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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, a longtime Whole Foods tastemaker closes a new fund to invest in food and beverage brands, while logistics technology continues to pick up steam with investors and ecommerce unicorns are seeing valuations fly even higher. Meanwhile, Everlane secured a loan, Intermix has a new owner and Nestle is spinning off a meal delivery business.
Rokt valued at $2.4 billion
Ecommerce tech firm Rokt saw its valuation rise to $2.4 billion following a “secondary transaction” that followed the company’s $325 million Series E.
The latest financing was led by Square Peg and Wellington Management.
Rokt’s technology delivers messages at the moment when customers are most likely to convert. This year, it has added customers including Uber and AMC. Going forward, it plans hiring across the globe, and a second product development center in North America.
"Despite broader market declines in valuations, we continue to see rapid growth in Rokt driven by new ecommerce partners and an uplift from advertisers," said Bruce Buchanan, CEO of Rokt in a statement. "Due to the challenging economic climate, ecommerce companies are focusing on more relevant customer experiences that improve economics and deliver new revenue. This has further propelled Rokt's growth and we're pleased to see this expression of support from existing investors as Rokt looks towards an IPO."
Locus Robotics raises $117M for fulfillment automation
The financing was led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management and G2 Venture Partners. It brings the company’s valuation close to $2 billion.
Locus provides a fleet of robots that work alongside humans with piece‐handling, case-handling, and pallet-moving. It has more than 90 customers worldwide in retail, 3PL and specialty warehousing.
Saltbox raises $35M for logistics enablement
The round was led by media company Cox Enterprises and Pendulum, a firm that supports founders and leaders of color. Also participating were Playground Global, XYZ Capital, Fundrise, Kapor Capital, Wilshire Lane Capital, Colliers, Lincoln Property Company, Flexport and Overline.
SaltBox already expanded its warehouse network to 10 cities in 2022, and plans two more. It also opened a fulfillment hub in Dublin, Ohio, which it says enables members to reach two-thirds of the US population with two-day shipping. The funding will support development of the company’s core technology stack, which powers a logistics software platform for businesses.
OneRail raises $33M for last-mile logistics visibility
OneRail cofounders Bill Catania and Lisa Catania. (Courtesy photo)
The financing was led by Piva Capital and Arsenal Growth Equity, with participation from Trimble Ventures, the corporate capital venture fund of construction, agriculture and transportation firm Trimble, ATD and existing investors including Ironspring Ventures, Las Olas Venture Capital, Bullpen Capital, Triphammer Ventures/Alumni Ventures Group, Gaingels and Mana Ventures.
OneRail provides a delivery operating system to businesses including retailers and CPGs. This is designed to match the order with the right shipping mode and courier or carrier network.
“Since our Series A round in 2021, we’ve grown revenue year-over-year by 312 percent and have expanded service to over 330 U.S. cities,” said OneRail CEO and cofounder Bill Catania, in a statement.
With the funding, the company plans to develop new platform capabilities, and expand in sales marketing and solution engineering.
Everlane secures $25M loan
Everlane, the digitally native apparel company, secured a $25 million loan from investment firm Gordon Brothers. According to the company, the loan will be used to support a decade of growth at Everlane.
“Gordon Brothers’ flexible approach will help build a better capitalized business that matches the strength of Everlane’s underlying brand,” said Bill Wafford, CFO of Everlane, in a statement.
New Fare Partners closes $20M fund to invest in early-stage food and beverage businesses
The firm is led by Elly Truesdell, who led innovation at Whole Foods Market as the global director of local brands and product innovation and served as a partner at venture fund Almanac. Co-leading is Hallie Bonnar, who was the head of marketing at Almanac. Truesdell and Bonnar also served as leaders of Made by Nacho, the cat food brand founded by star chef Bobby Flay.
Along with Made by Nacho, the fund has invested in the retailer Foxtrot, Mexican brand Tacombi, Japanese barbecue sauce company Bachan’s and functional chocolate bar Mid-Day Squares.
A news release detailed the investors in the fund:
New Fare’s investor group consists of prominent LPs, many of whom are former founders themselves, including Walter Robb, former Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market; Bobby Flay, Chef/Restaurateur and Entrepreneur; Kathleen King, Founder of Tate’s Bakeshop; Gary Hirshberg, Founder of Stonyfield Organic; Andrew Abraham, Founder of Orgain; Gabi Lewis, Founder of Magic Spoon; Charlie Sweat, Former CEO of Earthbound Organics; David Barber, Partner at Astanor Ventures, Co-Owner/Founder of Blue Hill and Almanac, and Nick McCoy, Founder and Managing Director of Whipstitch Capital. Advisors include Michael Dubin, Founder and Former CEO of Dollar Shave Club; Lily Chang, PE Industry Executive; and Christina Minardi, Global EVP, Growth & Development at Whole Foods Market.
Buckzy Payments raises $14.5M for cross-border payments
Buckzy Payments, a cross-border payments company, raised $14.5 million in a Series A round.
The financing was led by Mistral Venture Partners and Uncorrelated Ventures, with participation from new investors Luge Capital and Blue 9 Capital, and existing investors Revel Partners. As part of the round, former Xoom and PayPal Karim Gillani, who is currently a general partner at Luge Capital, will become a board advisor.
Founded in 2018, Buckzy is growing a payment network that works with traditional banks to disburse funds to over 80 countries. It has 140 customers, including traditional banks, neobanks and fintechs.
“We’re on a mission to build the plumbing for real-time money movement globally, the same way high-speed internet fundamentally shifted the communications industry,” said said Abdul Naushad, founder and CEO of Buckzy, in a statement.
Smoodi raises $5M for smoothie makers
The funding was led by an investment group from former distributor Keith Canning. Participating were FCP Ventures, UnderscoreVC, Allston Venture Fund, WSPR Fund, Phoenix Club and a group of angel investors that included former Nespresso president Frédéric Levy and Blue Rhino founder Billy Prim.
The company’s smoothie-making machines use robotics to mix together the fruits, vegetables and protein infusion of a smoothie and serve it. It is available in convenience stores, offices, restaurants and other retailers. With the funding, the company is planning to scale nationwide, with the aim to reach thousands of locations through a partnership with food distribution giant Dot Foods.
Stony Creek Colors raises $4.8M for plant-based indigo
Stony Creek Colors' indigo crops
The financing was led by growth equity firm Lewis & Clark AgriFood and apparel giant Levi Strauss Co., which has been a collaborator with the company for five years.
Stony Creek makes 100% bio-based indigo, with a model that allows traceability to the farm level. It grows the indigo on over 500 acres of farmland in Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida, where farmers use it as cover crop as they rotate soil.
MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS
Nestle to spin off meal delivery business
Two years after acquiring Freshly, Nestle is set to spin off the meal delivery business.
According to Food Processing, Nestle plans to combine Freshly with Kettle Cuisine in a joint venture led by investment firm L Catterton.
Nestle acquired Freshly for $950 million at the height of ecommerce demand in 2020, but it has not met objectives and is now operating in an environment with higher customer acquisition costs, CEO Mark Schneider said at Nestle’s recent investor day.
Deodorant brand Type:A acquired
UK-based brand incubator DCB Lab acquired clean personal care brand Type: A, according to Beauty Matter. Type: A makes aluminum-free deodorant and personal care products that have earned over 8,000 five-star reviews. DCB Lab plans to expand the brand to the US.
Tannico purchased by LVMH Moet Hennessy, Campari
Tannico, an ecommerce company for wine and spirits, was acquired by LVMH Moet Hennessy and Campari in a deal that gives the firms 100% control of the company through a joint venture, Reuters reported.
In 2020, the spirits brands purchased a 49% stake in the company, then created the joint venture.
"With this operation, we confirm our commitment to making Tannico the leading European platform in the sale of wines and premium spirits," said Bob Kunze-Concewitz, CEO of Campari.
Trafilea acquires The BodCon to expand body confidence mission
Founded by talent management and influencer relations entrepreneurs Jess Hunichen and Emily Ward, The BodCon will plan to continue its mission under Trafilea’s leadership.
“Trafilea has invested significantly in furthering the body confidence movement through its products and campaigns, making it an incredibly aligned partner,” Hunichen and Ward said, in a statement. “We feel strongly that Trafilea's resources and international reach will allow The BodCon to become an even larger and more powerful voice within the body confidence community."
Intermix sells to PE firm
Intermix, a multibrand store, is set to be acquired by the private equity firm Regent L.P., according to WWD. Intermix is currently owned by Altamont Capital Partners, which acquired the 30-location company from Gap in 2021. The sale comes as Intermix became the latest retailer to hit difficult financial straits. WWD reported that 60 employees were laid off from Intermix, and payments to vendors were paused. Interim CEO Karen Katz also stepped down last month.
“Intermix has been faced with too much inventory, a slowdown in sales, improperly budgeting for overall expenses and a highly competitive and challenging retail environment,” WWD reported.
Trending in Economy
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.