In the thick of the covid-19 pandemic that is shuttering retail stores and putting millions of people out of work, some consumer investors say their portfolios are not entirely gloom and doom.
The coronavirus has put some consumer investors in an environment of distinct highs and lows, and subsectors within consumer, such as apparel, are feeling the squeeze from the market. But other investment areas – for example, those that are related to hygiene and health – are seeing growth that no one could have predicted.
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“We have seen our healthcare companies explode,” said Jon Keidan, founder of consumer-focused firm Torch Capital.
Torch is an investor in such healthcare companies as Ro, the telehealth startup that has raised more than $176 million, and ZocDoc, an online platform that matches people with physicians and has raised more than $223 million.
Torch invests in a variety of sectors in consumer, and Keidan said different sectors are being disproportionately impacted. One area of his portfolio that is seeing growth is direct-to-consumer (DTC) food companies.
The firm is an investor in Splendid Spoon, a DTC healthy vegan meal and snack service, which Keidan said has also seen unexpected growth metrics.
Other DTC food investors like Jason Stoffer, a partner at Maveron, and Andrew Mitchell, the founder and general partner at Brand Foundry Ventures, are seeing surges in their portfolio companies, too.
“Imperfect Foods has seen bonkers growth,” said Stoffer about the company that delivers at a discount misshapen produce to consumers. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Mitchell said that Brand Foundry’s portfolio company Yumi, which makes organic DTC baby food, is seeing a surge of more than 40 percent what was originally expected.
Brand Foundry also counts Clove in its portfolio. The company, which raised a $1.5 million seed round from the firm, creates more stylish and comfortable shoes for the healthcare industry, and is now in high demand.
Some investors like Frank Lin, a partner at Silas Capital, have noticed that their companies are seeing a change in demand for certain products.
Silas backs Herbivore Botanical, an organic beauty brand that has raised $15 million in venture funding. It started as a soap company, but expanded to offer a suite of beauty products. Due to the coronavirus, the company has seen its demand switch gears and revert back to its soaps.
“We are across a bunch of consumer businesses,” Lin said. “How some of these businesses are handling it? It’s all different from a case by case basis.”
The firm has a range of portfolio of companies, from early stage to growth, that span sectors within consumer, including beauty, apparel and food.
“Home fitness is an area that has seen explosive interest, definitely anything in health, wellness, self care, supplements, all the things that sort of cater to consumers who are concerned about health and wellness, they seem to be doing pretty well,” Lin said.
Some sectors are struggling
But not everything in the consumer industry is “ice cream and roses” as Mitchell said.
Many consumer sectors are being slammed by this downturn and the unexpected nature of how it arrived. Apparel sales are down 65 percent and Stoffer said beauty is taking a hit, too.
Many sectors that could have been considered “recession proof” weren’t talking about a downturn in this form.
“All of the assumptions you have about any category, you need to break those and create new assumptions,” Keidan said.
Some companies are also having trouble just because of what states their distribution centers and supply chains are located in.
“What’s interesting with the essential laws in place is there are certain companies where distribution is shut down,” Stoffer said. “It’s almost unfair in the impact. A $100 million business operating in one state versus another determines its outcome.”
Lin and Mitchell said paying attention to consumer behavior and how it changes is a helpful tool to determine where to focus their resources going forward, especially as the situation surrounding covid-19 continues to unfold.
“Clearly we don’t know what’s going to happen just yet,” Lin said. “People are just sort of thinking about their income, taking care of their children etc. I’m not sure where they are going to spend their money just yet.”
Because of this uncertainty, many firms plan to keep investing over the coming months, but some will tread even more careful than in the past.
“There are some [sectors] where they just have no idea what the future will look like, such as travel and restaurants,” Stoffer said. “I can’t get my head around investing in a business where the future is just entirely unclear.”
Keidan hopes that the next few weeks will provide some clarity of what course the market may take.
Helping their existing portfolio companies
All the investors interviewed, like many others in the field, said that the main priority right now is to help existing portfolio companies make plans to weather the storm.
“The first thing we are focused on is our portfolio and making sure everyone has a plan,” Mitchell said. “There is a ton of work to do to. Now that we’ve had a month of creating a plan you feel stable. Certainly no one is out of the dark.”
Keidan added that they are telling their companies to plan on not being able to raise any funds over the next nine to 12 months and how to adjust to that likely reality.
“Now we are tending to the garden and making sure our garden comes out, hopefully, with some growth,” Lin said. “Conversations are mostly about cash conservation and managing where we can live to fight another day. If it ends up being pretty grim, we are in a better position than most.”
As the coronavirus continues to snarl populations across the globe and with talks of a recession that could last far beyond the virus, it’s unclear how consumer trends will change in the future or what current surges or slumps will stick. For now, it’s mainly wait and see.
“The heyday is a little bit over for consumer brands,” Lin said.