Verlinvest was established 25 years ago by the family shareholders of one of the world’s largest consumer businesses (the investment group linked to the world’s biggest brewery group, AB-InBev), as a long-term evergreen capital vehicle to back trail-blazing entrepreneurs.
Today, they manage a global community of over 20 brands and around $2 billion of funds, with offices in London, New York, Singapore, Mumbai & Brussels, with the goal of building impactful, category-defining global brands.
I caught up with Eric Melloul (Managing Director, and also Board Chair, Oatly) and Ben Black, Principal to find out more about their purpose, focus and investing thesis.
Afdhel Aziz: Eric, Ben, welcome. Please tell us a little about Verlinvest and it’s strategy and focus?
Eric Melloul: With our family-backing, we focus on long-term economic and social paradigm shifts and believe that enterprise should be a ‘Force for Good’ playing a role in shaping society. We are not an ‘Impact–’ or ‘ESG–’ Investor, but rather ethical investing is core to our ethos and naturally embedded in our values, given our long-term approach and family heritage. Every investment should make a positive change, otherwise we question if it’s a good one, and we can take a very long-term perspective as we do not need to return cash to our shareholders.
Examples over the years include: Oatly (Sweden), Vita Coco (U.S.), Byju’s (India), Tony’s Chocolonely (Netherlands) and Sir Kensington’s (U.S.) and Chewy.com (U.S.) amongst many others.
Eric Melloul, Managing Director at Verlinvest (c) VERLINVEST
Aziz: Thanks for sharing! Please tell us a bit more about your purpose – ‘To empower the next generation of entrepreneurs to build global category defining brands that change the world for the better’?
Ben Black: Our partners are bringing new organizational and business models to ‘reset’ capitalism as we know it. Our role is to curate and bring together this global community of mission-led entrepreneurs, sharing best-practices, contacts and supporting each other’s successes and challenges. We have built an eco-system to support them of like-minded operators, advisors/mentors, retailers, co-investors and successful ex-entrepreneurs to ensure we are capable of helping our partners accelerate and structure their organizations and strategy for international growth.
Ben Black, Principal at Verlinvest (c) VERLINVEST
Aziz: Very interesting. What kinds of categories do you focus on?
Melloul: We are not focused on particular categories, but rather are looking for highly scalable opportunities with international potential. We seek healthy, sustainable and ethical alternatives in big categories or creating new categories completely, solving big problems. These could also be services as well as products.
When we invested in Vita Coco in 2007 it was a scrappy New York startup with a couple of $ms of sales, and today it is a $350m+ brand across U.S., Europe & China having created the coconut water category from scratch. Similarly, we invested in Oatly in 2016 as a pioneer in the nascent oatmilk category, and today it is a truly global organization establishing the category on three continents.
Aziz: What are some of the other investments you’ve made – can you share how they are driving social impact?
Black: We back socially-minded entrepreneurs who are building new models where purpose is intrinsic, rather, than a supplement, and looking to change a category and the status quo. Recent examples include:
- Oatly – Toni has built an iconic sustainability company dedicated to replacing dairy, and making it easy for people to turn what they eat and drink into moments of joy without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process. Every litre of Oatly consumed in place of cow’s milk results in 80% less greenhouse gas emissions, 79% less land usage and 60% less energy consumption. They are further petitioning the Government for compulsory Carbon-labelling on food, to allow transparent consumption.
- Tony’s Chocolonely – Henk-Jan and Tony’s Chocolonely are fighting to make chocolate 100% slave-free, not only at Tony’s, but across the entire industry. They have codified 5 Sourcing Principles (including paying a Tony’s premium, 100% traceable beans, and strengthening Co-op partners), with an Open-Chain supply that any chocolate company can use, to widen the impact. Last year Tony’s Chocolonely removed 221 children from hazardous labour conditions and 8,457 farmers received Tony’s Premium for their cocoa, to ensure they are being paid a Living Wage.
- BYJU’S – Byju has a mission of bringing personalized learning experiences to the masses. In the early 2000s, as a teacher, his maths lessons were so popular he was teaching up to 25,000 students in stadiums! In 2015, he saw an opportunity to democratize access with technology, launching BYJU’S asynchronous app, which today, tutors over 60 million children with multi country offerings including partnerships with Disney, making content free for all students during the Covid lockdown.
Henk-Jan and Tony’s Chocolonely are fighting to make chocolate 100% slave-free, not only at Tony’s, but across the entire industry.