Bill Gates-Linked Sustainable Grocery Store Mysteriously Burns Down

Officials in the Netherlands are investigating a huge blaze that ripped through an online-delivery supermarket linked to Microsoft billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates this weekend.

The fire began at the store called Picnic, in the eastern town of Almelo in the Netherlands late on Sunday night (July 10) and was still raging into the early hours of Monday, according to the English-language section of the news website Netherlands Posts.

As reported by the respected Dutch financial magazine Quote in September last year, the business raised €600 million (approximately $604 million) in an investment round, with the lion's share coming from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust.

The trust shelled out an unknown amount but which nevertheless constituted "the largest part" of the total investment, Picnic CEO Michiel Muller told the magazine. He said the business had been looking for investors interested in sustainability and said the amount proved "how serious they are." The pot was raised in order to fund the store's expansion across Europe, particularly in France and Germany.

News of the Gates' link to the supermarket that has gone up in flames sparked conspiracy theories online that the store was targeted by arsonists. Gates— a keen environmentalist who is the largest private owner of farmland in America, with more than 270,000 acres across the U.S.—is reportedly viewed with suspicion by some farmers, who have staged protests in the Netherlands recently.

But a spokesperson for the store dismissed the theories and told Newsweek that police were not even investigating the fire because there is no suspicion that it was started deliberately.

Bill and Melinda Gates
Picnic, the online supermarket in the Netherlands, which was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was the scene of a major fire this weekend. Pictured, Melinda Gates and Bill Gates during a digital broadcast presented by anti-poverty group Global Citizen. Getty Images

Across Twitter and right-wing blogs, some had alleged, without proof, that the Netherlands supermarket blaze was an attack in retaliation against Bill Gates, who has been accused of pushing climate laws across the world that some claim will damage the farming industry.

Conspiracy theorists pointed to the timing of the blaze, which comes after hundreds of farmers in tractors took to the streets in the Netherlands this month, to protest against the government's new strict net-zero regulations. Other conspiracy theories suggested that the delivery store offers lots of vegetarian products and meat alternatives, which may have angered supporters of livestock farmers.

There was also some more mundane speculation that the blaze may have been sparked by a short circuit in one of the store's electric delivery vans, the website Dutch News reported, but the article pointed out that the cause of the fire remains unknown.

Photos and footage taken by local news teams show that the site appears to have been completely gutted by the blaze. Emergency crews reportedly deployed several fire engines and flew a drone above the site in a bid to get a clear picture of how best to tackle the flames. Residents in the surrounding areas were warned to stay inside due to the dangers of smoke inhalation, as thick plumes billowed into the night sky.

Picnic, which was founded in 2015, currently delivers groceries to customers in distinctive electric vans in 125 cities across the Netherlands and Germany. Some 60 people work at the supermarket, but none were on the premises when the fire broke out, according to Dutch News. No injuries have been reported.

Spokesperson Martijn Koolhoven, speaking on behalf of the supermarket, confirmed to Newsweek that one of Picnic's cityhubs "was unfortunately destroyed by fire."

Addressing the rash of conspiracy theories online, Koolhoven said: "It is false to state that the Picnic facility damaged by the fire is 'Bill Gates' factory that produces lab-grown synthetic meat' and that 'Bill Gates Foundation supermarket in the Netherlands focuses on new-age foods.'

"Competent authorities immediately launched an investigation to determine the cause of the fire. The cause of the fire is not yet known. Further investigation is underway... [But] local police are not investigating the fire because they have no reasons to think that it was intentionally lit."

He lamented the "number of conspiracy theories" online and said that, despite participating in the financing round, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust only "acquired a small minority stake in Picnic and... is not a controlling shareholder."

Newsweek has also reached out to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust for comment.

The conspiracy theories about the cause of the fire are not the first time the Microsoft co-founder has found himself at the center of unfounded claims. He has been the focus of a string of bizarre conspiracy theories in recent years, including claims that he planned to implant people with microchips through COVID vaccines.

Gates told Reuters in January he was shocked by the theories spreading online, adding: "Nobody would have predicted that I...would be so prominent in these really evil theories. I'm very surprised by that [and] I hope it goes away." But later this year, some other internet users tried to claim that Gates was behind the recent monkeypox outbreak.

Update 7/12/22 11:14 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comments by spokesperson Martijn Koolhoven on behalf of Picnic supermarket.