Lettuce celebrate the rise of indoor agriculture.
In the past few months AppHarvest, a developer of greenhouse tomato farms went public through a special purpose acquisition vehicle, vertical farming giant Plenty raised $140 million, and now Gotham Greens, which is developing its own network of greenhouses, is announcing the close of $87 million in new funding.
These new agriculture companies certainly have a green thumb when it comes to raising a cornucopia of capital.
Gotham Greens latest round takes the company to a whopping total of $130 million in funding since its launch. Investors in the round included Manna Tree and The Silverman Group.
While App Harvest has taken to tomatoes in its attempt to ketchup with the leading agricultural companies, Gotham Greens has decided to let its hydroponically grown leafy greens lead the way to riches.
The company said it would use the latest funding to continue developing more greenhouse across the U.S. and bring new vegetables to market.
“Given increasing challenges facing centralized food supply chains, combined with rapidly shifting consumer preferences, Gotham Greens is focused on expanding its regional growing operations and distribution capabilities at one of the most critical periods for America,” said Viraj Puri, the co-founder and chief executive of Gotham Greens, in a statement.
The company already sells its greens in over 40 states and operates greenhouses in Chicago, Providence, R.I., Baltimore and Denver. From those greenhouses the company distributes to 2,000 retail locations including Whole Foods Markets, Albertsons stores, Meijer, Target, King Soopers, Harris Teeter, ShopRite and Sprouts.
And Gotham Greens has already begun to expand its product portfolio. The company now sells packaged salads, cooking sauces, and salad bowls in addition to its greens.
Assorted packages of Gotham Greens lettuces on a white field. Image Credit: Gotham Greens
After tumbling earlier today, Beyond Meat shares are shooting upward on news that the company did indeed collaborate with McDonald’s on its new McPlant vegetarian menu.
McDonald’s made waves this morning when it announced its new McPlant, and the company’s statement, which said that the new plant-based patty and chicken substitute formulation was made in-house, caused Beyond Meat shares to slide.
However, McDonald’s overstated its own role in the creation of its McPlant, which was actually developed in conjunction with Beyond Meat, according to a statement provided to CNBC.
Beyond Meat shares turn sharply higher after spokesperson for the company says “Beyond Meat and McDonalds co-created the plant-based patty which will be available as part of their McPlant platform."https://t.co/RqHoNhOrlt pic.twitter.com/cVkE7m5hAf
— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) November 9, 2020
The stock has been on a roller coaster today, with shares sliding on fears that it had been rebuffed by McDonald’s and then rising on the clarification that it was involved in the process.
The partnership seems like a win for the alternative protein provider, which is locked in a meaty competition with its privately held rival, Impossible Foods, for fast food burger chain dominance.
However, there’s still more news from Beyond Meat that’s coming later today as the company announces its latest earnings report.
The numbers could have investors asking, “Where’s the beef?”
If it seems like Beyond Meat’s sausages, patties and chicken offerings are cropping up everywhere, that’s because they are. The company announced a deal with the Jamaican patty company Golden Krust, and expanded its partnership with KFC both in the U.S. and in China, where the chain sells a Beyond Burger.
However, the number of protein replacement competitors continues to expand with startup companies galore looking to pitch meatless alternatives to the burger. The Spanish company Heura has a new meat alternative that it boasts can replicate the fatty texture of meat with fewer ingredients than the first generation of suppliers.
Meanwhile, vegetarian spam has made its way onto McDonald’s menus in Hong Kong, a meatless chicken brand, Nuggs, is going direct to consumers, and Tyson Foods and Kellogg’s are both making vegetarian alternatives.
McDonalds is developing what it calls a plant-based platform called the McPlant that will debut in markets around the world early next year, according to a report in USA Today.
In an investor meeting McDonald’s announced that it had worked to develop its McPlant formulation exclusively. “McPlant is crafted exclusively for McDonald’s, by McDonald’s,” Ian Borden, McDonald’s international president, said at an investor meeting, quoted by USA Today.
The company’s special formulation could extend across plant-based products including burgers, chicken-substitutes and breakfast sandwiches, according to Borden.
To date, McDonald’s has been a laggard in the corporate fight over plant-based burgers and chicken — at least in the U.S.
In McDonald’s around the world — including locations in Germany, the UK, Hong Kong, Israel, Canada, and Finland — diners under the golden arches can find a vegetarian sandwich option.
Indeed, in Canada, McDonald’s launched a pilot last year with Beyond Meat for the PLT sandwich (a play off of the company’s previous sandwich the McDLT, I’m assuming).
Compared to some other fast food chains in the US, McDonald’s has been something of a laggard. Burger King has worked with Impossible Foods to launch the Impossible Whopper and Beyond Meat has partnered with KFC on a plant-based nugget.
The two leading alternative protein makers have done a fairly good job of carving up the fast food market to date — but McDonald’s entry with its exclusive formulation must come as a blow to the companies (and the other startups that were hoping for a bite of McDonald’s food empire).
That includes startups like Chile’s the Not Company and Hong Kong’s Green Monday Holdings, which have both been vying for McDonald’s plant-based patty business.
A former CFO of the state of California, Steve Westly is passionate about government. The onetime eBay exec and early Tesla board member has also been a proponent of clean energy for roughly 30 years, so he’s feeling optimistic right now, with former U.S. VP Joe Biden amassing a growing number of electoral votes and widening his lead over Donald Trump as he inches toward an election win.
We talked earlier today with Westly, who founded the venture firm The Westly Group 13 years ago and which is currently raising up to $250 million for a fourth fund, according to SEC paperwork filed earlier this week. We wanted to know whether he thinks Biden will be able to achieve any part of his climate plan in the likely scenario that Republicans continue to control the Senate. We also wondered what he makes of VCs leaving California, and where he sees the most opportunities right now. We kicked off our conversation with the news of the day. Our chat has been edited lightly for length.
TC: As we talk, Joe Biden looks to be on the cusp of winning the U.S. presidential election while Donald Trump continues to tweet about taking his claims about a rigged election to the Supreme Court. Are you concerned about that rhetoric, given that Republicans don’t seem to be pushing back against it?
SW: You have to be worried about such things, but I think most people are looking at the big picture. This is not going to be a 270 to 268 [electoral college] vote. Biden might get 290 to 306 [electoral votes]. It’s a decisive difference. He also received more than 4 million more [popular] votes than Trump. The people have spoken, and they’ve spoken loudly.
There are rules in most states that say if you aren’t within a percent or half a percent — I think [Biden has a] 1.6% [advantage] in Nevada and 1.4% [lead in] Arizona right now — there won’t be a recount. I think his lead in Pennsylvania will rise to 100,000, so the window [for a Trump win] is diminishing pretty quickly.
I am also seeing more Republican officials, like Senator Bob Toomey of Pennsylvania, saying that ‘we count the votes, we follow the rules, what the president is doing is irresponsible, and it’s time to move on.’
TC: Has the Westly Group’s mandate has changed over time? When the firm was first formed, it was one of the only pure ‘cleantech’ venture firms.
SW: Sustainable energy has become the new hot thing and it makes me laugh because I’ve been involved in energy for 30 years [including in government roles]. I wrote two books on the future of energy in the ‘80s, so I’ve been at this a bit.
Our thesis continues to be that there are revolutions occurring in smart energy, mobility and smart buildings, and they are being driven by renewable energy, which costs less than carbon-based fuels in virtually every part of the world today, from the U.S. to India to Africa. That’s not a political statement; it’s a fact.
Fully 70% of new energy coming online now is sustainable, so people are smart to pay attention to that. Because costs are going down and the cost of storage is going down precipitously — the cost of lithium ion batteries came down so much that we reached an inflection point in 2018, and the cost of a kilowatt per hour costs less than $150 now — everybody is going electric.
Carmakers haven’t wanted to say this publicly because it freaks out shareholders, but we’re headed toward a world where the majority of energy will be sustainable in the near future and most of the cars will be electric, and that will happen a lot faster than people think.
Buildings play a key role, too, because they’ve historically been dumb; now they’re digitized buildings with power storage, and soon every home, building, hospital, and university [will run off digitized energy] and you‘ll see arbitrage happening continuously between buildings, homes, and vehicles, where people won’t pay a penny for electricity or gasoline every again. A decade ago when I said this, people thought I was nuts, but now California requires that all newly constructed homes must have solar panels.
TC: What does all this lost revenue mean for PG&E, the company that powers most of Northern California and whose infrastructure is already crumbling and causing wildfires?
They should follow the lead of smart utilities like Duke [a Westly Group investor] and European companies that are moving beyond traditional revenue streams to new revenue streams. Every utility today has a menu, and if yours only features electricity ions and gas molecules, that’s not a good menu. It’s like saying we have soup and meat, period. These companies should have a special menu for residential customers and a different menu for commercial and industrial customers and they should be thinking about installing power walls and putting solar on roofs; they should be thinking long-term contracts, like even financing electric vehicles.
TC: PG&E is in a bad spot, but California may be, too, as a lot of people leave the Bay Area, citing taxes, among other reasons. Are you worried about a broader movement out of the state and what it could mean?
SW: This is the big question of the next 10 years. California is about to face a wall of debt. We’ve gone from a surplus to what could be a $40 billion deficit in a very short period [because of COVID-19].
This year will be covered a little because there’s still an active IPO market [as capital gains are taxed the same as income, making the state heavily dependent on the stock market]. But there are 12.6 million Americans out of work, and a disproportionate number of them are in California, so likely a Democrat-controlled legislature will try and start to pass a series of taxes.
Prop 15 [which would have taxed properties based on their current market value rather than purchase price and would have increased property taxes on commercial properties] failed, so this will be an ongoing issue. Still, if we continue to raise taxes, we run the risk of losing entrepreneurs to other states. I know firsthand many friends who have moved to Austin. We need to have a balanced approach to managing out expenses without pushing people off to other states.
TC: Any bright ideas on that front?
SW: I was the CFO of California, and your option beside taxing more is spending less. Those are the choices.
Longer term, we need a major overhaul of the tax system so we aren’t aren’t so dependent on capital gains, which is a roller coaster system where when you hit a trough in the market, you have to go and lay off a bunch of teachers, then try to hire them back when the economy is better.
TC: It’s looking like Joe Biden is going to win the election, but there’s also a strong chance that he’ll be working with a Republican-controlled Senate. Meanwhile, climate change was not in the top five concerns for voters of either party. Does this can get kicked down the road again?
No, it just means they’ll have to work together and that he’ll have to go directly to the issues that are most popular to get them through.
Trump had no clue that sustainable energy is immensely popular today and that some of the states that used to block green initiatives — including Texas, North Dakota, and South Dakota — are increasingly becoming wind and solar powers, such that their senators who used to say, ‘natural gas forever’ are also saying that solar and wind are employing more and more people in their states.
TC: What do you see as first steps?
SW: Biden will bring the U.S. back into the Paris climate agreement. You’ll also see him at the front of this global movement toward the electrification of everything, and there will be support for EVs and support for sustainable energy.
You’ll also see some sort of penalties or restrictions on carbon-based fuels because of the increased data we have that carbon in the atmosphere is causing public health problems, reducing air quality and that large insurance companies are having to pay for [these things]. Now that Munich Re and others say, ‘We pretty much know what the cost is, and we’re charging you back,’ the government can use that data to charge carbon producers appropriately.
TC: Traditional energy companies– the biggest carbon emitters — say they’ve resolved to address this problem. Do you think that’s mostly optics?
SW: A lot is optics, but it’s also a realization that you either change your business model or you go down with the ship. You don’t want to take the Kodak approach. You want to be Apple and reinvent yourself.
Startups that produce lab-grown meat and meat substitutes are gaining traction and raising cash in global markets, mirroring a surge of support food tech companies are seeing in the United States.
New partnerships with global chains like McDonald’s in Hong Kong, the launch of test kitchens in Israel and new financing rounds for startups in Sydney and Singapore point to abounding opportunities in international markets for meat alternatives.
In Hong Kong, fresh off a $70 million round of funding, Green Monday Holdings’ OmniFoods business unit was tapped by McDonald’s to provide its spam substitute at locations across the city.
The limited-time menu items featuring OmniFoods’ pork alternatives show that the fast food chain remains willing to offer customers vegetarian and vegan sandwich options — so long as they live outside of the U.S. In its home market, McDonald’s has yet to make any real initiatives around bringing lab-grown meat or meat replacements to consumers.
Speaking of lab-grown meat, consumers in Tel Aviv will now be able to try chicken made from a lab at the new pop-up restaurant The Chicken, built in the old test kitchen of the lab-grown meat producer SuperMeat.
The upmarket restaurant doesn’t cost a thing: it’s free for customers who want to test the company’s blended chicken patties made with chicken meat cultivated from cells in a lab that are blended with soy, pea protein or whey, according to the company.
Milk substitutes are a $1 trillion category and Perfect Day is angling to be the leader in the market. Iger’s ascension to a director position at the company just affirms that Perfect Day is a big business in the big business of making milk replacements.
Unlike almond milk or soy milk companies, Perfect Day is angling to be a direct replacement for bovine dairy using a protein cultivated from mushrooms.
The move comes as Perfect Day ramps up its development of consumer products on its own and through investments in startups like the Urgent Company. That’s the consumer food company Perfect Day backed to commercialize technologies and create more sustainable food brands.
For Iger, the Perfect Day board represents the first new board seat the longtime entertainment powerbroker has taken since he left Apple.
“Innovation and leadership are both key to world changing ideas,” said Iger, in a statement. “Perfect Day has established both innovation in its use of technology and novel approach to fighting climate change, and clear leadership in building a category with a multi-year head start in the industry they’re helping to build. I’m thrilled to join at this pivotal moment and support the company’s swift growth into new categories and markets.”
Iger joins Perfect Day’s co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi, and representatives from the company’s international backers and lead investors, Aftab Mathur, from Temasek Holdings, and Patrick Zhang, of Horizons Ventures.
Until yesterday, Perfect Day was the most well-capitalized protein fermentation company focused on dairy in the world. That’s when Impossible Foods, the alternative meat manufacturer which has raised $1.5 billion from investors, unveiled that it, too, was working on a dairy product.
Perfect Day, by contrast, has raised $360 million in total funding to-date.
“We’re thrilled to have Bob Iger join our team, and are confident his tenured operational expertise and visionary leadership style will further help us scale our ambitions,” said Ryan Pandya, the chief executive and co-founder of Perfect Day, in a statement. “We’re focused on rapid commercialization in the U.S. and globally. But we know we can’t do it alone. That’s why we’re excited and humbled to have a proven leader like Bob to help us thoughtfully transform our purpose-driven aspirations into tangible and sustainable impact.”
Amazon has launched a new program that directly pays consumers for information about what they’re purchasing outside of Amazon.com and for responding to short surveys. The program, Amazon Shopper Panel, asks users to send in 10 receipts per month for any purchases made at non-Amazon retailers, including grocery stores, department stores, drug stores and entertainment outlets (if open), like movie theaters, theme parks, and restaurants.
Amazon’s own stores, like Whole Foods, Amazon Go, Amazon Four Star and Amazon Books do not qualify.
Program participants will take advantage of the newly launched Amazon Shopper Panel mobile app on iOS and Android to take pictures of paper receipts that qualify or they can opt to forward emailed receipts to firstname.lastname@example.org to earn a $10 reward that can then be applied to their Amazon Balance or used as a charitable donation.
Amazon says users can then earn additional rewards each month for every survey they complete. The optional surveys will ask about brands and products that may interest the participant and how likely they are to purchase a product. Other surveys may ask what the shopper thinks of an ad. These rewards may vary, depending on the survey.
The program is currently opt-in and invite-only, and is also only open to U.S. consumers at this time. Invited participants can now download the newly launched Shopper Panel app and join the panel. Other interested users can use the app to join a waitlist for an invite.
Image Credits: Amazon
Consumer research panels are common operations, but in Amazon’s case, it plans to use the data in several different ways.
On the website, Amazon explains it “may use” customer data to improve product selection at Amazon.com and Whole Food Market, as well as to improve the content selection offered through Amazon services, like Prime Video.
Amazon also says the collected data will help advertisers better understand the relationship between their ads and product purchases at an aggregate level and will help Amazon build models about which groups of customers are likely to be interested in certain products.
And Amazon may choose to offer data to brands to help them gain feedback on existing products, the website notes.
Image Credits: Amazon
The program’s launch follows increased scrutiny over Amazon’s anti-competitive business practices in the U.S. and abroad when it comes to using consumers’ purchase data.
Amazon came under fire from U.S. regulators over how it had leveraged third-party merchants’ sales data to benefit its own private label business. When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testified before Congress in July, he said the company had a policy against doing this, but couldn’t confirm that policy hadn’t been violated. The retailer may also be facing antitrust charges over the practice in the E.U..
At the same time, Amazon has been increasing its investment in its advertising business, which grew by 44% year-over-year in Q1 to reach $3.91 billion. That was a faster growth rate than both Google (13%) and Facebook (17%), even if tiny by comparison — Google ads made $28 billion that quarter and Facebook made $17.4 billion, Digiday reported.
As the pandemic has accelerated the shift to e-commerce by 5 years or so, Amazon’s need to better optimize advertising space has also been sped up — and it may rapidly need to ingest more data that what it can collect directly from its own website.
In a message to advertisers about the program’s launch, Amazon positioned its e-commerce business as a small piece of the overall retail market — a point it often makes in hopes of avoiding regulation:
“In this incredibly competitive retail environment, Amazon works with brands of all sizes to help them grow their businesses not just in our store, but also across the myriad of places customers shop. We also work hard to provide our selling partners—and small businesses in particular—with tools, insights, and data to help them be successful in our store. But our store is just one piece of the puzzle. Customers routinely use Amazon to discover and learn about products before purchasing them elsewhere. In fact, Amazon only represents 4% of US retail sales. Brands therefore often look to third-party consumer panel and business intelligence firms like Nielsen and NPD, and many segment-specific data providers, for additional information. Such opt-in consumer panels are well-established and used by many companies to gather consumer feedback and shopping insights. These firms aggregate shopping behaviors across stores to report data like average sales price, total units sold, and revenue on tens of thousands of the most popular products.”
The retailer then explained that the Shopper Panel could help it to support sellers and brands by offering additional insights beyond its own store.
Amazon doesn’t say when the program waitlist will be removed, but says anyone can sign up starting today.