VC reactions to COVID-19: Agrifood sector

The points noted here are taken from a group discussion set up with firm Principals/Partner level members from the firms displayed below (“the Contributors”), and comments are not attributed to any individual.

The information is not confidential and may be disclosed to third parties at the discretion of the Contributors, except that no information contained herein may be disclosed, quoted, referred to, published or delivered, in whole or in part with the Media.


Macro trends

  • No clear consensus yet emerging on the duration of a Covid-19 lockdown, or timeline for return to ‘normal’ but managers are looking to a slow recovery in the funding environment. Pandemic recessions may be V-shaped historically but companies need to plan for cyclical closing and re-openings of the economy, plus disease incidence in the wider workforce and community. The impact of delays in Agriculture can mean missing seasons of work, which could compound capital runway issues.
  • Government lobby efforts could be very important to help improve the ecosystem for startup/innovation-led companies. Beyond PPP, there is a need to look at targeted efforts to support them. Examples could include a greater effort on Rural Broadband to enable greater connectivity.
  • M&A activity is also expected to be a ‘mixed bag’ but major companies noting they are still looking opportunistically in this environment, especially in distressed situations.
  • Companies with high burn and expecting to turn to IPO markets will face meaningful headwinds continuing their funding track and may have to make difficult choices. High capex model companies will struggle to raise new funding, and depending on the shape of a recovery could be at more significant risk of cash out.

Financing trends

  • Many managers will be in wait and see mode on New deals for next 60–90 days; some deals that were already well advanced are still progressing, but investors are also reconsidering terms such as valuation, tranches, use of funds, etc.
  • Adverse selection to raising capital now from outside investors ie: is something wrong with the company if they have to raise fresh money at the worst possible time.
  • Investors noted in looking at both current and new deals, assessing syndicate ‘health’ is becoming a critical factor in determining investment.
  • Smart CEOs/founders tending to value speed to closing over valuation or deal ‘optimization’.

Agritech specific trends

  • Precision Ag, Smart Farm Equipment, Imagery, Sensors, Software analytics — we are seeing more “steady as she goes” with portfolio companies reporting that they are still making sales and proceeding with rollout in the 2020 season. That said, with pressure on budgets, any such applications must have a critical value proposition and clear value in the season to warrant attention. Also given f2f nature of sales, farmers are not adding new relationships.
  • R&D/Life Science focused companies — these are different from companies with commercial (revenue) milestones and face fewer supply chain disruptions, though field trialing is likely to be impacted; we are seeing financing rounds continued with science-driven milestones. The value inflections in these types of companies are perceived differently vs commercial customers eg: revenue and supply chain disruptions. But still expect increased runway needs due to milestone impacts. We are seeing companies with Lab facilities running multiple shifts with social distancing to keep up progress but at ~50% of progress vs plan.
  • High value produce: growers are experiencing major hits to revenue with perishable products caught out by shutdown of the restaurant/foodservice sector; putting an even sharper focus on automation/robotics infield, but investors remain mixed over whether the economics will pencil for investment by venture. Likely to help greenhouse and vertical/CEA farming momentum.

Foodtech specific trends

  • Channel digitization is being accelerated: a generation is being trained on shopping for their food in this way. As this channel becomes more familiar, it will increase the need for differentiation, especially in Grocery and Meal Kits.
  • Foodservice and restaurant tech companies are being particularly hard hit. Many restaurants will close through or as a result of the crisis. Cloud Kitchens are likely beneficiaries of a change in consumer demand and business model reaction to the impact on real estate models.

General comments

  • For many younger entrepreneurs who have not experienced a recession (as many of the investors in this group noted) the new environment on funding appetite, timelines and likely valuation impacts may take some getting used to; very different to the last 5 years of “up and to the right”.
  • Funds with recent closings and liquidity expect to see a lot of opportunities in this new normal but are also expressing the need for strong discipline in deal fundamentals.
  • Rural America will likely be a major focus for the Government in terms of economic stimulus which should generally be a tailwind for startups and funds focused in the geographies “between the Coasts”.

This summary is being provided by the Contributors for informational purposes only and does not constitute investment or financial advice. The Contributors assume no liability related to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this summary, and shall under no circumstances be or become liable to any recipient for errors, inaccuracies or omissions in the information presented herein, or for any consequences that may be suffered by any recipient as a result of the receipt of, or reliance upon, such information.

$100m venture fund backed by Kraft Heinz to invest in early stage technology companies disrupting the food industry