A Dutch-based food depot for a climate-friendly online delivery service destroyed by fire on Sunday ignited conspiracy theories the blaze was linked to one of its chief investors, Bill Gates.
The depot housed products for Picnic in the Dutch town of Almelo, about 90 miles east of Amsterdam.
Picnic, which has a valuation said to be north of $1 billion, bills itself as a climate-friendly unicorn that offers delivery service to customers straight from distribution hubs. The hub in Almelo served about 200 cities throughout Germany, France and the Netherlands
Groceries are transported to customers’ doorsteps in small, all-electric vans.
Last year, Michiel Muller, the 57-year-old CEO of Picnic, told the Dutch financial news site Quote that most of the $604 million that the company raised from investors to fund its European expansion came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Picnic’s reputation as a climate-friendly alternative which offers meat substitutes and vegetarian- and vegan-friendly products has also fueled speculation that it was targeted by farmers or their supporters.
Investigators are looking into the fire, which was severe enough to mobilize several units of the local fire brigade, according to Dutch News.
The fire at the depot, which reportedly employs about 60 people, resulted in no injuries or deaths.
The fire also sparked online chatter that it was an act of arson meant to retaliate against Gates, who is unpopular with conservatives due to his pro-climate plank.
Last week, Dutch farmers staged a protest by driving tractors onto highways to protest the government’s plans to slash nitrogen emissions.
The new proposed regulations would require farmers to use less fertilizer and reduce their livestock numbers — a prospect that some warn could force some farms to shut down.
In some cases, Dutch farmers have blockaded supermarkets, distribution centers, and roads in protest, according to Politico.
Gates is a lightning rod of controversy in the United States as well as in Europe, particularly over his extensive portfolio of farmland and agricultural interests.
Last month, locals in North Dakota were reportedly upset when it was learned that a shell company linked to Gates bought up some 2,100 acres of potato farmland some 50 miles away from the Canadian border.
The purchase prompted authorities to look into the matter, but it was later determined to be in compliance with the law.