In 2013, Ricardo Lopez founded Bellwether Coffee with a lofty goal: transform the way coffee is roasted, distributed, and sold. His pitch convinced investors to fork over $10 million in August 2018 for a slice of a market that’s anticipated to be worth $680 million by 2024. Today, Berkeley, California-based Bellwether announced that it’s raised $40 million in series B funding led by DBL Partners and brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive. The round saw additional contributions from FusionX, Congruent Ventures, Coffee Bell, Tandem Capital, Spindrift Equities, XN Ventures, Balius Partners, and Hardware Club, and it brought Bellwether’s total raised to nearly $60 million.
CEO Nathan Gilliland said the funds will accelerate Bellwether’s efforts to boost incomes for coffee farmers and eliminate roast processes harmful to the planet, and to meet global demand for its recently announced electric roaster.
“We are thrilled to be working closely with DBL, Lyndon and Peter Rive to help accelerate our already rapid growth,” said Gilliland. “We expect in-store roasting at cafes and grocery locations to become the rule, not the exception. We are proud that the Bellwether Roaster has become the most consistent and controllable commercial coffee roaster available.”
Bellwether claims its alluded-to coffee roaster, the Bellwether Roaster, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% compared with traditional gas-powered alternatives. That’s because the startup ships green, unroasted coffee to centralized roasting facilities before mailing it out to retailers to roast on-site, and because the Bellwether Roaster leverages a combination of hot air, direct heat, sensors, and precision agitation blades to eliminate the need for gas lines and ventilation.
Bellwether says its 70-by-34-by-30-inch roaster can process up to seven pounds of coffee in 15 minutes. That works out to an average savings of about 20% per pound for businesses, which pay $1,150 to lease it for 60 months.
Using the Bellwether Roaster’s companion app for iOS, clients — the bulk of which are cafes, grocers, and coffee retailers — can access inventory management tools and data analytics and source Bellwether’s curated marketplace for bespoke profiles. The 20-some coffees curated by Bellwether come with recommended roast profiles and information about the coffee and the farmer who produced it, and they highlight tidbits like whether the coffee is organically certified or whether the originating farm is women-owned.
It’s meant to complement Bellwether’s customer-facing mobile app — Tip the Farmer — that allows patrons to contribute to coffee farmers directly. Bellwether says that even just one in twenty-five customers tipping $1 can double the average farm’s revenue per pound.
“DBL is pleased to work with Bellwether Coffee to accelerate the reduction of coffee’s carbon footprint and drive positive social impact across the supply chain, all while offering consumers a higher quality coffee experience,” said DBL Partners founder and managing partner Nancy Pfund, who plans to join Bellwether’s board of directors. “Whether it is cars or coffee, the move to electricity away from fossil fuels whets consumers’ appetite for a planet-friendly, premium product, creating large, high-growth markets in the process.”
Bellwether’s indirect rivals include on-demand coffee delivery startup Luckin Coffee, which raised $200 million in July at a billion-dollar valuation, and Bulletproof Coffee producer Bulletproof 360, which raked in $40 million in July. And soon, Bellwether might have competition in Roastery, which is also developing an internet-connected roaster that doesn’t require ventilation.