Bollywood star Deepika Padukone is both an investor and brand ambassador for dairy startup Epigamia. Image credit: Drum Foods

Bollywood stars show that agrifoodtech investing isn’t just for US celebs

July 27, 2020

Indian actors Genelia D’Souza and Riteish Deshmukh have launched a plant-based protein brand in their home country, marking just the latest celebrity foray into agrifoodtech in recent months.

The startup co-founded by the Bollywood duo — who also happen to be married to one another — is called Imagine Meats, and it will focus on developing animal-free versions of archetypal Indian dishes including biryanis, curries, and kebabs. The startup is supported by the Good Food Institute’s India chapter, and has already struck up a product development and ingredients partnership with US food processing and commodities company Archer Daniels Midland.

It wasn’t disclosed if the couple are backing Imagine Meats with their own money or if it has raised external investment.

Celebs eye agrifood

Earlier this month, AFN reported on the growing interest in agrifood investing among US celebrities, particularly in the alt-protein space.

Entertainment stars Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z, and Natalie Portman participated in Oatly‘s recent $200 million raise, joining the likes of Blackstone and Rabobank to back the Swedish alt-milk maker.

Hip hop mogul Jay-Z has invested in a number of other food and agriculture-related startups, many of them via his entertainment label Roc Nation and its VC arm, Arrive.

Earlier this year Arrive invested in Super, an Indonesian social commerce platform that enables local communities to group-buy products in bulk from farmers and food suppliers.

This followed Arrive’s participation in the $20 million Series A round raised by Kopi Kenangan last December – one of the top 10 VC deals in Southeast Asian agrifoodtech in 2019, according to AgFunder’s recently released 2020 ASEAN Agrifoodtech Investment Report. Arrive was joined in that round by tennis great Serena Williams’ Serena Ventures and basketball star Caris LeVert.

No market for alt-protein in ‘veggie’ India? Think again, study says – read more here

Arrive has also invested in Washington DC’s grab-and-go salad chain Sweetgreen, which counts Fidelity Investments, T. Rowe Price, and Lone Pine Capital among its other backers.

TV host and producer Winfrey joined in the $250 million round raised by US food waste reduction startup Apeel Sciences back in May, alongside pop star Katy Perry and Singapore sovereign fund GIC. In fact, Winfrey has been backing food-related ventures for a few years now; she invested in wellness-focused US restaurant brand True Food Kitchen in 2018, and acquired a $43.5 million stake in weight-loss program Weight Watchers in 2015.

Jay-Z, Winfrey, Perry, and Williams are all investors plant-based meat substitute maker Impossible Foods. Other celebs to have backed the company include musicians Common and, American footballer Kirk Cousins, basketball player Paul George, New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson, and TV stars Mindy Kaling, Trevor Noah, Kal Penn, and Phil Rosenthal.

Keeping up with the Deshmukhs

As the Deshmukhs have shown, it isn’t only US celebs who are hopping on the agrifood funding train. In India, too, Bollywood stars have been funnelling investment into the sector, seeing it as an increasingly compelling long-term bet and as a way to make a social and environmental impact with their hard-earned millions.

In May last year, Bollywood actor Arjun Kapoor invested in, a startup which allows users to order homecooked meals. The food is prepared at stay-at-home moms and wives who sign up to Foodcloud’s network in order to earn some extra cash. “It not only boosts household income leading to a better lifestyle but also drives gender parity for the woman at home or in her neighborhood,” Kapoor said at the time.

Model-turned-actress Deepika Padukone first invested in food startup Drum Foods, which does business as Epigamia, in May 2019. Her family firm, KA Enterprises, joined its $25.6 million Series C round alongside the likes of Danone, with Padukone signing up as a brand ambassador for the company. Starting out with Greek yoghurt, Epigamia has since moved into other premium dairy offerings such as smoothies and artisanal curd. KA Enterprises re-upped in March this year.

Movie star and 1994 Miss World winner Aishwarya Rai — along with her mother — recently invested ₹10 million ($134,000) into environmental intelligence startup Ambee. The Bangalore-based company uses its own network of sensors and third-party data sources to analyze factors such as air quality, humidity, pollen count, precipitation, and soil conditions, with farmers making up one of its target audiences.

Sukhbir Singh — a Bollywood pop and movie singer known as ‘the Prince of Bhangra’ — invested in the $200,000 seed round raised by LQI, a tech-enabled beverage startup, last August. Gurgaon-based LQI sources fruits and vegetables direct from farmers to produce ‘raw’ milkshakes, smoothies, and flavored waters. These are manufactured using a proprietary process that eliminates the heat and oxidation treatments, as well as additives, often used to mass-produce such beverages.

Actor Rana Daggubati has taken a slightly different route into agrifood funding by teaming up with VC firm Anthill Ventures to launch consumer product-focused accelerator Urban-i. Revealed earlier this year, Urban-i’s first cohort features several food-oriented startups, including subscription-based organic supplier Living Food Company, mealkit maker Tasty Tales, and SoulFuel, which offers low-sugar protein supplements made from dates.

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