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Indian unicorn companies scramble to raise funds to brace tough times

Over the last few weeks, Swiggy, Zomato, and Amazon have raised money to strengthen their e-grocery business in the country.

Indian food delivery startups Swiggy and Alibaba-backed Zomato are scrambling to beef up their cash reserves as they look to tap the e-grocery opportunity in India, which is currently under nation-wide 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of novel coronavirus.

Bengaluru-based Swiggy on Monday said it has raised USD 43 million from Tencent and a cohort of South Korean investors including Ark Impact, Korea Investment Partners, Samsung Ventures, and Mirae Asset Capital Markets. With the latest funding, the homegrown food delivery startup has closed its USD 156 million Series I round, led by existing investor South African internet giant Naspers.

While Tencent poured in about USD 19 million, the rest have written smaller cheques between USD 5-10 million. The new round brings Swiggy’s total investment to date to USD 1.42 billion, at a valuation of USD 3.6 billion.

“As we continue to strengthen and expand our services that offer unparalleled convenience to our consumers, we are humbled by the faith shown by our investors year-on-year and welcome the new investors on board,” Rahul Bothra, CFO at Swiggy, said in a statement. “Our focus remains to execute on our vision while building a sustainable path to profitability.”

Arch-rival Zomato has also raised USD 5 million from a UK-based fund Pacific Horizon Investment Trust, according to the recent regulatory documents. Industry sources put the company’s valuation at close to USD 3.2 billion. Prior to this, the Gurugram-headquartered company had raised USD 150 million in January from Ant Financials, Indian internet company Info Edge, Sequoia Capital, and Singapore government-backed Temasek Holdings. Of the total, only around USD 50 million has hit Zomato’s bank account, a report by local media Economic Times (ET) said. In December last year, the company had said it would raise USD 600 million in a month or so, but the target is still far away.

This comes at a time when both, Swiggy and Zomato, are seeing a steep decline of about 70% in orders as the majority of restaurants remain shut due to lockdown and customers avoid ordering in due to coronavirus scare. However, Swiggy is trying to turn the situation around by focussing on e-grocery delivery, which is allowed by the government during the lockdown. The company had entered hyperlocal delivery space with the acquisition of milk-delivery startup Supr Daily in 2018. It doubled down on the segment last year with its twin hyperlocal services: Swiggy Stores and Swiggy Go.

The company recently said it was looking to expand its grocery services to about 150 cities from three at present. Zomato, on its part, has partnered with online grocery platforms, Bigbasket and Grofers, to roll out an e-grocery service on its app.

Swiggy and Zomato are not alone in preparing for a long drawn battle for India’s soon-to-be USD 17.02 billion food-tech market, which is currently dominated by Alibaba-backed Bigbasket and SoftBank-backed Grofers. American online retail giant Amazon, which has been strengthening its e-grocery operations in India for the last couple of years, has also invested USD 37.5 million in Amazon Retail which sells food and grocery items.

The US-based company had approved the capital infusion in its Indian subsidiary last month when the country was under partial lockdown, an ET report said. In October 2019, Amazon had put in USD 22.7 million in the food and grocery retail unit, which is instrumental in strengthening its e-grocery services: Amazon Pantry and Amazon Fresh.

With millions of Indians stuck at home, Amazon has witnessed a rapid rise in orders over the last few weeks. After a brief pause on taking orders from customers, the company has restarted deliveries in selected areas of about 40 cities.

In the last few years, Amazon has put its weight behind the grocery business in India, one of its most important markets. It first entered the grocery delivery segment in 2016 with Prime Now. By mid-2018, it geared up to expand the service and launched Amazon Pantry on its main shopping app with the delivery time of one to two days. In August last year, Amazon brought its 12-year-old global e-grocery offering Amazon Fresh to India with a promise to deliver grocery items in two hours. All its effort are now paying off as the e-grocery is the only business it can rely on during the ongoing 21-day lockdown that has suspended all non-essential services including e-commerce activities.