The Current, delivered daily.
Welcome to Dealboard. In this weekly feature, The Current is providing a look at the mergers, acquisitions and venture capital deals making waves in the ecommerce and consumer goods landscape.
This week, Walmart and Amazon make acquisitions, and 7-Eleven brings on a delivery platform. Meanwhile, key investment deals are backing technology for supply chain planning, sustainability and step-and-go shoes.
Geek+ raises $100 million for supply chain robotics
Warehouse robotics company Geek+ said it raised $100 million in an E1 financing round that values the company at over $2 billion.
Investors in this round include Intel Capital, Vertex Growth, and Qingyue Capital Investment. It follows a previously-undisclosed Series D round in 2021 that was led by CPE.
Beijing, China-based Geek+ makes robotics technology for storage, picking and sorting in logistics facilities. Capabilities also include material handling robots and unmanned forklifts. The company has also developed software platforms and a management system for its robots.
In 2021, the company said it had annual revenue of $150 million and over $300 million in orders. It is on pace to remain on a 100% year-over-year growth trajectory in 2022.
"Geek+ has passed the stage of simply pursuing scale and is now moving towards the stage of commercial success with profitability and positive cash flow,” said Yong Zheng, founder and CEO of Geek+, in a statement. "We are confident in our commercial success and future growth trajectory. The labor-intensive logistics sector has a strong demand for robotic automation, and the market is still largely underserved.”
Shopify invests in Klaviyo
Ecommerce software company Shopify made a $100 million strategic investment in marketing automation platform Klaviyo as the two companies announced a product tie-up. Alongside the investment, Klaviyo will become the “preferred email partner” for Shopify Plus, and receive early access to Shopify development features. Read what the deal means for Shopify’s app ecosystem here.
Forage raises $22 million for online SNAP payments
Forage, a payments processor enabling grocers to accept online SNAP payments, raised $22 million in a Series A funding round.
The funding round was led by Nyca, with participation from PayPal Ventures, EO Ventures, an angels including Instacart founder Apoorva Mehta.
As grocery ecommerce has grown, grocers have accelerated efforts to accept SNAP EBT payments, commonly known as food stamps, for online orders. But the vast majority of the 250,000 brick-and-mortar grocery stores that accept SNAP payments have yet to introduce digital options.
“This capital will help accelerate Forage’s mission to democratize access to government benefits. We’re proud of the technology we’ve built and are excited to expand the acceptance of SNAP EBT payments online for low-income Americans," Ofek Lavian, co-founder and CEO of Forage, said in a statement. ”Forage employs former Instacart and Freshop employees to assist grocers as they go through the US Department of Agriculture approval process to stand up this form of payments processing. It recently launched a Shopify app.
Separately, the USDA said it is offering $5 million in grant funding fro grocers through an award that is set to be announced this fall.
Kizik raises $20 million for step-and-go kids’ shoes
The round was led by The Newcastle Network, a consumer-focused private equity fund.
Following the round’s closing, the company launched Kizik Kids, a shoe that allows people to simply step into them – no bending over or tying laces required. The technology includes a heel that compresses when a person steps in, then springs back to fit to the foot.
The Lindon, Utah-based company has more than 100 patents and patents pending.
$7 million for Smarter Sorting
Sustainability-focused tech company Smarter Sorting raised $7 million in new funding from Regeneration.VC, an early-stage venture fund focused on climate innovation.
The round is an extension to a $25 million round led by G2 Venture Partners, which closed earlier this year.
Smarter Sorting makes technology that classifies consumer products based on chemical and ingredient makeup. This provides brands and retailers with information that can be used to power sustainability initiatives.
"Smarter Sorting's approach sheds much needed light on the chemical composition in our everyday consumer products and can lead to better product formulation, more circular pathways for waste streams, reduced emissions in shipping and handling of regulated products…all enables vital positive outcomes in the CPG and retail spaces,” said Michael Smith, Regeneration.VC's General Partner who joined Smarter Sorting's board of directors with the investment.
The funding will help the company further build out its team, digital products and data platform.
Bounty raises $4.7M for TikTok review monetization
Consumer tech fund M13 led the round. Participants included Sugar Capital, Interlace Ventures, and founders and executives from Rothy’s, Fabletics and Stack Commerce.
Founded in 2021, Bounty provides a way for any creator on TikTok to get paid for posting a review about a product that they purchase from a brand. Brands also pay out if they reuse content for marketing purposes. Posts are tagged “sponsored” in line with FTC requirements.
Bounty said it works with brands including Jones Road Beauty, BlendJet, Olipop and Doe Lashes.
Currently in beta, the company is looking to hire in engineering, design and marketing following the raise.
Shypyard raises $3 million for DTC business planning
Shypyard, a startup which provides business planning products and services for direct-to-consumer merchants, raised $3 million in a seed round.
Gradient Ventures led the funding, with participation from Liquid 2 Ventures. Angel investors that included current and former executives and founders at Shopify, BigCommerce and SnapCommerce also participated.
New York-based Shypyard’s planning tools are focused around providing accurate forecasting of inventory, supply, demand and replenishment.
“Digital transformation in global commerce has completely changed the way we buy and sell, but the space is still very fragmented which makes seamless planning for a complex supply chain very challenging,” said Sam Chuang, cofounder of Shypyard, in a statement. We’re here to change that.”
With the funding, the company will look to hire talent, expand development of products and accelerate onboarding of new clients.
Uber exits Zomato investment
Uber sold its stake in India-based food delivery firm Zomato for $392 million, Reuters reported. This comes about two-and-a-half years after Uber sold its food delivery business in India to Zomato in exchange for a roughly 10% stake in the larger company. In its second quarter earnings, Uber reported that it lost $707 million on the investment in the first half of the year.
MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS
Walmart acquires merchandising tech
Supply chain snarls put out-of-stock items in focus over the last year. With a new tech acquisition, Walmart is looking to help its supplier keep items available on the shelf.
In a brief news release issued Friday, Walmart announced the acquisition of Volt Systems. The company provides brands and suppliers with insights so that they can plan and optimize product assortment. The features offered by Volt include store-level data, actionable analytics and shelf intelligence, Walmart said. One result is reduced out-of-stocks.
“The deal affirms Walmart’s continued investment in technology and innovation that enables us to better anticipate customer demand,” Walmart stated. “We are acquiring Volt Systems outright, including the company, talent, technology, and customer agreements.”
Volt Systems’ LinkedIn page lists the company’s headquarters as St. Louis, Missouri. Further terms of the deal were not disclosed.
7-Eleven acquires Skipcart
Founded in 2018 out of San Antonio, Skipcart grew as a white-label delivery service, offering same-day and on-demand capabilities for industries ranging from food and beverage to ecommerce to pharmaceuticals to automotive. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
It gives 7-Eleven a delivery service under its own roof at a time of several intertwining developments in the rapid delivery sector: Services such as Uber and DoorDash are expanding delivery capabilities of non-food items, and inking partnerships with convenience stores. Meanwhile, instant delivery services like Gopuff are rising, even as their capital-intensive business models face challenges in the post-pandemic return to in-person activities.
Skipcart previously had a grocery delivery agreement with Walmart, but the two companies parted ways just before the onset of the pandemic and accompanying ecommerce boom in February 2020.
Amazon acquires the Roomba’s parent company
Amazon made its fourth-largest acquisition to date on Friday with the purchase of iRobot, the company that developed the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner. With the $1.7 billion deal, iRobot CEO Colin Angle will remain as head of the company. This comes just a couple of weeks after Amazon acquired the healthcare service One Medical. Read about how we think the two deals are connected here.
Sequoia Capital China acquires majority stake in Holzweiler
The Chinese arm of storied venture firm Sequoia Capital has acquired a majority stake in Norwegian fashion brand Holzweiler.
Cofounders Susanne and Andreas Holzweiler, and creative director Maria Skappel Holzweiler will retain a minority stake in the business following the deal. Further terms were not disclosed.
Having “built a dedicated fan-base for its well-constructed basics with a Scandi-chic edge” over six years, according to the Business of Fashion, the brand is now eying international expansion. This will include growing a physical retail footprint with stores in Denmark, London, the US and China. Holzweiler will also enter the Chinese ecommerce marketplace Tmall.
Grubmarket acquires fintech company
Founded in 2018, IOT Pay brings together an ecosystem that includes POS terminals, mobile payments, ecommerce, cross-border payments, CRM and order management software. It provides technology for brands including BMW, Mercedes Benz, Arby's, HMart, Sungiven Foods, Rolex and more.
Current management, including founder and CEO Leo Chen, will continue to lead the business following the acquisition.
GrubMarket supplies fresh food to consumers through a delivery service, as well as wholesale options and SaaS products for businesses.
"This is a huge milestone in GrubMarket's history,” said Mike Xu, CEO of GrubMarket, in a statement. “It reminds me of the old days when eBay acquired PayPal. Every great eCommerce company has offered seamless payments solutions to their customers, and we have now acquired the capability to do so as well.”
Trending in Operations
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.