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Oatly carton in dungarees
Image credit: Oatly

Oprah, Jay-Z becoming keen foodtech funders after joining Blackstone for $200m Oatly round

July 15, 2020

Swedish alt-milk maker Oatly has raised $200 million in a funding round led by Blackstone Growth, the new growth equity vehicle of US investment giant Blackstone Group.

Dutch bank Rabobank‘s Rabo Corporate Investments and New York-based Orkila Capital also joined the round, alongside a bevvy of celebrity investors including TV personality Oprah Winfrey, rapper Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation, Hollywood star Natalie Portman, and former Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz.

Oatly’s co-founders also participated in this latest round of investment, which reportedly values the company at around $2 billion and could see it accelerate plans for an IPO.

The Malmö-based business was originally launched back in the 1990s, built around research carried out at Lund University. It produces a plant-based dairy alternative from oats by using enzymes “that [copy] nature’s own process” to transform the cereal into milk and other products.

Oatly’s co-founder talks on scaling alt-milk and the need for local food production. Listen to the interview here

Relaunching as a sustainability-centric consumer brand in 2013, Oatly says it currently employs close to 550 staff in Europe, Asia Pacific, and North America, and its products are available in over 50,000 locations across 20 countries. The latest funding will be used to expand its presence in existing markets and open new production facilities in all three regions, as well as to hire talent to fill new roles created by this growth plan.

“Leaders in asset management like Blackstone play an essential role in order to create real sustainable change. It is my belief that capital has to turn green and do so for the right reasons,” Oatly CEO Toni Petersson said in a statement.

“I understand that it may sound naive at times to actually believe that Oatly can change the world — that the impact of what we do can inspire others to make changes that will lead to a global behavioral shift among consumers — but that’s fine. Investments from firms like Blackstone […] is a critical step in securing a future of focused green investment that transcends traditional [corporate social responsibility] work and focuses on urgent, systemic efforts to address the climate crisis.”

Keen foodtech funders

Celebrity investors appear to have become increasingly active in the VC space in recent years, with Winfrey and Jay-Z in particular turning their interest to foodtech and agtech startups of late.

In May, TV host and producer Winfrey participated in the $250 million raise by US food waste reduction startup Apeel Sciences. That round also saw investment from pop star Katy Perry and Singapore sovereign fund GIC. Winfrey also backed 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 has invested in several startups in an individual capacity, as well as through other vehicles including his entertainment label Roc Nation and its VC arm, Arrive.

Earlier this year Arrive invested in Super, an Indonesian social commerce platform that recruits users as agents to purchase in bulk from farmers and food suppliers, and sell the products on to their local communities.

Last December, Arrive participated in Kopi Kenangan‘s $20 million Series A round. The Indonesian ‘digital first’ coffee chain also secured investment from tennis player Serena Williams and basketball player Caris LeVert, along with founder and CEO of US takeout salad chain Sweetgreen, Jonathan Neman. Kopi Kenangan’s Series A was among the top 10 VC deals in Southeast Asian foodtech last year, according to AgFunder’s recently released 2020 ASEAN Agrifoodtech Investment Report.

Arrive has also invested in Washington DC-based Sweetgreen, which counts Fidelity Investments, T. Rowe Price, and Lone Pine Capital among its other backers.

Jay-Z, Winfrey, Perry, and Williams are among a plethora of celebs to have invested in plant-based patty sensation Impossible Foods. Others that 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.

Oatly reportedly raised around $40m last year, though the deal and identities of the investors were not publicly disclosed. It earlier received funding from Strand Equity Partners, the Baltic Sea Foundation Industrial Fund, and CR Verlinvest Health Investment, a joint venture between Belgium’s Verlinvest and Hong Kong-based China Resources Group.

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