Rohlik bags $231M despite the market cooling on food delivery startups

·5-min read

The salad days are over for many startups in the online food delivery sector. Following a long period of cash injections, splashy and high-profile promotions, and interesting experiments toying with the cutting edges of tech, these days, layoffs, M&A and dropping valuations are too often the stories you're more likely to hear about a lot of them. Today, though, comes an interesting exception: Rohlik, an online grocery delivery startup based out of Prague with some 1 million customers, is announcing that it has raised €220 million ($231 million at current rates), money that it will be using to continue investing in its current markets and its growth.

This is a Series D and it is being led by a new backer, Sofina, with previous investors -- Index Ventures and founder/CEO Tomáš Čupr are the two being named -- also participating.

The investment is coming at a tough time for the sector. Other big European players Getir and Gorillas have laid off staff; Deliveroo confirmed to us that it has frozen hiring; and others are consolidating with bigger rivals as their runways run out. Rohlik has pointedly noted with its announcement today that this Series D, happening during a "turbulent" time, is coming in at a higher valuation than its Series C.

However, it's declined to give a precise figure, so that could mean anything. When Rohlik last raised money -- $119 million almost exactly a year ago -- it was valued at €1 billion, which was $1.2 billion at the time, but that figure is now closer to $1 billion given the decline of the euro against the dollar at the moment.

Rohlik also noted that revenues were €500 million in 2021 (but declined to give current revenue numbers), and that it has been profitable in the markets where it operates in Hungary and the Czech Republic, respectively since 2021 and 2018.

"Series D in this tough market is a great achievement for Rohlik and the entire team. Without our great people, we wouldn't be in this position. This raise gives us a chance to emerge as a category winner in the next few years and I am excited about what lies ahead," said Čupr in a statement.

On-demand food delivery has been riding a wave of hype for the last couple of years, with the many different permutations of the model -- "instant" delivery, hot takeout from restaurants, hot takeout from cloud kitchens, groceries, booze and non-essentials, autonomous delivery robots, etc., etc. -- enabled by bags of money from investors; a strategy among a lot of players to flood the market to build out their delivery networks and get acquainted with more consumers by way of cut-price promotions; and of course a global health pandemic that led many people to stay away from visiting physical locations for their food fixes.

All of that has taken very clumsy downshift in the last several months, led by inflation and a very bearish-looking stock market, which has slammed all of the publicly listed online grocery players and put cascading pressure on the rest of the sector. In that context, this round seems to indicate that there is still a thesis being played out where investors believe that a handful of companies will emerge out of the wider field as the winners.

Hard truth time: Winners might be about who is performing the best, but there is also an argument to be made that it will just be those that have been leveraged the most. In other words, those that have attracted the most investment stand to be the biggest losses if they don't make it. (Rohlik has now raised more than half a billion euros, or over $500 million.)

Again, Rohlik did not disclose any figures on how it has grown over the last year, or current revenues, in its news announcement; but it notes that its 90-minute turnaround from ordering to door, with 15-minute time slots for booking, now covers 17,000 items.

As we've written about previously, Rohlik has some distinguishing details about its own approach in addition to its own slant on delivery times. Namely, it has taken on the production of a lot of the items it sells, like baked goods; and it also has a mission to work closely with local shops and small producers, so these should be factored into the unit economics of its model. Fresh produce, in fact, accounts for some 40% of its sales, which is higher than the average for grocery delivery companies and seems to be a point of pride for the company: perishables can be very tricky to get right, so the fact that Rohlik's selling them, and people are confidently buying them, says something.

The company is like Ocado in the U.K. in that it has taken a very methodical approach to growth. For its part, Ocado has not chosen to storm Europe, for example, but exports its tech to a number of partners around the world. Rohlik's method seems to mainly be grow slow. It is now active in Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Munich, Frankfurt and soon Hamburg, Milan, Bucharest and Madrid, but no country-wide blitzes appear to be in sight.

"This investment fits with Sofina’s strategy in the Consumer and Retail sector of providing capital to support growth opportunities alongside partners sharing common values and a vision to bring efficiency, choice and convenience of food retail to new levels", said Sofina’s CEO Harold Boël in a statement. "We’re looking forward to working with Rohlik, leveraging on our decades of investments in the sector as we believe its focus on local supply and on assortment will put it in a good position to capture a significant share in e-grocery, given consumers’ shift towards sustainability."

“We are very encouraged by Rohlik’s continued strong yet sustainable growth, having now reached profitability in two key markets," added Jan Hammer, a partner at Index Ventures. "This latest round of funding will allow the company to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them, as they double down on their investment in technology, accelerate expansion and consolidate market leadership.”

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