alternative proteins in 2016 before expanding that to delivery systems in agriculture technology, he said.

Obloj said AgBiome is operating in a $60 billion market where the problems include products that put toxic chemicals into the ground that end up in water systems. While the solution would be to not do that, not doing that would mean produce doesn’t grow as well, he added.

The change in technology in agriculture is enabling Uknes and Ward to do something that wasn’t possible 10 years ago because there was not enough compute or storage power to discover and sequence microbes.

“We don’t want to pollute the Earth, but we have to find a way to feed 9 billion people by 2050,” Obloj said. “With AgBiome, there is an alternative way to protect crops than by polluting the Earth or having health risks.”

GrubMarket gobbles up $120M at a $1B+ pre-money valuation to take on the grocery supply chain

When people talk about “online food delivery” services, chances are that they’ll think of the Uber Eats, Instacarts and Getirs of this world. But today a startup that’s tackling a different aspect of the market — addressing the supply chain that subsequently turns the wheels of the bigger food distribution machine — is announcing a big round of funding as it continues to grow.

GrubMarket, which provides software and services that help link up and manage relationships between food suppliers and their customers — which can include wholesalers and other distributors, markets and supermarkets, delivery startups, restaurants, and consumers — has picked up $120 million in a Series E round of funding.

The funding is coming from a wide mix of investors. Liberty Street Funds, Walleye Capital, Japan Post Capital, Joseph Stone Capital, Pegasus Tech Ventures, Tech Pioneers Fund are among the new backers, who are being joined by existing investors Celtic House Asia Partners, INP Capital, Reimagined Ventures, Moringa Capital Management, and others, along with other unnamed participants

Mike Xu, GrubMarket’s founder and CEO (pictured, above), tells me that the company is currently profitable in a big way. It’s now at a $1 billion annualized run-rate, having grown revenues 300% over last year, with some markets like New York growing even more (it went from less than $10 million ARR to $100 million+).

With operations currently in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, and some 40 warehouses nationwide. GrubMarket had a pre-money valuation of over $1 billion, and now it will be looking to grow even more, both in terms of territory and in terms of tech, moving ahead in a market that is largely absent from competitors.

“We are still the first mover in this space,” Xu said when I asked him in an interview about rivals. “No one else is doing consolidation on the supply chain side as we are. We are trying to consolidate the American food supply chain through software technologies, while also trying to find the best solutions in this space.”

(And for some context, the $1 billion+ valuation is more than double GrubMarket’s valuation in October 2020, when it raised $60 million at a $500 million post-money valuation.)

Longer term, the plan will be to look at an IPO provisionally filing the paperwork by summer 2022, Xu added.

GrubMarket got its start several years ago as one of many companies looking to provide a more efficient farm-to-table service. Tapping into a growing consumer interest in higher quality, and more traceable food, it saw an opportunity to build a platform to link up producers to the consumers, restaurants and grocery stores that were buying their products. (Grocery stores, incidentally, might be independent operations, or something much bigger: one of GrubMarket’s biggest customers is Whole Foods, which uses GrubMarket for produce supply in certain regions of the U.S. It is currently is the company’s biggest customer.)

As we wrote last year, GrubMarket — like many other grocery delivery services — found that the pandemic initially provided a big fillip, and a big rush of demand, from that consumer side of the business, as more people turned to internet-based ordering and delivery services to offset the fact that many stores were closed, or they simply wanted to curtail the amount of shopping they were doing in-person to slow the spread of Covid-19.

But fast forward to today, while the startup still serves consumers, this is currently not the primary part of its business. Instead, it’s B2B2C, serving companies that in turn serve consumers. Xu says that overall, demand from consumers has dropped off considerably compared to a year ago.

“We think that restaurant re-openings have meant more people are dining out again and spending less time at home,” Xu said, ” and also they can go back to physical grocery stores, so they are not as interested as they were before in buying raw ingredients online. I don’t want to offend other food tech companies, but I think many of them will be seeing the same. I think B2C is really going to slow down going forward.”

The opening for GrubMarket has been not just positioning itself as a middleman between producers and buyers, but to do so by way of technology and consolidating what has been a very regionalized and fragmented market up to now.

GrubMarket has snapped up no less than 40 companies in the last three years. While some of these have been to help it expand geographically (it made 10 acquisitions in the Los Angeles area alone), many have also been made to double down on technology.

These have included the likes of Farmigo, once a Disrupt Battlefield contender that pivoted into becoming a software provider to CSAs (an area that GrubMarket sees a lot of opportunity), as well as software to help farms manage their business staffing, insurance and more: Pacific Farm Management is an example of the latter.

GrubMarket’s own in-house software, WholesaleWare, a cloud-based service for farmers and other food producers, saw its sales grow 3,500% over the last year, and it is now managing more than $4 billion in wholesale and retail activity across the U.S. and Canada.

There will be obvious ways to extend what GrubHub does deeper into the needs of its customers on the purchasing end, but this is in many ways also a very crowded market. (And not just crowded, but crowded with big companies. Just today, Toast, the company that builds software for restaurants, filed for a $717 million IPO at potentially a $16.5 billion valuation.) So instead, GrubHub will continue to focus on what has been a more overlooked aspect, that of the suppliers.

“I am focused on the food supply chain,” Xu said. “Operators in the food supply chain business most of the time don’t have any access to software and e-commerce technology. But we are not just a lightweight online ordering system. We do a lot of heavyweight lifting around inventory management, pricing and customer relations, and even HR management for wholesales and distributors.” That will also mean, longer term, that GrubMarket will likely also start to explore connected hardware to help those customers, too: robotics for picking and moving items are on that agenda, Xu said.

“GrubMarket has built a profitable, high-growth business underpinned by its best-in-class technology platform that’s reinventing how businesses access healthy, fresh foods,” said Jack Litowitz, director of strategic investments at Reimagined Ventures, in a statement. “We’re proud to support GrubMarket as it continues to expand into new regions and grow its WholesaleWare 2.0 software platform. At Reimagined Ventures, we always seek to invest in businesses that are disrupting inefficient industries in innovative ways. Mike Xu and the GrubMarket team have built one of these businesses. We’re excited to back their vision and work in making the food supply chain more efficient.”

“GrubMarket is transforming the trillion-dollar food distribution industry with unprecedented speed by implementing advanced digital solutions and operational discipline. The company’s scale, growth, and profitability are extraordinarily impressive. Pegasus is delighted and honored to be part of GrubMarket’s exciting journey ahead,” added Bill Reichert, partner at Pegasus Tech Ventures.

Trade promotion management startup Cresicor raises $5.6M to keep tabs on customer spend

Cresicor, a consumer packaged goods trade management platform startup, raised $5.6 million in seed funding to further develop its tools for more accurate data and analytics.

The company, based remotely, focuses on small to midsize CPG companies, providing them with an automated way to manage their trade promotion, a process co-founder and CEO Alexander Whatley said is done primarily manually using spreadsheets.

Here’s what happens in a trade promotion: When a company wants to run a discount on one of their slower-selling items, the company has to spend money to do this — to have displays set up in a store or have that item on a certain shelf. If it works, more people will buy the item at the lower price point. Essentially, a trade promotion is the process of spending money to get more money in the future, Whatley told TechCrunch.

Figuring out all of the trade promotions is a complicated process, Whatley explained. Companies receive data feeds on the promotions from several different places, revenue data from retailers, accounting source data to show how many units were shipped and then maybe data directly from retailers. All of that has to be matched against the promotion.

“No API is bringing this data back to brands, so our software helps to automate and track these manual processes so companies can do analytics to see how the promotions are doing,” he added. “It also helps the finance team understand expenses, including which are valid and those that are not.”

What certain companies spend on trade promotions can represent their second-largest cost behind manufacturing, and companies often end up reinvesting between 20% and 30% of their revenue into trade promotions, Whatley said. This is a big market, representing untapped growth, especially with U.S. CPG sales topping $720 billion in 2020.

“You can see how messy the whole industry is, which is why we have a bright future and huge TAM,” he added. “With this new funding, we can target other parts of the P&L like supply chain and salaries. We also provide analytics for their strategy and where they should be spending it — which store, on which supply. By allocating resources the right way, companies typically see a 10% boost in sales as a result.”

Whatley started the company in 2017 with his brother, Daniel, Stuart Kennedy and Nikki McNeil while a Harvard undergrad. Since raising the funding back in February, the company has grown 2.5x in revenue, while employee headcount grew 4x over the past 12 months to 20.

Costanoa Ventures led the investment and was joined by Torch Capital and a group of angel investors including Fivestars CTO Matt Doka and Hu’s Kitchen CEO Mark Ramadan.

John Cowgill, partner at Costanoa, said though Cresicor raised a seed round, the company was already acquiring brands and capital before releasing a product and grew to almost a Series A company without any outside capital, saying it “blew me away.”

Cresicor is the “perfect example” of a company that Costanoa would get excited about — a vertical software company using data or machine learning to augment a pain point, Cowgill added.

“The CPG industry is in the middle of a rapid change where we see all of these emerging, digital native and mission-driven brands rapidly eating share from incumbents,” he added. “For the next generation of brands to compete, they have to win in trade promotion management. Cresicor’s opportunity to go beyond trade is significant. It is just a starting point to build a company that is the core enabler of great brands.”

The new funding will be used mainly to hire more talent in the areas of engineering and customer success so the company can hit its next benchmarks, Alexander Whatley said. He also intends to use the funding to acquire new brands and on software development. Cresicor boasts a list of customers including Perfect Snacks, Oatly and Hint Water.

The retail industry is valued at $5.5 trillion, and one-fifth of it is CPG, Whatley said. As a result, he has his eye on going after other verticals within CPG, like electronics and pet food, and then expanding into other areas.

“We are also going to work with enterprise companies — we see an opportunity to work with companies like P&G and General Mills, and we also want to build an ecosystem around trade promotion and launch into other profit and loss areas,” Whatley said.

Teatis, low-sugar superfood powders developer for diabetics, closes seed round

A serial entrepreneur Hiroshi Takatoh recognized the need for convenient and nutritious food for critically ill consumers after losing his late wife to cancer.

Takatoh founded Teatis, a plant-based sugar blocking superfood powder for diabetic consumers, in 2017 in stealth mode and went fully operational in April 2021 by teaming up with a group of doctors and registered nutritionists.

Teatis announced today it has raised $700,000 seed funding to advance its growth in the US market.  The seed money brings Teatis’ total funding to over $1million.

The seed round was led by Genesia Ventures, Ryo Ishizuka, former CEO and co-founder of Japanese e-commerce company Mercari and Takuya Noguchi, CEO and founder of Japan’s skincare brand BULK HOMME. Seven other angel investors also participated in the seed funding.

Teatis will use the seed money for production and marketing in the US, where 122 million diabetics and pre-diabetics continue to work for prevention and treatment against diabetes, CEO and co-founder of Teatis Hiroshi Takatoh told TechCrunch. The company is now focusing on the US market where its production is located while its next funding, a Series A, is set for next year, Takatoh added.

“Most of our consumers, about 88%, are diabetics, and our recipe is built to help diabetics manage their blood sugar. A staggering number of Americans suffer from diabetes, and there is significant demand for diabetic-friendly foods that are nutritious, convenient and functional,” Takatoh said.

Teatis develops a supplement for all consumers interested in low-sugar foods, as well as pre-diabetics, Takatoh said. Teatis’ plant-based powders does not contain chemicals or sweeteners but include a special Japanese ingredient such as brown seaweed extract (Arame) that is proven to suppress the absorption of sugar from the intestinal tract and reduce blood sugar levels. The low-sugar powder can be made into teas, lattes or added to smoothies.

The US meal placement market size for diabetes is estimated at $5 billion while the US consumer packaged foods market for diabetes is approximately $300 billion, Takatoh said.

“We combine food science and technology to solve problems for diabetics through food products and telehealth,” Takatoh said.

With its plan on building out a comprehensive one-stop shop for diabetic health, Teatis will launch a Registered Dietitian platform, Teatis RD on Demand, this month, to offer a full-service such as food products, telehealth, and recipes, for those battling diabetes.

Teatis RD on Demand will provide private, 1-on-1 sessions with registered dietitians. It will start at $29 per 30 minutes, which is a reduced cost, versus traditional offline appointments that cost $150 per 30 minutes, and Teledoc, which costs $90 per 30 minutes, according to Takatoh.

“Many existing players in space are old companies that don’t have digital competency and data-driven production methods. Mr. Takatoh is a proven serial entrepreneur with the qualities and boldness to take over the market…I’m excited to see how Teatis’ great ideas and products will help many people who are suffering from diabetes and other chronic diseases in the future,” Genesia Ventures Manager Shunsuke Sagara said.

Glovo to double down African investment in the next 12 months but will it stay put?

Spanish on-demand delivery platform Glovo today announced plans to double its investment in Africa and expand its operations on the continent.

The Barcelona-based company has invested up to €25M ($30M) by bringing its food delivery service to six African countries — Morocco, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria.

Glovo is available in more than 40 cities with more than 300,000 users, 8,000 restaurants and 12,000 couriers in these countries. Earlier this year, it launched operations in Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana before expanding to Tema, another Ghanaian city last month.

Over the next 12 months, Glovo says it will invest an additional €50M ($60M) to drive expansion into more cities on the continent and move into new markets like Tunisia, where it plans to launch in Tunis next month.

According to a statement released by the company, the expansion will make Glovo’s services available to 6.5 million people. Co-founder Sacha Michaud believes these markets are currently underserved, and Glovo has found the right opportunity to work with local restaurants, bringing them online to reach new customers in a bid to “make everything, within all towns and cities, available to everyone.”

The attention on Africa follows a series of regional moves Glovo has pulled this year. After its mammoth $528 million Series F raise, it acquired several Delivery Hero’s businesses in Central and Eastern Europe for $208 million.

Now present in 23 countries, Africa represents 30% of the company’s geographical footprint. And the Spanish company plans to be live in 30 countries before the end of next year, a decision in part due to an IPO target in three years.

Glovo says it is a market leader in 80% of the countries where it has operations. The company’s grocery service arm has grown the fastest and revenue has been increasing significantly after a steady rise in orders. To meet the growing needs of customers, Glovo has had to invest heavily in dark stores and in July also launched virtual brands for restaurants.

It’s not clear if Glovo will extend these add-on services to Africa where it has its largest market in terms of population size: Nigeria. Yet, the West African nation does not come without its own fair share of troubles like poor logistics infrastructure and an unpredictable regulatory environment.

Despite that, a couple of food delivery platforms like Gokada and Jumia Food, a subsidiary of e-commerce giant Jumia have tried to scale, finding varying degrees of success doing so.

While Glovo will have to compete for market share with these players, the company says it is bullish because of its multi-category strategy. According to the company, grocery sales account for half of its business in some African markets.

That said, Glovo’s performance in emerging markets is questionable. Last year, the company pulled out of all the Latin American countries — Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. It sold operations in these markets to Delivery Hero for $272 million.

The company also exited the Middle East and North Africa (Egypt and Turkey) and Uruguay and Puerto Rico in January 2020.

Over the past couple of years, Glovo has said it wanted to achieve profitability in a short amount of time. The delivery space is a thin-margin business and it is thinner in emerging markets. This played a part in why Glovo exited both Middle East and Latin America. The market isn’t any different in Africa, and time will tell if the Spanish delivery will stay put, exit, or close shop.

Whatever the case, Glovo says it is “committed to continuing its policy to hire top local talent” on the continent and plans to double its number of staff and add an extra 200 employees before the end of next year.

“Our expansion in Nigeria, Ghana, and our upcoming launch in Tunisia is something we’ve been looking at for some time now, so it’s great to be able to make it official. There’s been an unprecedented spike in the on-demand delivery business in Africa and the expansion of our services to new countries and cities is both a reflection of that trend and a testament to our commitment to the continent. We’re looking forward to making food, groceries, pharmaceuticals and retail products available to our new users at the touch of a button,” William Benthall, Glovo’s general manager of sub-Saharan Africa, said in a statement.

DoorDash workers protest outside CEO Tony Xu’s home demanding better pay, tip transparency and PPE

California DoorDash workers protested outside of the home of DoorDash CEO Tony Xu on Thursday, prompted by a recent California Superior Court Judge ruling calling 2020’s Proposition 22 unconstitutional. Prop 22, which was passed last November in California, would allow app-based companies like DoorDash, Uber and Lyft to continue classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

A group of about 50 DoorDash workers who are affiliated with advocacy groups We Drive Progress and Gig Workers Rising traveled caravan style to the front of Xu’s house in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. They demanded that DoorDash provide transparency for tips and 120% of minimum wage or around $17 per hour, stop unfair deactivations and provide free personal protective equipment, as well as adequate pay for car and equipment sanitizing. 

“Dasher concerns and feedback are always important to us, and we will continue to hear their voices and engage our community directly,” a DoorDash spokesperson told TechCrunch. “However, we know that today’s participants do not speak for the 91% of California Dashers who want to remain independent contractors or the millions of California voters who overwhelmingly supported Proposition 22. The reality is, the passage of Prop 22 has addressed in law many of the concerns raised today through its historic benefits and protections: workers earn 120% of their local minimum wage per active hour in addition to 100% of their tips, receive free PPE and enjoy access to healthcare funds.”

DoorDash drivers say getting paid for the time they’re “active,” meaning actively driving to either pick up food and drop it off, rather than when they’re online and waiting for gigs to come through, leads to inadequate pay. They also say much of their living wage comes from tips, which should be an added bonus, but ends up helping make ends meet based on DoorDash’s pay structure. Prop 22 is also meant to guarantee a reimbursement of 30 cents per engaged mile, which drivers say “would be great if it were true.” DoorDash did not respond to follow ups regarding its pay structure or claims from dashers that they have not been given free PPE. 

Rondu Gantt, a gig worker who’s been working for DoorDash for two and a half years and also drives for Uber and Lyft to get by, says his base pay from DoorDash is often as low as $3 per hour, and that around 40% to 60% of his money comes from tips. Although this model sounds similar to the restaurant industry in the United States, which can be quite lucrative for servers and bartenders, for a delivery driver, it’s an unsustainable way to make a living because tipping culture isn’t nearly as strong. 

“DoorDash pays so low because they want to make it affordable for the customer, but I would say for the driver it becomes unaffordable,” Gantt told TechCrunch, citing the costs of owning, maintaining, parking and fueling a vehicle as potentially crippling. “Last week, I drove for 30 hours and I made $405. That’s $13.50 per hour, which is below minimum wage.”

Gantt said drivers also have had to deal with pressure to drive in unsafe conditions, and we can look to the images of delivery drivers in New York City during Hurricane Ida as an example of some conditions drivers feel compelled to accept. Over the past two years, DoorDash drivers have also been deemed essential workers, interacting with and providing services for many people during a pandemic at the risk of their health. 

Gig Workers Rising says DoorDash workers “have received little to no safety support” with some workers reporting “being reimbursed as little as 80 cents per day for cleaning/sanitizing equipment and PPE that they use to keep themselves and customers safe.”

“Right now gig work isn’t flexible,” a spokesperson for Gig Workers Rising told TechCrunch.  “Workers are at the mercy of when there’s demand. If they were employees the work would change as they’d work in the knowledge that they’ve healthcare and can take a sick day off.”

Because Prop 22 was ruled unconstitutional, the spokesperson said by rights it shouldn’t be in operation. 

“The gig corporations violate that law everyday by choosing not to comply with it,” he said. 

For Gantt’s part, he doesn’t necessarily want to be an employee, he just wants to make sure that he’s being paid what he deserves. 

“Which is not minimum wage,” he said. “Minimum wage would be unacceptable as well. The cost of doing this, the danger, makes minimum wage unacceptable pay. And realistically, they’re only sometimes paying you minimum wage before taxes. After taxes you’re definitely making less.”

TechCrunch was given access to DoorDash workers’ dashboards that break down their pay. For the week of July 12 to July 19, one dasher was paid a total of $574.21 for 53 deliveries, $274 of which came from customer tip. His “active time” was 14 hours and 21 minutes, and his “dash time,” or when he was logged onto the app waiting for gigs to come through and doing deliveries, was about 30 hours. 

The dasher’s “guaranteed earnings” from DoorDash for the week was $300.21. (DoorDash did not respond to clarification on how guaranteed weekly earnings are calculated or what they’re based on, but a post on the company’s site says that guaranteed earnings are incentives for dashers in specific areas.) His base pay ended up at about $257.62, but DoorDash added an additional $42.59 to adjust to guaranteed earnings. If we divide the amount DoorDash paid by the number of hours of “active time,” the worker was paid about $21 per hour. If we divide it by the “dash time,” it looks more like $10 per hour. 

Again, this is before tax. Independent contractors are usually advised to put aside around 30% of their paycheck because they have to pay self-employment tax, which is 15.3% of taxable income, federal income tax, which varies depending on tax bracket, and potentially state income tax. After taxes, this dasher’s total pay for 30 hours of work, including his $274 worth of tip, would be around $402, which comes out to $13.40 per hour. 

Tips were of concern at the protest on Thursday as drivers called for transparency. Gantt says dashers can see a cumulative amount of tip earnings per week, as well as how much tip they’re receiving from each order, but they don’t trust the amount they’re receiving is actually the amount customers are tipping them.

Gantt and other drivers aren’t just being paranoid. Last November, DoorDash agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging the company stole drivers’ tips and allowed customers to think their tip money was actually going to the drivers. The suit, filed by Washington, D.C. attorney general Karl Racine, alleged DoorDash reduced drivers’ pay for each job by the amount of any tip. 

One of the rallying cries of the protest was for Xu to “share the wealth.” In 2020, the CEO was reportedly the highest paid CEO in the Bay Area, making a total income of $413.67 million, which includes salary and stock options. During the second quarter, DoorDash saw a $113 million profit adjusted for EBITDA, but was overall unprofitable with a net loss of $102 million. 

“We all work for money and how that money gets distributed when they go through their earnings is telling you who matters and who doesn’t matter,” said Gantt. “It’s a clear sign of who’s important, who has value. If they don’t pay you, they don’t value you.”

Stockeld Dreamery loves cheese so much that it raised $20M to make it out of legumes

Cheese is one of those foods that when you like it, you actually love it. It’s also one of the most difficult foods to make from something other than milk. Stockeld Dreamery not only took that task on, it has a product to show for it.

The Stockholm-based company announced Thursday its Series A round of $20 million co-led by Astanor Ventures and Northzone. Joining them in the round — which founder Sorosh Tavakoli told TechCrunch he thought was “the largest-ever Series A round for a European plant-based alternatives startup,” was Gullspång Re:food, Eurazeo, Norrsken VC, Edastra, Trellis Road and angel investors David Frenkiel and Alexander Ljung.

Tavakoli previously founded video advertising startup Videoplaza, and sold it to Ooyala in 2014. Looking for his next project, he said he did some soul-searching and wanted the next company to do something with an environmental impact. He ended up in the world of food, plant-based food, in particular.

“Removing the animal has a huge impact on land, water, greenhouse gases, not to mention the factory farming,” he told TechCrunch. “I identified that cheese is the worst. However, though people are keen on shifting their diet, when they try alternative products, they don’t like it.”

Tavakoli then went in search of a co-founder with a science background and met Anja Leissner, whose background is in biotechnology and food science. Together they started Stockeld in 2019.

Pär-Jörgen Pärson, general partner at Northzone, was an investor in Videoplaza and said via email that Stockeld Dreamery was the result of “the best of technology paired with the best of science,” and that Tavakoli and Leissner were “using their scientific knowledge and vision of the future and proposing a commercial application, which is very rare in the foodtech space, if not unique.”

The company’s first product, Stockeld Chunk, launched in May, but not without some trials and tribulations. The team tested over 1,000 iterations of their “cheese” product before finding a combination that worked, Tavakoli said.

Advances in the plant-based milk category have been successful for the most part, not necessarily because of the plant-based origins, but because they are tasty, he explained. Innovation is also progressing in meat, but cheese still proved difficult.

“They are typically made from starch and coconut oil, so you can have a terrible experience from the smell and the mouth feel can be rubbery, plus there is no protein,” Tavakoli added.

Stockeld wanted protein as the core ingredient, so Chunk is made using fermented legumes — pea and fava in this case — which gives the cheese a feta-like look and feel and contains 30% protein.

Chunk was initially launched with restaurants and chefs in Sweden. Within the product pipeline are spreadable and melting cheese that Tavakoli expects to be on the market in the next 12 months. Melting cheese is one of the hardest to make, but would open up the company as a potential pizza ingredient if successful, he said.

Including the latest round, Stockeld has raised just over $24 million to date. The company started with four employees and has now grown to 23, and Tavakoli intends for that to be 50 by the end of next year.

The new funding will enable the company to focus on R&D, to build out a pilot plant and to move into a new headquarters building next year in Stockholm. The company also looks to expand out of Sweden and into the U.S.

“We have ambitious investors who understand what we are trying to do,” Tavakoli said. “We have an opportunity to think big and plan accordingly. We feel we are in a category of our own in a sense that we are using legumes for protein. We are almost like a third fermented legumes category, and it is exciting to see where we can take it.”

Eric Archambeau, co-founder and partner at Astanor Ventures, is one of those investors. He also met Tavakoli at his former company and said via email that when he was pitched on the idea of creating “the next generation of plant-based cheese,” he was interested.

“From the start, I have been continuously impressed by the Stockeld team’s diligence, determination and commitment to creating a truly revolutionary and delicious product,” Archambeau added. “They created a product that breaks the mold and paves the way towards a new future for the global cheese industry.”

Compounds Foods brews up $4.5M to make coffee without beans

Maricel Saenz, founder and CEO of Compound Foods, is among the over 80% of Americans who love a cup of coffee daily. And she also loves the environment.

However, when the Costa Rican-born entrepreneur, now living in the Bay Area, saw how climate change was affecting coffee growers around the world — coffee is the fifth-most polluting crop in the value chain — she wanted to create a coffee product that tasted good, but was also sustainable.

“Temperatures are rising and combined with erratic rains are leading to lower crop yield,” Saenz told TechCrunch. “The same crop can’t grow in the same place anymore, or it will be a lower quality product. Farmers in Costa Rica are having to sell their land or go higher up the mountain. Experts predict that 50% of farmland will be unsuitable in the next couple of decades.”

Founded in 2020, Compound Foods uses synthetic biology to create coffee without coffee beans by extracting molecules. Saenz said the company spent a lot of time examining what makes coffee, well coffee, and then trying to correlate flavors and aromas in certain ways.

And yes, the company can still call it “coffee” even if it doesn’t contain coffee beans because there is no official regulatory definition, she said.

They use food science to recreate a base formula using sustainable ingredients that also don’t use a lot of water — she said it takes 140 liters of water along the coffee growth chain to make one cup of coffee. The company is also working toward a goal of being able to recreate coffee inspired by flavors that you would get from different areas of the world, like Costa Rica, but also the chocolate notes from a cup of Brazilian coffee.

Compound Foods announced $4.5 million in seed funding to give it total funding of $5.3 million to date. Backers of the company include Chris Sacca’s climate fund Lowercarbon Capital, SVLC, Humboldt Fund, Collaborative Fund, Maple VC, Petri Bio and angel investors like Nick Green, CEO of Thrive Market.

Saenz intends to use the new funding to improve the formulation and scale up the brand as the company works toward a soft launch by the end of the year.

There are a few competitors in the space doing different technology, including Seattle-based Atomo, which said it makes its coffee from “other fruits and plants that had seeds similar to coffee beans.”

Compound Foods is hiring coffee lovers to help build out its technology and to expand its marketing, product and business teams.

Saenz is clear that the company is not competing with coffee.

“We love coffee and know the farmers, and we are providing an alternative solution,” she added. “We want to recreate it, and even drink it on Mars one day, and we want to bring the coffee farmers and the industry with us on the journey.”