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The Brazilian food delivery juggernaut iFood bought Anota AI, a startup developing tools to improve restaurants’ delivery performance, such as a WhatsApp service bot, digital menu and order management. Sources told Startups the value of the operation would have been in the range of 60 million Brazilian reais ($12 million).

According to the sources, the delivery firm had been looking for some companies in the point of sale sector since the middle of last year, initially in an attempt to hire professionals from their teams and, later, for some acquisition oportunities.

A person familiar with the iFood‘s plans said the move came from the perception of an increase in the use of WhatsApp as a channel for order placing at restaurants. That’s why having a tool that would allow the company to also operate in this channel started to make sense. Another aspect would be the issue of open innovation, of bringing into the group other businesses that accelerate the launch of new features.

Not so sure about that…

The first talks with restaurants about the possibility of having a service tool for WhatsApp, however, turned on a yellow light for iFood. Restaurants showed fear of losing control of a proprietary service channel, having to pay another fee to the giant of the delivery world. To overcome this resistance, the app adopted a proposition that it wants to help restaurants organize the orders they receive through WhatsApp.

An executive interviewed by Startups said that, in addition to the competitive risk and reinforcing iFood‘s monopoly position, the acquisition of Anota AI could violate the General Data Protection Law (LGPD) since iFood would have access to customer data of the restaurants.

More innovation and technology

According to iFood, the acquisition is part of its “strategy to contribute to the growth of its ecosystem and accelerate the development of new solutions through innovation and technology”. “This initiative will help the startup’s business development and improve the experience of selling restaurants across the country,” the company said in a note sent to Startups.

“This investment will allow Anota AI to continue growing and developing new products and solutions to empower restaurants, boost their sales and help them on their digitalization journey,” iFood said in a statement.

Founded in 2017, Anota AI says on its website that it manages 15,000 automated restaurants and more than 40 million orders a year. Its services start at 178.99 Brazilian reais ($36) per month in the annual plan. On its LinkedIn page, the company has 131 employees. Their customer list includes big fast food chains such as Bob’s, Subway, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. Startups found that, for now, iFood is in the testing period of Anota AI, with the Burger King and KFC chains.

The acquisition of Anota AI gives weight to the portfolio of services offered by iFood to restaurants. In addition to the platform for connecting consumers and delivery people, the application has a management system for bars and restaurants as a result of the purchase of the software company eComanda, 2 years ago.

iFood also has a portal for purchasing supplies such as cups, cutlery, plates and napkins and has entered the offer of financial services for establishments. Two weeks ago, Startups reported that the company has reorganized its operation in this area with the integration of fintech MovilePay.

Getting TOO BIG?

Discussions about the size of iFood and its monopolistic position, with 80% of the delivery market, are not new to the brazilian market. Last year, Uber Eats filed a representation at antitrust regulator CADE to join in the lawsuit against iFood, alongside Colombian food unicorn Rappi and Abrasel, the Brazilian Association of Bars and Restaurants.

Companies point out anti-competitive practices in exclusivity contracts signed with restaurants, which prevent them from adopting other platforms. In March 2021, CADE imposed a preventive measure against iFood, prohibiting the company from entering into new exclusivity agreements. The foodtech will be able to maintain the contracts that had already been signed with part of the restaurants in its portfolio.

This year, CADE began investigating the Naspers group, which controls more than 55% of iFood through its subsidiary Prosus. According to Valor Econômico, the investigation analyzes whether there was a lack of notification to the autarchy in the acquisition of Delivery Hero (known in Brazil as Pedidos Já) by Naspers in 2018. The iFood parent company would be subject to sanctions such as a fine of up to 60 million Brazilian reais ($12 million) or cancellation of the deal.

The most recent case involves iFood Benefits, a service which food stamps and meal vouchers for companies. In May, Cade opened an investigation into possible anti-competitive practices of the business after a representation by the Brazilian Association of Workers’ Benefits Companies (ABBT).

(translation by Leandro Miguel Souza, editing by Angelica Mari)

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