A Dutch grocery depot for a climate-friendly online delivery service that was destroyed by fire on Sunday sparked conspiracy theories that the fire was linked to one of its key investors, Bill Gates.
The depot housed products for Picnic in the Dutch town of Almelo, about 90 miles east of Amsterdam.
Picnic, which is said to have a valuation in excess of $1 billion, bills itself as a climate-friendly unicorn that offers customers a delivery service directly from its distribution centers. The hub in Almelo serves around 200 cities in Germany, France and the Netherlands
Groceries are transported to customers’ front doors in small, all-electric delivery vans.
Last year, Michiel Muller, Picnic’s 57-year-old CEO, told Dutch financial news site Quote that the majority of the $604 million the company had raised from investors to fund its European expansion came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation came from.
Picnic’s reputation as a climate-friendly alternative, offering meat substitutes as well as vegetarian and vegan products, has also fueled speculation that it has been targeted by farmers or their supporters.
According to Dutch News, investigators are looking into the fire, which was so severe that several units from the local fire department were mobilized.
The fire at the depot, which reportedly employs about 60 people, resulted in no injuries or deaths.
The fire also sparked chatter online that it was an arson set in retaliation against Gates, who is unpopular with conservatives for his pro-climate plank.
Last week, Dutch farmers staged a protest by driving tractors on motorways to protest government plans to cut nitrogen emissions.
The new proposed rules would require farmers to use less fertilizer and reduce their livestock – a prospect some are warning about could force some farms to close.
In some cases, Dutch farmers have blocked supermarkets, distribution centers and roads in protest, according to Politico.
Gates is a lightning rod for controversy in both the United States and Europe, particularly for his extensive portfolio of farmland and agricultural interests.
Last month, North Dakota residents were reportedly upset when it was revealed that a shell company linked to Gates had bought up about 2,100 acres of potato farmland about 50 miles from the Canadian border.
The purchase prompted authorities to investigate the matter, but it was later found to be in compliance with the law.