Join the Newsletter

Stay up-to date with food+ag+climate tech and investment trends, and industry-leading news and analysis, globally.

Subscribe to receive the AFN & AgFunder
newsletter each week.

bellwether coffee roaster
Image credit: Bellwether Coffee's Facebook page

Bellwether Coffee checks sustainability, fair wage boxes for impact fund DBL

September 12, 2019

Bellwether Coffee has a dream team of sustainability and coffee experts and is addressing a large market ripe for improvement. It fits squarely into DBL’s investment themes regarding greener ag, better economics to farmers, and the electrification of everything,” Nancy Pfund, managing partner at DBL Partners, tells AFN. The Californian startup makes electric, ventless internet-connected coffee roasting machines. 

Bellwether’s cuts out the middleman in the coffee trade, by allowing businesses to do their own roasting on-site. It gives cafes or grocery stores exclusive access to its online marketplace for beans – a privilege that comes along with the purchase of a roaster, which is sold for $75,000 or leased for $1,000 per month. 

DBL, a San Francisco-based impact VC firm, invested ‘just under $14 million’ in Bellwether’s $40 million Series B, which it co-led with SolarCity co-founders Peter and Lyndon Rive. Additional contributors include FusionX and Congruent Ventures. This brings Bellwether’s total funding to $56 million, after a $10 million Series A last summer. Pfund will also be joining the startup’s board of directors.

“We are thrilled to be working closely with DBL, Lyndon and Peter Rive to help accelerate our already rapid growth,” said Bellwether’s CEO, Nathan Gilliland, in the official release. “We expect in-store roasting at cafes and grocery locations to become the rule, not the exception.”

Snapshot: What’s Bellwether Coffee all about?

  • Cuts out the middleman in the coffee trade by providing eco-friendly roasters, allowing businesses to roast on-site
  • Also gives access to a marketplace for beans
  • Has around 140 customers in the US and Canada, and plans to expand to SE Asia, Europe

Bellwether users have remarked on how simple it is to operate, even for coffee newbies. It’s ventless and electric, programmable via an iPad, and also incorporates inventory management tools and data analytics from its connected software.

The Series B goes towards concentrating Bellwether’s efforts on increasing incomes for coffee farmers and eliminating roast processes that are ‘harmful’ to the Earth. Bellwether said its machine produces 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions when compared to traditional gas-powered alternatives. Pfund told us that it was these very goals that ‘checked’ the firm’s boxes, while it was mulling its investment.

“The coffee supply chain currently does not deliver either on sustainability or adequate compensation for farmers. And Bellwether Coffee checks these boxes very explicitly,” added Pfund. 

Check out this opinion piece by VP of agriculture at Eka, Shuchi Nijhawan, on the adoption of digital agriculture in the coffee industry, here.

In addition to disrupting the coffee supply chain, Bellwether says the infusion of VC funding also goes to meeting global demand for its roaster, me included. (Joe Gan loves his cuppa Joe, after all!) I tried getting in touch with them to get my grubby hands on a Bellwether but was put on a waiting list.

“At this time, we are only taking reservations for the Bellwether in the US and Canada, but if it is ok by you, I would love to keep you on our list to reconnect with when we are ready to enter new markets,” said representative, Rachel Lindsay, in an email. What impressed me, however, was the team’s dedication to their vision.

“Whenever we open in a new market, we will uphold our strong service standards, which we believe are part of the price one pays to lease or own the machine. Just as soon as we are coming closer to the date when we can export internationally to your area and uphold this level of service, I can make you aware of pricing and availability,” added Lindsay. 

I’m looking forward to your email, Rachel, when Bellwether launches in Southeast Asia next year (is Singapore included?). Apart from that, it also plans on expanding its operations to Europe. 

Know a startup or tech that’s also revolutionizing the world’s coffee trade? Drop me an email at [email protected].

See Bellwether’s roaster in action over on Vimeo.

Join the Newsletter

Get the latest news & research from AFN and AgFunder in your inbox.

Join the Newsletter
Get the latest news and research from AFN & AgFunder in your inbox.

Follow us:

AgFunder Research
Join Newsletter