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News for May 13, 2020

Recent Transactions in the Nutrition and Health & Wellness Industry:

UK noodles-in-a-cup brand crowdfunds a £1.75M more

Mr. Lee’s, a United Kingdom-based instant noodle brand that launched in the United States last month (Santa Monica, California), has raised £1.75 million ($2.2 million on May 4) on the equity crowdfunding platform Seedrs. That brings its total to £6.5 million ($8.1 million on May 4) raised so far in four rounds of fundraising on the platform. Its 220 investors include Henry Soesanto, CEO of the international food company Monde Nissin Corp. (which acquired Quorn in 2015), and Bart Sayle, former head of innovation at Unilever. Mr. Lee’s gourmet instant Vietnamese rice noodles come in a handful of varieties featuring freeze-dried vegetables and spices. They’re all gluten free, void of artificial preservatives and lower in calories, salt and saturated fat than competitors, according to the brand. The new cash will fuel international growth and further development of hot noodle vending machines. 


Restaurant supplier Cheetah raises $36M, pivots to serve Bay Area consumers

In the time of COVID-19, no-contact delivery is more important than ever. Cheetah (San Francisco, California) is equipped with a new $36 million investment to expand its wholesale food and supply pickup and delivery service. Though it was initially launched in 2015 as a wholesale delivery service for independent restaurants and small businesses, Cheetah leveraged its existing technology to launch a direct-to-consumer contactless pickup service just before California’s shelter-in-place order went into effect. Consumers order food and other essentials using an app, then pick up their order at a designated drive-through location. Cheetah’s series B was led by Eclipse Ventures and also included backing from ICONIQ Capital, Hanaco Ventures and Floodgate Fund. 


The next big alt protein? Investors bet $4.6M on duckweed

As momentum in the sustainable protein space mounts, Plantible Foods (Bay Harbor Islands, Florida) is getting ready to toss its hat into the ring. The company has developed a complete, plant-based protein from duckweed, which it calls one of the most protein-efficient crops in the world. Its protein ingredient is neutral tasting and mimics the functionality of animal proteins, making it usable in a number of products, from dairy alternatives to beverages. Now, with a $4.6 million financing round led by Vectr Ventures of Hong Kong and Lerer Hippeau of New York, the company has its eyes on commercialization, with the hopes of making its protein available to customers by the end of the year. FTW Ventures and eighteen94—the venture capital arm of Kellogg—also got in on the round. 


Wildtree’s affordable meal solutions sold to Altair Acquisitions

Altair Acquisitions (Frisco, Texas), an alternative asset investment firm founded last year, has acquired the material assets of Wildtree Inc. (Lincoln, Rhode Island). Wildtree manufactures allergen-sensitive spices, oils, mixes, sauces and meal-replacement products that are mostly non-GMO, organic and Kosher. Altair says the deal will enable Wildtree to grow its product offerings and enter new markets. In a statement, Altair said, “The company is benefiting substantially from the trend toward subscription-based product delivery and online retailing of innovative food products. We plan to leverage that in significant ways.” 


Plant-centric Growthwell grabs $8M to launch chickpea-based alt seafood line

With $8 million from investors, plant-based food and ingredient firm Growthwell Group (Singapore) is readying a new R&D and manufacturing facility and launching a chickpea-based alternative seafood line. Growthwell has been collaborating with food tech startup ChickP (Rehovot, Israel) to leverage its chickpea protein isolate in the product line, which will be free of allergens, gluten, lactose and hormones. Since its founding in 1989, Growthwell has been manufacturing vegetarian food products for businesses in Singapore, Australia, India and the U.S. Temasek led the $8 million round, while DSG Consumer Partners, Insignia Venture Partners and Genesis Ventures joined in. 


Sustainable packaging made from sugarcane waste attracts $2.2M

Packaging startup Varden (Melbourne, Australia) has plans to replace single-use plastics in products such as coffee pods with fully compostable materials made from plant waste. That’s attracted the attention of Horizon Ventures, the Hong Kong-based investment firm that was started by famed businessman Li Ka-shing. Horizon has just put $2.2 million behind Varden to help it ramp up manufacturing of its first product, coffee pods. Next, the company will turn to medical blister packs. Varden is keeping its process under wraps but says the material it creates from sugarcane waste is paper-like and functions like plastic. 


Square Organics, Rebbl founders team up on DTC coffee concentrate startup

Andrew Gordon, cofounder of Square Organics, and Palo Hawken, cofounder of Rebbl, have dreamed up what they hope will be the next big thing in coffee. Backed by an investment from PowerPlant Ventures, the pair have launched a direct-to-consumer venture called Jot (Boulder, Colorado). Jot, an acronym for just one tablespoon, refers to the company’s concentrated coffee product, which can be mixed with water or milk to make a cup of coffee instantly. Ultra Coffee—made from organic, fair-trade beans—comes in 200 ml glass bottles that can make up to 14 cups. 


Premama’s pregnancy supplements find investor support

Canadian firm District Ventures Capital announced an investment of an undisclosed amount in women’s supplement brand Premama Wellness (Providence, Rhode Island). Premama is a past NCN presenter known for its product line crafted for women at each stage of pregnancy, from fertility boosters to lactation supplements. While it’s estimated that 97% of pregnant women take prenatal vitamins during their pregnancy, Premama sees opportunity to support women’s nutrition during the entire pregnancy journey. Its products use non-GMO, gluten-free and vegan ingredients, and are free of artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. The investment will allow the company to continue to grow with additional marketing and business development support.


Yamaha, Mark Cuban back sensor technology to fight food waste

Strella Biotechnology (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) has completed a $3.3 million seed round that it will use to refine its technology and expand into the retail distribution market. The startup uses biosensors and internet of things technology to monitor and predict the ripeness of fruits along the supply chain, with the goal of helping fruit packers and retailers maximize freshness and minimize food waste. Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley, the investment arm of Yamaha Motor Co., co-led the round with Catapult Ventures. Union Labs, Mark Cuban, Red & Blue Ventures and Art Masher also participated. Prior to the seed round, Strella won the $100,000 Penn President’s Innovation Prize at University of Pennsylvania and won several other local and national innovation contests. 


Plant-based investors target European vegan meat startup Heura

New Crop Capital, an early stage venture fund focused on alternatives to conventional animal agriculture, has added the self-proclaimed “fastest-growing vegan meat startup in Europe” to its portfolio. The fund led a convertible note round for Foods for Tomorrow (Barcelona, Spain), which makes vegan chicken and beef alternatives under the brand name Heura. Vegan investment firm Capital V also participated in the round. In addition to the convertible note, Heura also received an undisclosed amount of funding from Spain’s government in January. 


Krave jerky bought back by founder John Sebastiani’s Sonoma Brands

Sonoma Brands, a company started by entrepreneur John Sebastiani to invest in and develop new snack brands, has acquired the Krave artisanal jerky brand from Hershey. Sebastiani started Krave in 2009 and sold it to Hershey for $220 million in 2015. Specifics of the deal were not disclosed. The Krave product lineup now includes nine varieties of meat jerkies, two plant-based jerkies and two varieties of pork rinds. Sebastiani told Forbes that the brand has retained a strong foothold in the meat snacking market and says there’s still room for new innovation. Sonoma Brands’ portfolio also includes Smashmallow, Peckish, Dang and Hu chocolate. 


Knowde gets $14M to bring the chemical industry online

Sequoia Capital has led a $14 million series A round for Knowde (San Jose, California), a startup that’s building an online marketplace for the chemicals and ingredients industry. Refactor Capital, Bee Partners, Cantos Ventures and Knollwood Investment Advisory also participated. More than 700 chemical producers list their products on the Knowde marketplace, which the company calls an “online raw materials catalog.” Buyers can search for ingredients, request samples, get quotes and purchase products through the marketplace. It’s currently serving three verticals but plans to expand within the year to 10 verticals, including food, pharmaceuticals and personal care. 


Grain-free bakery grows with $1.9M investment

Since it was founded in 2018, Unbun Foods (Toronto, Canada) has become a leader in grain-free, gluten-free and keto-friendly baked goods, with distribution in more than 2,500 restaurants and grocers in the U.S. and Canada. Currently, its lineup includes grain-free baguettes, hamburger buns, pizza crusts and tortillas. A new $1.9 million investment led by Canaccord Genuity will fund development of new products and a ramp-up in production.


TSG adds on to digital fitness services portfolio

TrueCoach (Boulder, Colorado) has built a digital platform that provides more than 15,000 club owners and personal trainers with workout planning, delivery, tracking and communications tools to use with their clients. The health-and-fitness software provider has been acquired by TSG, a portfolio company of Advent International. TSG offers revenue management solutions across a number of industries. This acquisition builds on its previous buys of boutique fitness software providers Mariana Tek, Triib and Zingfit.


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