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Welcome to Dealboard. In this weekly feature, The Current is providing a look at the mergers, acquisitions and venture capital deals making waves in ecommerce, CPG and retail.
This week, leading entertainers are taking investment in consumer brands into their own hands. Meanwhile, Dole and Chiquita strike a fresh deal, Kangol is under new ownership and Unilever invests in a scalp brand that is set to go global.
Ryan Cohen (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Triple Whale, a data platform for ecommerce brands, raised $25 million in Series B funding. The round was led by NFX and Elephant, with strategic participation from Shopify. With a focus on direct-to-consumer brands, Triple Whale provides centralization, visualization and automation of data originating from across disparate channels, as well as proprietary attribution. Founded by Maxx Blank, AJ Orbach, and Ivan Chernykh, the company said it had 1,400% year-over-year growth, and is working with more than 5,000 paying brands.
Paperstack, an ecommerce lending firm, raised $9 million in equity and debt, according to Betakit. The equity was financed by Gaingels, Techstars Ventures, Ontario Centre of Innovation, as well as undisclosed former executives at Clearco, TD Bank, Wealthsimple, Sezzle, and employees at Shopify, Google, and Apple. The company aims to support brands that sell high-margin products on Shopify, Amazon, Etsy, and WooCommerce
Ryan Cohen, the cofounder of Chewy and activist investor, acquired a large stake in Nordstrom,according to the Wall Street Journal. Cohen is seeking a board refresh, with a focus on replacing former Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Mark Tritton, as the retailer seeks to cut costs. “While Mr. Cohen hasn’t sought any discussions with us in several years, we are open to hearing his views, as we do with all Nordstrom shareholders,” a Nordstrom spokeswoman said in a statement responding to the news. Cohen has become known as a meme stock investor, having previously invested in GameStop and Bed Bath & Beyond.
Straand, an Australian brand that provides prebiotic ingredients for the scalp microbiome, received a $2 million investment from Unilever Ventures. The pre-seed funding will help the brand expand into the U.S., UK, Europe and China. "There has been limited innovation in the scalp health category for many years and it is ripe for disruption," said Rachel Harris, partner at Unilever Ventures, in a statement.
JOKR, the instant grocery delivery company, raised $50 million in a Series C investment round, Techcrunch reported. The company’s post-money valuation is $1.3 billion. The round was led by G Squared, with participation from GGV Capital, Tiger Global Management and HV Capita. It comes as JOKR is seeking to expand in Brazil, which currently accounts for 50% of its business.
Miley Cyrus, the singer, invested in self-tanning brandDolce Glow for an undisclosed amount. Dolce Glow is owned by Isabel Vita, a Hollywood spray tanning artist whose clients include Jennifer Lopez, Selena Gomez and Katy Perry. Vita called Cyrus "the best business partner I could have ever dreamed of.”
Anne Hathaway, the Hollywood actress, invested inThe Every Co., a food tech company that uses fermentation to make proteins that taste like animal meat. The investment, which is the first B2B investment for Hathaway, comes as Every is scaling up following seven years of R&D. The company makes egg proteins, and products including a smoothie, juice and vegan macaron. Terms were not disclosed.
Synergio, a biotech company developing next-generation plant bio-actives for healthier and more sustainable personal care & cosmetic products, received a minority investment from Symrise Cosmetic Ingredients. With the deal, the companies are entering a strategic partnership with that will see Symrise expand its product protection portfolio with plant-based technologies. Terms were not disclosed.
Mergers & acquisitions
Ariana Grande, the singer and entrepreneur, is set to acquire her beauty brand r.e.m. Beautyfrom Forma Brands, Retail Dive reports. Replacing a licensing agreement between Grande and Forma, the deal comes just weeks after Forma filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the same time, r.e.m. is preparing an expansion into Sephora stores in Europe this month.
Kangol will be acquired by Bollman Hat Companyfrom Frasers Group. Bollman has owned the rights to produce Kangol headwear products since 2001. Now, it owns a 51% stake in the British brand. Frasers, the UK-based fashion retail brand, will maintain a 49% stake in the company and continue to sell Kangol in its stores. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Dolesold its fresh vegetables division to a brand owned by Chiquita for $293 million. The 3,000-employee division includes products such as lettuce, broccoli, salads and meal kits. It clocked $1.28 billion in revenue for the year ended Dec. 31, 2021. Now, its products and operations will be under the banner of Fresh Express, which is a subsidiary of Chiquita.Fresystem, a frozen pastry company specializing in croissants, was acquired by Ferrero Group, which owns Butterfinger, Nutella and other prominent confectionery brands. Fresystem makes pastries under its own brand, and also manufactures for third parties out of a Naples production facility. The two companies have been partners for several years, and are now set to join forces, Just Food reported. Terms were not disclosed.
Lowe'scompleted a deal to sell its Canadian retail business to the private equity firm Sycamore Partners. In Canada, the home improvement retailer's 450 stores and affiliate retailers will now operate as RONA Inc. The deal was first announced in November.
Trending in Brand News
Campbell Soup Company CEO Mark Clouse offered thoughts on messaging amid inflationary shifts in consumer behavior.
After months of elevated inflation and interest rate hikes that have the potential to cool demand, consumers are showing more signs of shifting behavior.
It’s showing up in retail sales data, but there’s also evidence in the observations of the brands responsible for grocery store staples.
The latest example came this week from Campbell Soup Company. CEO Mark Clouse told analysts that the consumer continues to be “resilient” despite continued price increases on food, but found that “consumers are beginning to feel that pressure” as time goes on.
This shows up in the categories they are buying. Overall, Clouse said Campbell sees a shift toward shelf-stable items, and away from more expensive prepared foods.
There is also change in when they make purchases. People are buying more at the beginning of the month. That’s because they are stretching paychecks as long as possible.
These shifts change how the company is communicating with consumers.
Clouse said the changes in behavior are an opportunity to “focus on value within our messaging without necessarily having to chase pricing all the way down.”
“No question that it's important that we protect affordability and that we make that relevant in the categories that we're in," Clouse said. "But I also think there's a lot of ways to frame value in different ways, right?”
A meal cooked with condensed soup may be cheaper than picking up a frozen item or ordering out. Consumers just need a reminder. Even within Campbell’s own portfolio, the company can elevate brands that have more value now, even if they may not always get the limelight.
The open question is whether the shift in behavior will begin to show up in the results of the companies that have raised prices. Campbell’s overall net sales grew 5% for the quarter ended April 30, while gross profit margins held steady around 30%. But the category-level results were more uneven. U.S. soup sales declined 11%, though the company said that was owed to comparisons with the quarter when supply chains reopened a year ago and expressed confidence that the category is seeing a longer-term resurgence as more people cook at home following the pandemic. Snacks, which includes Goldfish and Pepperidge Farm, were up 12% And while net sales increased overall, the amount of products people are buying is declining. Volumes were down 7%.
These are trends happening across the grocery store. Campbell is continuing to compete. It is leading with iconic brands, and a host of different ways to consume them. It is following that up with innovation that makes the products stand out. Then, it is driving home messaging that shows consumers how to fit the products into their lives, and even their tightening spending plans.
Campbell Soup is more than 150 years old, and has seen plenty of difficult economic environments. It is also a different business today, and will continue to evolve. At the end of the day, continued execution is what’s required.
“If it's good food, people are going to buy it, especially if it's a great value,” Clouse said.