UPDATED: April 2, 13:45 EST, to include latest news about Luckin Coffee’s fraud investigation.
Last year didn’t see a repeat of 2018’s outsize transactions, like Meituan Dianping’s $1.5 billion pre-IPO raise. Also contributing to the decrease in investment in 2019 were China’s slowing GDP growth rate, its ‘trade war’ with the US, and the ongoing African swine fever outbreak.
It was also a more modest year in terms of agrifood IPOs. As with 2018, all of 2019’s Chinese listings in the sector were in the Premium Branded Foods & Restaurants category. The largest was the $561 million New York debut of tech-enabled coffee chain Luckin Coffee, which has recently admitted it’s investigating internal fraud after its chief operating officer was found to have fabricated transactions to the tune of $310 million. The company’s stock price fell 80% today on the back of that admission, according to CNBC and other news outlets.
While the overall trend suggested a downturn in both funding and the number of deals being done, some segments saw an uptick.
Most of the categories that grew in investment value were upstream. These included Midstream Technologies; Farm Management Software, Sensing, & IoT; and Novel Farming Systems. While total investment into upstream categories halved in dollar terms compared to 2018, the number of deals grew by 44%.
Another promising development saw large corporates and state-owned enterprises massively increase their investment in food and agriculture, almost quadrupling their outlay from $11.9 billion in 2018 to $44.1 billion last year.
In terms of deal value, eGrocery led the way. A whopping 60% of all investment in dollar terms went to startups in this category, which also accounted for 25% of all deals done in 2019, with 51 transactions.
The next three leading categories were In-Store Retail & Restaurant Tech, with $424 million invested across 22 deals; Premium Branded Food & Restaurants ($400 million, 44 deals); and Midstream Technologies ($336 million, 39 deals).
Here are the top three deals by investment value in each of the four leading categories:
- MissFresh – Backed by Goldman Sachs, Tencent, Lenovo, and Tiger Global, China’s biggest agrifood funding round of 2019 saw this e-commerce player secure $700 million in debt funding from the Changshu regional government.
- Yipin Fresh – Tencent led this ‘smart retail’ startup’s $298 million round last March, which also saw participation from Meituan Dianping affiliate Longzhu Capital.
- Benlai Life – This Beijing-based fresh produce e-commerce portal raised $200 million in a round led by Mingde Holdings, which is also a majority shareholder of Shenzhen-based logistics giant SF Express.
In-Store Retail & Restaurant Tech
- Ubox – Alibaba-affiliated Ant Financial led a $225 million investment in this operator of internet-enabled vending machines.
- Zaihui – This Shanghainese provider of marketing automation software banked $50 million in Series C funding from Ceyuan Ventures, Lightspeed China Partners, and YF Capital.
- Kitchen Core – Lan Fund led this ‘smart dishwasher’ startup’s $33 million raise in December.
Premium Branded Foods & Restaurants
- Luckin Coffee – The ‘digital-first’ coffee chain became the fastest IPO in history when it listed on New York’s NASDAQ in May, just 20 months after launching operations. Just a month earlier it raised $150 million in Series B-plus money from investors including private equity giant BlackRock and Singapore sovereign fund GIC.
- Jiumaojiu – BlackRock also came in on this multi-brand restaurant operator’s $55 million Series F round in December, less than a month before its Hong Kong IPO.
- Hefu Noodle – Uniquely offering a fast-casual dining concept within a bookstore-library setting, this Jiangsu noodle joint raised $31 million from undisclosed investors in July.
- Yijiupi – Taking both first and second place in the top Midstream Technologies deals, this online wholesale platform for alcohol and food products raised $100 million from Warburg Pincus last March, followed by an $80 million injection from Tencent five months later.
- Xinliangji – A wholesaler and solutions provider to the seafood restaurant industry, this startup banked $42 million in Series B investment from Eastern Bell Capital, Frees Fund, and Sino-Ocean Capital last July.