Economy

Dealboard: New ventures from Marc Lore, Allyson Felix raise funds

Plus, Grove Collaborative goes public and Mondelēz buys Clif Bar.

people shaking hands

(Illustration via The Current)

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, ecommerce entrepreneur Marc Lore raises $350 million for a new venture that aims to transform food delivery, Unilever forms a new venture to create plant-based ingredients for soaps and detergents and Grove Collaborative makes its debut as a publicly-traded company.

Check out the details on the latest deal activity:

Marc Lore’s Wonder raises $350 million

a person standing in a van door holding a bag of food

A Wonder delivery. (Courtesy photo)

Wonder, a food delivery startup founded by entrepreneur and former Walmart ecommerce head Marc Lore, raised $350 million in a Series B round.

The funding was led by Bain Capital Ventures, with participation from investors including Forerunner, Amex Ventures, Yieldstreet, Harmony Partners, and Watar Partners, among others; with participation from existing investors GV, NEA, Accel, General Catalyst and Alpine Group. The round values the company at about $3.5 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Launched six months ago, Wonder combines food trucks and partnerships with well-known chefs to create mobile restaurants that arrive at a customer’s home and prepare orders.

Currently operating in New Jersey, the service is available in 22 towns to more than 130,000 households, Lore wrote in a LinkedIn post announcing the investment. The company has created 19 mobile restaurant chains, and partnered with chefs including Bobby Flay, Nancy Silverton, Michael Symon to create the menus for these ventures.

The size of the round caught the attention of many in the investment world for its size, especially as it came against the backdrop of warnings that venture capital is becoming less plentiful with a possible economic downturn on the horizon. Lore has something that investors prize in any macro environment: A track record of leading ecommerce companies to exit. He founded Diapers.com parent Quidisi and sold it to Amazon in 2010. Then, he founded Jet.com and sold it to Walmart for $3.3 billion in 2016. Lore went on to become CEO of US ecommerce at Walmart through 2021.

With Wonder, Lore's stated goal following the funding round is to stick with regional expansion in the short-term. The company plans to open 11 more mobile restaurants in the next year, and expand to more regions in the Tri-State area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. In the long-term, Lore told WSJ that the company wants to be the "super app for food."

“Wonder has a real opportunity to not only completely change how people eat, but also to create a better future with access to the world’s best food in a convenient, affordable, and sustainable way,” Lore wrote.

Grove Collaborative goes public

On June 16, Grove Collaborative became a publicly-traded company on the Nasdaq.

The sustainability-focused consumer products company went public through a merger with Virgin Group Acquisition Corp. II, a special purpose acquisition company founded by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

The transaction included an $86 million PIPE investment from new and existing Grove investors including Lone Pine Capital, Sculptor Capital Management, General Atlantic and Paul Polman.

Launched in 2016, Grove curates a marketplace of more than 150 eco-friendly products in categories including household cleaning, personal care, laundry, clean beauty, baby and pet care. This includes a mix of its own brands and third-party brands.

"Our path to profitability is clear and we will continue to advance our mission to transform consumer products into a positive force for human and environmental health. We expect the inevitable transition away from single use plastic will only accelerate as consumers increasingly demand more sustainable options, and Grove is leading the charge,” said Stuart Landesberg, Chief Executive Officer of Grove, in a statement.

Mondelēz International to acquire Clif Bar for $2.9 billion

Snack food maker Mondelēz International announced plans Monday to acquire nutritious energy bar company Clif Bar in a deal valued at $2.9 billion, bringing Clif, Luna and Clif Kid under its umbrella.

The deal will create a snack bar division valued at over $1 billion for Chicago-based Mondelēz, and adding to the company's foothold in "sustainable snacking."

“This transaction further advances our ambition to lead the future of snacking by winning in chocolate, biscuits and baked snacks as we continue to scale our high-growth snack bar business," said said Dirk Van de Put, Chairman and CEO of Mondelēz International, in a statement.

With the deal, Clif Bar will retain its headquarters in Emeryville, California, and production facilities in Twin Falls, Idaho, and Indianapolis, Indiana.

Clif Bar was founded in 1992 by Gary Erickson, who came up with the idea for a new energy bar while on a bike ride, according to the company's website. He and business partner Kit Crawford stepped aside as CEO in 2020 as former Tyson Foods exec Sally Grimes took the reins.

In 2000, the company received a prior offer of acquisition from Quaker Oats, but Erickson turned them down. The asking price: $120 million.

Unilever’s joint venture with Genomatica seeks palm oil alternatives

Consumer goods company Unilever is entering a joint venture with biotech company Genomatica as it seeks sustainable yet scalable alternatives for a key ingredient in its products.

The $120 million venture will aim to create alternatives to palm oil and fossil fuel-derived cleansing ingredients that are key to the formulations of cleaning and personal care products because of their ability to lather and lift dirt. Used in a wide variety of products, palm oil is among the cornerstone commodities that have seen prices on the rise in recent months, and it is a driver of deforestation that contributes to climate change, according to the World Wildlife Federation.

The venture aims to leverage biotechnology from Genomatica to create plant-based ingredients for Unilever, which houses a variety of soap and detergent brands used in households every day.

“This new venture will sit at the intersection of science and sustainability, meaning we can continue to grow our business without relying only on palm oil or fossil fuel derivatives, while also making our supply chains more resilient from having access to ingredient alternatives,” said Unilever Chief R&D Officer Richard Slater, in a statement. “We will be marrying science and nature to make sure there is no tradeoff for our consumers between the efficacy and sustainability of their products.”

Little Leaf Farms raises $300 million

Inside a greenhouse growing lettuce

A Little Leaf Farms greenhouse. (Courtesy photo)


Sustainable packaged lettuce brand Little Leaf Farms raised $300 million in new capital.

The financing included equity funding from The Rise Fund, an impact investing arm of the prominent firm TPG, and debt funding from Bank of America.

Little Leaf Farms grows lettuce 365 days a year at a greenhouse in Devens, Massachusetts. It uses a controlled environment agriculture approach that includes soil-free hydroponic farming, captured rainwater, natural sunlight and solar-powered energy.

Following the funding, the company is planning to open a new greenhouse in McAdoo, Pennsylvania. This new farm will enable it to offer its products through the Northeast United States, and reach 3,500 retail stores. It set a goal of expanding to a total of 100 acres in its greenhouses by 2026.

PostScript raises $65M Series C for SMS marketing

PostScript, a startup which provides SMS marketing for Shopify stores, raised $65 million in Series C funding.

The round was led by 01 Advisors, the venture capital firm of prominent tech investor and former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. It included participation from Twilio Ventures, Expanding Capital and m]x[v Capital, as well as existing investors at Greylock, Accomplice, Elephant and OpenView.

Founded in 2019, PostScript developed technology that allows brands to send text messages to customers. It found a foothold when the pandemic arrived, as brands looked for new marketing approaches to reach customers in their homes, according to a blog post from company president Alex Beller announcing the deal. PostScript now works with over 8,000 brands, including Brooklinen, Homesick, Native, Spikeball and Kopari. TechCrunch reported that the company currently has 230 employees, up from 61 in 2021.

Going forward, the brand plans to add new features, offer brands solutions to take action and develop best practices for SMS marketing.

“We believe that the future of SMS marketing is not just about sending mass advertisements to customers,” Beller wrote. “It’s about texting with them. It’s about customization. It’s about interactivity. It’s about optimizing your strategy—from copy to timing.”

Allyson Felix’s Saysh raises $8 million

Allyson Felix speaking at a podium

Allyson Felix (Photo by Doha Stadium Plus Qatar, used under a Creative Commons license)

Saysh, the lifestyle brand “by women, for women” founded by Olympic track legend Allyson Felix and her brother Wes Felix, raised $8 million in a Series A round.

The financing was led by specialist consumer fund IRIS and Athleta, the performance lifestyle brand of Gap Inc. Redpoint Ventures and Springbank Collective also participated. Springbank brought together a group of angels to invest through a special purpose vehicle. These investors include gender and policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter, New York Road Runners CEO Kerin Hempel and Sabia Wade, founder of The Black Doula and Black maternal health advocate.

Saysh focuses on championing women, and released a debut sneaker called the Saysh One. It also operates the Saysh Collective, a community that offers access to product drops, connections with others, workouts and member perks.

Following the funding round, the brand plans to scale in ecommerce, wholesale distribution and retail. It also plans to expand its product line, including the launch of several new sneakers.

With the deal, Gap Inc. has acquired an equity stake in Saysh, and the brand’s footwear will be featured on Athleta.com. The partnership between Allyson Felix and Athleta dates to 2019, when the brand signed Felix as its first sponsored athlete after she left Nike over its treatment of pregnant women.

Metaverse fashion platform SKNUPS raises $3.5 million, partners with Dolce & Gabbana

SKNUPS, a digital collectibles platform for fashion and beauty creators, raised $3.5 million in pre-seed funding.

The financing included participation from web3 and fashion influencers. It brought together angel investors and traditional funds, including Redrice Ventures, Blue Wire Capital and Adelpha.

Along with the funding, SKNUPS said it signed a partnership with iconic fashion house Dolce & Gabbana to bring the Italian company’s style into video games.

The London-based company’s technology creates digital collectibles with 3D fashion models that are available across web2 and web3. Its platform also provides infrastructure to release these collectibles through approaches such as NFT drops. The company said it is planning to announce more collabs with brands and fashion leaders in the near future.

“Brands and creators who want to establish a scalable presence in digital worlds have to balance high-end with access,” said SKNUPS CEO Fred Speirs, in a statement. “Fashion in the metaverse should be accessible beyond a small core of celebs and high net worth VIPs to communicate the transformative power of style and craftsmanship to the next generation of fans.”

ReturnGO raises $6.5 million to help brands manage returns, and offer alternatives

people sitting outside

The ReturnGO team. (Courtesy photo)

AI-powered returns management platform ReturnGO raised $6.5 million in a seed round.

The round for the Tel Aviv, Israel-based company was led by TPY Capital fund, along with participation from funds including Cresson, Good Company, SeedIL and Aristagroa. Angel investors such as Yuval Tal, Dan Adika, Benny Schneider and Haim Bar-On also joined the round.

Founded in 2020, ReturnGO makes a SaaS platform that helps brands manage returns and exchanges for products sold on ecommerce sites. It offers a customer-facing interface that offers several return alternatives that are tailored to behavior patterns. According to the company, these include:

  • Return the product and receive a full refund
  • Get an incentive to buy another product from a data-driven personalized list
  • Donate the product to a social organization

The company's technology has been implemented in 1,500 Shopify stores, including Decathlon.

“We have been able to turn returns from a painful financial problem into a lever of revenue and improve the relationship with customers,” Aviad Raz, cofounder and CEO of ReturnGO, said in a statement. “Most customers who return products and receive a full refund suffer from a slow and cumbersome process, and will probably not buy again on this site – so the damage is greater than just the canceling of a specific transaction."

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