NotCo gets its horn following $235M round to expand plant-based food products

NotCo, a food technology company making plant-based milk and meat replacements, wrapped up another funding round this year, a $235 million Series D round that gives it a $1.5 billion valuation.

Tiger Global led the round and was joined by new investors, including DFJ Growth Fund, the social impact foundation, ZOMA Lab; athletes Lewis Hamilton and Roger Federer; and musician and DJ Questlove. Follow-on investors included Bezos Expeditions, Enlightened Hospitality Investments, Future Positive, L Catterton and Kaszek Ventures.

This funding round follows an undisclosed investment in June from Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer through his firm EHI. In total, NotCo, with roots in both Chile and New York, has raised more than $350 million, founder and CEO Matias Muchnick told TechCrunch.

Currently, the company has four product lines: NotMilk, NotBurger and NotMeat, NoticeCream and NotMayo, which are available in the five countries of the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia.

The company is operating in the middle of a trend toward eating healthier food, as more consumers also question how their food is made, resulting in demand for alternative proteins. In fact, the market for alternative meat, eggs, dairy and seafood products is predicted to reach $290 billion by 2035, according to research by Boston Consulting Group and Blue Horizon Corp.

NotCo’s proprietary artificial intelligence technology, Giuseppe, matches animal proteins to their ideal replacements among thousands of plant-based ingredients. It is working to crack the code in understanding the molecular components and food characteristics in the combination of two ingredients that could mimic milk, but in a more sustainable and resourceful way — and that also tastes good, which is the biggest barrier to adoption, Muchnick said.

“Our theory is that there is a crazy dynamic among people: 60% who are already eating plant-based are not happy with the taste, and 30% of those who drink cow’s milk are waiting to change if there is a similar taste,” he added. “Our technology is based in AI so that we can create a different food system, as well as products faster and better than others in the space. There are 300,000 plant species, and we still have no idea what 99% of them can do.”

In addition to a flow of investments this year, the company launched its NotMilk brand in the United States seven months ago and is on track to be in 8,000 locations across retailers like Whole Foods Market, Sprouts and Wegmans by the end of 2021.

Muchnick plans to allocate some of the new funding to establish markets in Mexico and Canada and add market share in the U.S. and Chile. He expects to have 50% of its business coming from the U.S. over the next three years. He is also eyeing an expansion into Asia and Europe in the next year.

NotCo also intends to add more products, like chicken and other white meats and seafood, and to invest in technology and R&D. He expects to do that by doubling the company’s current headcount of 100 in the next two years. Muchnick also wants to establish more patents in food science — the company already has five — and to explore a potential intelligence side of the business.

Though NotCo reached unicorn status, Muchnick said the real prize is the brand awareness and subsequent sales boost, as well as opening doors for quick-service restaurant deals. NotBurger went into Burger King restaurants in Chile 11 months ago, and now has 5% of the market there, he added.

Sales overall have grown three times annually over the past four years, something Muchnick said was attractive to Tiger Global. He is equally happy to work with Tiger, especially as the company prepares to go public in the next two or three years. He said Tiger’s expertise will get NotCo there in a more prepared manner.

“NotCo has created world class plant-based food products that are rapidly gaining market share,” said Scott Shleifer, partner at Tiger Global, in a written statement. “We are excited to partner with Matias and his team. We expect continued product innovation and expansion into new geographies and food categories will fuel high and sustainable growth for years to come.”

 

Data-driven iteration helped China’s Genki Forest become a $6B beverage giant in 5 years

China’s e-commerce and industrial ecosystem is as different from the Western world as its culture. The country took decades to earn its reputation as the Factory of the World, but it now boasts a supply chain and manufacturing ability that few countries can match.

Creative use of the country’s networked manufacturing and logistics hubs make mass production both cheap and easy. Clothing, electronics, toys, automobiles, musical instruments, furniture — you name it and you’ll find a manufacturer in China who can turn your intangible concept into mass-manufacturable reality in mere days. And they’ll do it for cheaper than anywhere else in the world.

It was just a matter of time until an intrepid Chinese entrepreneur with a tech background decided to take on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

China is also home to one of the world’s largest e-commerce and tech ecosystems. Hundreds of startups dot the landscape, and the amount of money being raised and spent on innovating around the country’s industrial heft is mind-boggling.

So it was just a matter of time until an intrepid Chinese entrepreneur with a tech background decided to take on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. The tech revolution hasn’t yet affected the bottled beverage industry quite as much as it has others. Incumbent giants therefore could lose a sizable chunk of market share if a company could just manage to weave together China’s manufacturing proficiency and agility with the modern tech startup philosophy of “moving fast and breaking stuff.”

Genki Forest, a Chinese direct-to-consumer (D2C) bottled beverage startup, is one such contender. A philosophy centered around iteration informed by data, quick turnarounds and a laser focus on taking advantage of China’s huge e-commerce ecosystem has helped this company’s revenues rise rapidly since it started five years ago. Its sugar-free sodas, milk teas and energy drinks sell in 40 countries and generated revenue of about $450 million in 2020. The company aims to reach $1.2 billion this year.

If anything, Genki Forest’s valuation has shot up even faster. It recently completed its fourth VC round that values it at a whopping $6 billion, triple the price it fetched a year earlier, and it has so far raised at least half a billion dollars.

It’s striking how closely Genki Forest’s operations resemble that of a tech startup. So we thought we should take a closer look and see what this company’s graph can tell us about the new wave of Chinese D2C entrepreneurship looking to take over the globe.

Finding a bigger wave to ride

The bottled beverage industry wasn’t what Genki Forest’s founder, Binsen Tang, initially set out to tackle. His first startup was a successful casual, mostly mobile gaming outfit known as ELEX Technology. It was nowhere near record-breaking, though — some 50 million users logged on to a few popular games in over 40 countries worldwide, including one of the first versions of Happy Farm, a predecessor to Zynga’s Farmville. But Tang wasn’t satisfied and eventually sold ELEX Technology to a publicly listed company for about $400 million in 2014.

Tang would walk away with a few important lessons. He’d learned by now that Chinese products were already competitive globally, whether people realized it or not, and that and geographic arbitrage was real, Happy Farm being the perfect example of this. Lastly, he now knew that it was far more important to choose the right “racetrack” (as Chinese investors and entrepreneurs like to put it) than to have a great product.

Picking the right race to win was perhaps the most important takeaway. It’s also an idea that sets Chinese entrepreneurs apart from their Western counterparts — the most worthwhile endeavors are in identifying the largest and most rewarding market at hand, regardless of one’s previous expertise. It was what led Zhang Yiming to create ByteDance, and Lei Jun to found Xiaomi.

That very philosophy led Tang to build Genki Forest. After selling ELEX Technology, Tang didn’t go back to the business that netted him his first pot of gold. As much as he had benefited from the rise of the mobile internet, he thought there was a far bigger opportunity building a consumer brand and applying the lessons he learned from programming to the manufacture of tangible products.

He soon set up his own investment fund, Challenjers Capital, convinced that the next big tech opportunity in China was in tech’s application to everyday consumer products. He soon began to invest in everything from ramen and hotpots to bottled beverages.

China’s quickly expanding e-commerce ecosystem and the plethora of D2C businesses flourishing on Alibaba and JD.com would also influence his decision to sell directly to his target audience rather than take the traditional route. But to truly understand his motivations, we need to take a look at the extremely unique D2C environment in China and how it has changed over the years.

What’s different about Chinese D2C?

“China doesn’t need any more good platforms,” Tang told his team in an internal email in 2015, “but it does need good products.” Tang was talking about how the age of building infrastructure for e-commerce in China was largely over; it was now time to create brands that could take advantage of the advanced distribution network that had been laid out.

Other investors noticed as well. Albus Yu, principal at China Growth Capital, told me that his fund had stopped making investments in independent consumer-facing platforms or marketplaces for a while. “2014 might have been the last year it was economically feasible to start such a business due to the soaring cost of acquiring customers and the strength of incumbents,” he said.

Indeed, 2015 was the year when CACs began to exceed or at least rival ARPUs for Alibaba and JD.com.

In China, that distribution network was present across the digital and physical worlds. Online, there was immense market power concentrated in the hands of just two players: Alibaba and JD.com, which used to have, and still maintain, 80% or above in market share.

In fact, the dominance of Alibaba, in particular, was so overwhelming that for years, VCs invested not in D2C, but in “Taobao brands,” since that was the only channel one needed to conquer in order to make it.

Customer acquisition was therefore straightforward — throw everything into advertising on Alibaba’s Tmall platform, especially during its annual flagship shopping festival, Singles’ Day. Even today, garnering a top spot in one of the category leaderboards remains a surefire way to build brand awareness, investor interest, as well as sales records.

Physically, the Chinese market also differs greatly from much of the developed West. Years of heavy investment in logistics by the private sector, accelerated by government support and infrastructure buildout, means that delivery costs have come down significantly over the years, even dipping below $0.40 per package wholesale as of this year. Innovations such as return insurance have also sped up customer adoption.

By 2016, China was shipping 30 billion packages a year, already accounting for 44% of global shipments. That number has been doubling every three years and is expected to exceed 100 billion this year. And the low cost of delivery is one of the biggest reasons for China’s outsized e-commerce market — the largest globally and estimated to reach $2.8 trillion in 2021, more than triple that of the No. 2, the U.S.

Express parcels sit stacked at a logistic base of e-commerce giant Suning before the 618 Shopping Festival

Express parcels sit stacked at a logistic base of e-commerce giant Suning before the 618 Shopping Festival. Image Credits: VCG

Present-day China also presents another edge: Proximity to an advanced, flexible manufacturing network and supply chain for the vast majority of consumer products, and the ability to outsource almost everything to them.

The original equipment manufacturers of years past have long since evolved into original design manufacturers. An expected consequence of being “the Factory of the World” for so many years, making goods for some of the best brands in the world, is that some of the knowledge was bound to transfer.

It may be difficult for outsiders to understand just how strong China’s networked manufacturing hubs are these days. What used to take weeks now takes mere days, the lead times shortened drastically by software, robots and other advancements. For example, Chinese cross-border ultra-fast-fashion company Shein has compressed design-to-ship timelines to as little as seven days.

And it’s definitely not just for making crop tops. The turnaround can be astonishingly fast even when manufacturing completely unfamiliar goods, such as when electric vehicle maker BYD turned its factory into the world’s largest face mask plant in just two weeks when the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year.

Companies leverage this manufacturing flexibility and agility for more than just speed. Chinese cosmetics upstart Perfect Diary uses it to launch twice as many SKUs as foreign competitors. In addition, the quick turnaround allows agile brands to take advantage of that most ephemeral of IP, memes.

It’s not to say that the Chinese supply chain is inaccessible to foreign entrepreneurs. Best-selling mattress maker Zinus, for example, is founded by a South Korean, but its products are manufactured in China and sold mostly on Amazon to U.S. customers.

It’s just that very few non-Chinese companies have figured out how to tap as deeply into the supply chain as this new crop of Chinese D2C brands, which can require years of working not just alongside but physically inside the factories, building trust and know-how. Shein, for example, watches carefully what other brands are making by staying close to the factories.

The China opportunity

Before global sensations such as TikTok weakened the mantra, “copy to China” used to be a dominant characterization of Chinese startups. In December 2015, when Tang registered the Genki Forest trademark, that was still very much a relevant strategy.

Food delivery firm Zomato surges 65% in key India debut

Shares in Zomato, a Gurgaon-based food delivery company and first of India’s consumer tech startups to go public, closed up 64.7% in its debut day of trading in Mumbai, delivering a key insight into the appetite investors have for the world’s second largest internet market’s burgeoning startup ecosystem.

Zomato’s shares traded all day above the issue price of 76 Indian rupees ($1) and surged as high as 138.9 Indian rupees ($1.87). The 12-year-old firm ended day one of trading on BSE in Mumbai at 125.2 Indian rupees ($1.68), securing a market cap of $13.2 billion, up from about $5 billion valuation it had attained in private markets during the startup’s fundraise earlier this year.

The startup’s $1.3 billion initial public offering was 40 times subscribed last week.

Friday’s milestone of Zomato has equally been significant for the rest of the industry as startup founders and investors closely watched the performance. India’s Twitter timeline on Friday was flooded with well wishes and celebratory messages from industry colleagues.

Ashish Dave, India head of Mirae Asset, a backer of Zomato, said the listing and performance of Zomato today has delivered the missing piece of liquidity in Indian startup ecosystem.

“This validates that we can generate large IPOs, which then makes our startups more attractive for global LPs. It also gives Indian investors a chance to participate in the India tech journey rather than from watching it from sidelines,” he told TechCrunch, adding that retail investors of this generation will finally find a way to get in on the action with the brands they recognize and have grown with.

Zomato chief executive Deepinder Goyal was quick to reciprocate. In a blog post, Goyal wrote, “Today is a big day for us. A new Day Zero. But we couldn’t have gotten here without the incredible efforts of India’s entire internet ecosystem. Jio’s prolific growth has set all of us up for unprecedented scale. Flipkart, Amazon, Ola, Uber, Paytm – have also over the years, collectively laid the railroads that are enabling companies like ours to build the India of the future.”

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, and we are no exception. Hundreds of people have selflessly played a part in making Zomato what it is today.”

Indian tech startups have raised a record amount of capital this year as some high-profile investors have doubled down in the South Asian market. Swiggy, Zomato’s chief rival in India, said earlier this week it had raised $1.25 billion from SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 and Prosus among others at a valuation of $5.5 billion.

A handful of other firms are also preparing to publicly list within a few months. Financial services startups Paytm and MobiKwik filed for their initial public offerings earlier this month. Online insurance aggregator Policybazaar is expected to file its paperwork within a few weeks.

“I don’t know whether we will succeed or fail – we will surely, like always, give it our best. But I hope that the fact that we are here, inspires millions of Indians to dream bigger than we ever have, and build something way more incredible than what we can dream of,” wrote Goyal.

Kitchenful combines meal planning with a grocery concierge service

Meet Kitchenful, a new German startup backed by Y Combinator that wants to make it easier to cook at home by taking care of menu ideas and grocery shopping. The service is currently available in early access in Germany with a focus on Berlin and Munich.

When you sign up to Kitchenful, you first have to set your preferences and goals. You can choose vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free options, but you can also focus on slow carbs recipes, a diet focused on healthy fats, etc.

After that, you get a meal plan for the coming week. You can review and customize each meal. For instance, if you plan to have guests, you can add a couple of persons to your Tuesday dinner. You can also remove vegetables if you usually buy your vegetables at a farmers market.

Once you’re ready to order, a virtual grocery basket is automatically generated for the user. You can review, add something that isn’t on the list, such as household items, and confirm.

Kitchenful then transfers your list of items to a major supermarket near you. The startup doesn’t fulfill orders directly — they rely on partners for that part of the process. That’s why Kitchenful describes itself as a grocery concierge service.

“Our main revenue stream is a concierge fee which we collect directly from our users for creating personalized weekly menus, handling the basket creation process, providing personalized cooking instructions for the recipes as well as leftover ideas. Additionally, we receive a commission from our supermarket partners per generated order,” Kitchenful co-founder and CEO Christian Schiller told me.

This isn’t Schiller’s first experience in food delivery. He previously spent four years as Vice President of Product at HelloFresh, a popular meal-kit company.

Kitchenful is just getting started. It has raised $1 million from Y Combinator, N26 co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf, Souq co-founder Samih Toukan, HighSnobiety’s David Fischer, DurstExpress MD Maik Ludewig, and Mendeley co-founder Victor Henning.

The company has already established partnerships with REWE in Germany, Walmart and Kroger in the U.S. By partnering with supermarkets, Kitchenful can offer a great variety of products at supermarket prices.

It’s a different take on meal kits with a different approach to logistics, so it’s going to be interesting to see if Kitchenful becomes a popular alternative to both grocery delivery and meal-kit services.

Indonesia “sea-to-table” platform Aruna hooks $35M led by Prosus and East Ventures Growth Fund

When Aruna’s founders first met at university, they wanted to find a way to use their studies in information technology to help family members who were running small fisheries. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest fisheries producers, but the industry is very fragmented. This means fisheries, especially small ones, deal with fluctuations in demand and price instability. Aruna was created to bring them closer to customers like restaurants and exporters, the way farm-to-table startups are aggregating the agricultural supply chain.

Aruna announced today it has raised $35 million in Series A funding led by Prosus Ventures and East Ventures Growth Fund, with participation from SIG and returning investors including AC Ventures, MDI and Vertex Ventures. Aruna says this is the largest Series A investment to date in Indonesia’s agritech and maritime sector.

The company works primarily with small fisheries (or ones that have boats with about one to two metric tonnes of capacity) and focuses on sustainability, helping suppliers adhere to the United Nations Goal 14’s targets. These include preventing overfishing, protecting coastal ecosystems and giving small-scale fisheries access to more resources and markets.

Aruna was founded in 2016 by Farid Naufal Aslam, Indraka Fadhlillah and Utari Octavianty, who met while studying information technology administration and management at Telkom University. Fadhlillah and Octavianty came from families in the fishing industry, and the three wanted to create something that would solve some of the challenges they faced.

“This was the main idea, but the bigger thing we saw at the time was the advantage of Indonesia’s position as a large agricultural country with big potential in the seafood industry,” Aslam told TechCrunch.

According to the World Bank, Indonesia is the world’s second largest fisheries producer. The sector creates about $4.1 billion in annual export earnings and supports more than 7 million jobs.

But Aruna’s founding team saw two major problems while analyzing coastal communities. The first one was market access and getting fair prices for seafood. The second was access to working capital.

To solve the first issue, Aruna was built to shorten the supply chain, which Aslam said can have six or seven layers between fisheries and buyers like restaurants, markets or exporters.

Buyers make purchase orders through the platform, which are then distributed to fishery communities that Aruna organizes to focus on particular types of seafood. This helps them predict demand, guarantee return business and prevent overfishing.

Aruna also built a logistics network that includes more than 45 collection sites, or warehouses where seafood is delivered by fisheries for quality checks, processing and packaging. Aruna’s warehouses are a combination of facilities that it owns or runs with partners. Deliveries are performed by third-party logistics providers.

The platform currently has about 20 product categories and will use its funding to expand into more. Its commodities include high-value products like lobster, which are shipped by exporters to markets like Malaysia, Singapore, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada and the United States.

One of Aruna’s main requirements for fisheries on the platform is sticking to its sustainability process. According to the World Bank, one of the biggest issues facing Indonesia fisheries is overfishing, which hurts marine biodiversity. Aruna team members work with fisheries to standardize their equipment so they comply with government regulations and chose locations that are not overfished.

By focusing on a few types of seafood each, fisheries that work with Aruna are better able to ensure the quality and traceability of their products, and manage pricing fluctuations.

The second problem Aruna is working on is lack of access to working capital. To help fisheries get low interest, collateral-free loans for equipment and other things they need for their businesses, Aruna partners with financial institutions and fintech companies. When an Aruna fishery applies for a loan, the platform is able to provide transaction data collected on the platform for credit scoring.

The company also announced today that it has appointed Budiman Goh as its president, and Octavianty as its chief sustainability officer. Its funding will be used to expand to new areas in Indonesia, hiring data analytics and tech development, including IoT devices to help perform quality checks.

Aruna plans to focus on Indonesia for the near future because of the large number of fisheries in the country.

“Currently we have 21,000 fishermen on the platform, yet there are about 2.7 million fishermen in Indonesia, so there is a lot of room to grow,” Aslam said.

In a statement, Sachin Bhanot, Prosus Ventures’ head of Southeast Asia investment said, “Having built a robust supply chain and technology infrastructure steeped with deep industry knowledge and expertise, we believe Aruna is uniquely positioned to service the growing global demand for sustainable fishery product, while supporting the livelihood of local fishermen.”

 

Collectiv raises $16M Series A to connect food producers directly with kitchens

In the modern world, we tend to like to know where our food comes from and this has massively influenced professional kitchens. For decades, food suppliers have sat on one side and distribution channels (restaurants and the like) on the other. But large wholesalers in the middle have traditionally crushed producers on prices and late payments. Professional kitchens can circumvent this by going direct to food producers. But they can’t manage hundreds of direct relationships. It’s just not been possible. Until the Internet.

Collective Food is a new startup that addresses this with a new take on the food supply chain model. It directly sources products from suppliers, unlocking price advantages for both suppliers and buyers, it says. Its competitors include Brakes, Bidfood, and Transgourmet.

It’s now raised £12M / $16M in its Series A funding round led by VNV Global, along with VisVires New Protein (VVNP), Octopus Ventures, Norrsken VC, and existing investors, including Partech, Colle Capital, and Mustard Seed. Frontline Ventures was the earliest investor in 2017.

Launched in 2019, Collectiv so far operates in the UK and France. It operates by sourcing food directly from producers, disintermediating the wholesaler middleman, and delivering straight to professional kitchens. Customers include restaurants, hotels, catering firms, meal-kit companies, and dark kitchens. The company claims that this approach generates 50% less CO2 emissions than traditional supply methods better prices, fresher products, transparency, traceability, and more reliable service.

Customers include Big Mamma Group, The Hush Collection, Dirty Bones, Megan’s, Crussh, Butchies, Cocotte, Tossed, and Fresh Fitness Food. 

Collectiv founder Jeremy Hibbert-Garibaldi said in a statement: “We’re being pushed by a combination of strong tailwinds: end-consumers demanding a better understanding of provenance; cities implementing air pollution regulations that limit large freight; a post-Covid hospitality industry desperate to improve margins but with limited staff availability to facilitate this in-house. Combined with our innovative model, we’re able to set our sights on not only becoming a European leader in food distribution over the next few years, but even a global one.”

Björn von Sivers, Investment Manager at VNV Global, said: “Collectiv’s innovative managed marketplace connects a fragmented supply of producers with the very fragmented demand of professional kitchens, creating improved transparency amongst other clear network improvements for all stakeholders.”

In his former profession as a Forensic Accountant, Hibbert-Garibaldi came across the business model for Collective after he investigated one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK and their food wholesale leg, mainly for violations of codes of conduct, such as how they were behaving with their suppliers. “I quickly realized that food supply chains were broken, with too much opacity and malpractice, and at the end of the day not benefiting any sides of the marketplace,” he said.

Engrained with a passion for food from his French and Italian origins, he quit his job and spend months in restaurant kitchens to understand the problems they faced: “I wanted to understand why it was so hard for them to source good products, know exactly where their food was coming from, and receive these products reliably and sustainably whenever they needed them. Using this I built my case study to get out to investors and start the business.”

It remains to be seen if Collectiv can scale, or take a chunk out of the vast food supply chain industry, but if it ends up appealing both to suppliers and distributors it will be very interesting to watch.

Indian food delivery startup Swiggy raises $1.25 billion led by SoftBank and Prosus

It took SoftBank several years, but the Japanese investment giant is now ready to bet on India’s food delivery market. Swiggy said on Tuesday it has closed a $1.25 billion financing round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Prosus Ventures.

The new financing round, a Series J, includes the $800 million investment the Bangalore-based startup had disclosed to employees earlier this year. (SoftBank alone invested $450 million in the new round.) The new round, which Swiggy says was “heavily oversubscribed,” gives the six-year-old food delivery startup a post-money valuation of $5.5 billion.

TechCrunch first reported about Swiggy’s engagement with SoftBank and the proposed valuation of $5.5 billion in mid-April. Qatar Investment Authority, Falcon Edge Capital, Amansa Capital, Goldman Sachs, Think Investments and Carmignac and existing investors Accel Partners and Wellington Management also participated in the new round.

Swiggy said the new financing round shows the turnaround it has demonstrated in the past few quarters. Like many other startups, Swiggy was severely hit with the pandemic. The startup said its recent bet to expand into grocery delivery, and pick-up and drop service has paid off. The volume of orders it is processing now is 30% higher than those in the pre-Covid times, it said.

“The participation of some of the most visionary global investors is a huge vote of confidence in Swiggy’s mission and ability to build an enduring and iconic company out of India. The scope of food delivery in India is massive and over the next few years, we will continue to invest aggressively into growing this category,” said Sriharsha Majety, chief executive of Swiggy, in a statement.

“Our biggest investments will be in our non-food businesses that have witnessed tremendous consumer love and growth in a short span, especially in the past 15 months of the pandemic. I believe the next 10-15 years offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for companies like Swiggy as the Indian middle class expands and our target segment for convenience grows to 500 million users.”

The new investment comes at a time when Indian startups are raising record capital and a handful of mature firms are beginning to explore the public markets. Zomato, Swiggy’s chief rival in India, raised $1.3 billion in its initial public offering last week and financial services startups Paytm and MobiKwik have also filed for their initial public offerings.

At stake is India’s food delivery market, which analysts at Bernstein expect to balloon to be worth $12 billion by 2022, they wrote in a report to clients earlier this year.

A third player, Amazon, also entered the food delivery market in India last year, though its operations are still limited to parts of Bangalore. At a virtual conference ahead of the IPO last week, Zomato executives dismissed Amazon as a serious competitor for now. “There’s no major impact on market share from Amazon so far,” the company’s chief financial officer said.

For SoftBank, a regular fixture of the Indian startup ecosystem, this is the first time it has bet on a food delivery player. The Japanese conglomerate has backed Indian startups in multiple categories including e-commerce (Flipkart, Snapdeal, Meesho, Lenskart, Firstcry), ride-hailing (Uber and Ola), and edtech (Unacademy). SoftBank has invested in several food delivery startups globally including DoorDash and Uber Eats. Prosus Ventures, an early investor in Swiggy, has also backed several food delivery startups globally.

“From its early days, I have had the privilege to watch Swiggy execute on their vision to become the leader in the convenience economy. Their focus on consumer delight, product innovation, and ecosystem support has made Swiggy a compelling digital experience in India. They have the railroads in place to empower multiple businesses to reach the new age consumer on a daily basis, and food delivery is just the beginning,” said Sumer Juneja, Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement.

Swiggy said it will deploy the fresh funds to accelerate its “multi-year strategy” of growing its core food delivery business and building new food and non-food adjacencies this year and beyond.

Choco bites into $100M Series B, at a $600M valuation, to build a more transparent, sustainable food supply chain

The United States estimates of the food produced here approximately 40% is wasted. Globally, $2.6 trillion annually is lost.

Berlin-based Choco, which has built ordering software for restaurants and their suppliers, is working to digitize the food supply chain and announced $100 million in Series B funding, led by Left Lane Capital, to give it a $600 million post-market valuation. Joining in is new investor Insight Partners and existing investors Coatue Management and Bessemer Venture Partners.

The new round comes just over a year after Choco’s $63.7 million Series A, raised at two different periods, a $33.5 million round in 2019 and a $30.2 million round in 2020 — at a $230 million valuation — to bring total funding to $171.5 million since the company was founded in 2018.

The company’s core food procurement technology digitizes ordering workflow and communications for restaurants and suppliers. During the global pandemic, Khachab said Choco became the go-to tool for operators to be more efficient around procurement processes and reducing expenses as they adapted to the changing market conditions.

With the food industry a $6 trillion market, Choco CEO Daniel Khachab told TechCrunch he aims to make the food supply chain more transparent and sustainable in order to help increase margins in the food service sector and combat climate change.

The company did 14 months of food waste research and found that it was central to a lot of other global problems: Food waste is the third-largest driver of climate change and is causing deforestation — as evident by news from the Amazon last year  — and the extinction of animals.

“It makes sense to try and solve it,” he added. “The food system is highly fragile, and what was shown in the first and second waves of the pandemic is how fragile and inflexible it was. It made the industry realize that it has to step up and that it can’t continue to work on pen and paper.”

Between the farmer and the end point, there are some nine parties involved, Khachab said. None are connected to another, which often means nine data silos and data not collected along the chain. It is important to connect them on one single platform so decision-making can be data-driven, he added.

As uncertainty swept across the food industry at the beginning of the pandemic, Khachab said Choco could either lay low and wait or invest in the company. He chose the latter, pumping up the team, regions and technology. As a result, Choco’s technology is stronger than it was 15 months ago and proved to be flexible amid the inflexible environment.

Choco saw orders quadruple on the platform in the past year, and gross merchandise value grew to $900 million annualized, up from $230 million, Khachab said.

As the company continues to learn how it can provide value to the food supply chain, half of the Series B funding will go into technology development. It will also go toward doubling its headcount, especially on the engineering side. Choco recently brought on ex-Uber and Facebook executive Vikas Gupta as chief technology officer, and Khachab said Gupta’s expertise will enable the company “to build the best technology team in Europe” and scale faster.

Choco is already operating in six markets, including the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Belgium. Khachab expects to expand in those markets and gain a footprint in new markets like Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

 

Kamereo gets $4.6M to connect farmers and F&B businesses in Vietnam

While working as the chief operating officer of a pizza chain in Vietnam, Taku Tanaka saw how difficult it is for restaurants to connect with farmers. Many small F&B businesses can’t buy in large volumes, so they rely on nearby markets or multiple suppliers who only sell one category. In turn, this means farmers are disconnected from the end customers of their products, making it hard to predict selling prices or plan their crops. Tanaka founded Kamereo, B2B platform with its own warehouse and last-mile delivery network, to focus on those problems.

Based in Ho Chi Minh City, the company announced today that it has raised $4.6 million co-led by food conglomerate CPF Group, Quest Ventures and Genesia Ventures. The capital will be used for hiring, building a new warehouse management system, user interface upgrades and expanding into Hanoi next year.

Before founding Kamereo in 2018, Tanaka was COO of Pizza 4Ps, which grew from one location in Ho Chi Minh City when he joined to 10 stores three years later (it now has more than 30 locations in Vietnam).

Kamereo works with about 15 farmers, including cooperatives, and serves more than 400 active customers, ranging in size from family-owned restaurants to chains with more than 20 locations. Despite COVID-19 related movement restrictions and temporary business closures, Kamereo says it has grown by 15% every month over the last 12 months. It currently has about 100 employees.

F&B businesses use the platform to order from multiple farmers. Kamereo handles supplier negotiations, order processing and management, and fulfillment. Tanaka told TechCrunch that the company operates its own warehouses and last-mile delivery network because it is cheaper than working with third-party providers.

One of Kamereo's warehouses for fresh farm products

One of Kamereo’s warehouses for fresh farm products

Most of Kamereo’s last-mile deliveries are done by motorbikes since Vietnam has many small roads that are inaccessible to trucks. Tanaka said one drawback is how many goods can be delivered in one trip. Since drivers need to make multiple trips each day, Kamereo plans to expand its micro-warehouse network in Ho Chi Minh City so they don’t need to travel long distances. Its tech team is also building an internal system to manage inventory, fulfillment and last-mile deliveries with the goal of minimizing variable costs.

In a statement about the investment, Quest Ventures partner Goh Yiping said, “Kamereo sites in one of the largest food production hubs of Southeast Asia, and there is much room to grow in solving many of the inefficiencies of the supply chain today, improving farmers’ livelihood outcomes and procuring the best products for businesses and homes.”

Yummy raises $4M, aims to be ‘super app of Venezuela’

Yummy, a Venezuela-based delivery app on a mission to create the super app for the country, announced Friday it raised $4 million in funding to expand its dark store delivery operations across Latin America.

Funding backers included Y Combinator, Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen, Canary, Hustle Fund, Necessary Ventures and the co-founders of TaskUs. The total investment includes pre-seeding capital raised in 2020.

“This appears to be a contrarian bet, but Yummy has quickly become the No. 1 super app in Venezuela and proven that the team can scale the business in a difficult territory,” Mateen said in a statement. “Now Vicente and the rest of the Yummy team will expand into more traditional markets with the necessary experience and support to overcome inevitable challenges that they will face.”

Vicente Zavarce, Yummy’s founder and CEO, launched the company in 2020 and is currently part of Y Combinator’s summer 2021 cohort. Born in Venezuela, Zavarce came to the U.S. for school and stayed to work in growth marketing at Postmates, Wayfair and Getaround before starting Yummy. Zavarce was a remote CEO over the past year, stuck in the U.S. due to travel restrictions, but said he is making the most of it.

Yummy’s app can be downloaded for free, and the company charges a delivery fee or merchant fee. In contrast to some of his food delivery competitors, Zavarce told TechCrunch Yummy’s fees are “the lowest in the market” so they do not affect the merchant’s ability to use the app.

Yummy order heat map. Image Credits: Yummy

The company is pulling together additional key components for its super app strategy, which includes launching a ridesharing vertical this year. Yummy has already connected more than 1,200 merchants with hundreds of thousands of customers.

And, over the past year the company completed more than 600,000 deliveries of food, groceries, alcohol and shopping. It reached $1 million in monthly gross merchandise volume while also growing 38% in revenue month over month.

Over the past eight years, the political and economic challenges faced by the country have led to its recent adoption of the U.S. dollar, Zavarce said. In some cases up to 70% of transactions are happening in dollars on the ground. He said this has protected the business against hyperinflation and ultimately created the opportunity for startups to begin operating in Venezuela.

Because of that, combined with more consumer technology innovation over the past decade, Zavarce said there is no reason why Venezuela should not have the best last-mile logistics. It’s there that Yummy has an opportunity to connect multiple vertices into a super app with little to no competition.

“Eventually, other players will enter, but because we have a super app, we already have an amazing frequency of usage,” he added. “We also already have exclusivity with 60% of the food delivery marketplace, which has enabled us to build a moat around the market. We believe we are the right people to execute on this and feel it is our responsibility to do it.”

Plans for the new funding include user acquisition — the company has close to 200,000 registered users already — and to expand in Peru and Chile by August. At the same time, Zavarce will spend some of that capital to attract more users across Venezuela. He also expects to be in Ecuador and Bolivia by the end of the year.