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Breakfast for babies as well as adults, plant-based foods and beverages of all types made their mark in the natural products world during September.
Organic baby food deals
Organic ingredients and other nutritional attributes were the focus of investment and acquisitions in the baby food category in
Chinese dairy giant Mengniu Dairy made a AU$1.5 billion (US$1 billion) cash offer for the Australian infant formula brand Bellamy’s Organic.
The Chinese government’s desire for self-sufficiency in the baby food market and consumer preference for premium, foreign-brand nutritional products provided a backdrop for the deal.
In the United States, sales of 70%-plus organic shelf stable baby food through natural, specialty and conventional channels totaled $624.2
million for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 11, up 8% over the prior year period, compared to flat growth for non-organic baby food, according to SPINS, a wellness-focused data technology company.
With organic ingredients a given, baby food start-ups are now differentiating their brands based on specific health goals—from better
digestion to brain development, baby-led weaning and allergy prevention.
Cerebelly raised $6.7 million in funding for its organic baby food formulated to support brain development, according to Fortune. Investors include Imaginary Ventures. Cerebelly products are founded on a patent-pending technology that “maps key developmental windows” for each part of the brain and their “corresponding nutritional needs.”
NurturMe, a portfolio company of Advantage Capital, was acquired by Grays Peak Capital. NurturMe provides baby food and children’s snacks that emphasize healthy digestion. The certified organic products are free from common allergens and include dairy-free yogurts, and pouches with blends of fruit, vegetables and ancient grains. Silverwood Partners was the exclusive financial advisor to NurturMe.
In allergy prevention, Before Brands Inc. announced that Nestlé Health Science had become a significant minority investor and acquired exclusive licensing rights outside the United States. Before Brands is the inventor of SpoonfulOne nutritional products that reduce the risk of developing food allergies by training a child’s immune system. Nestlé Health Science has an option to purchase all remaining equity in Before Brands in the future.
The small but fast-growing subcategory of refrigerated baby food, which includes Once Upon a Farm and Gerber’s Freshful Start, represents only around $10 million in annual cross-channel sales, but with an annual growth rate of 363% is a hot spot worth watching, according to SPINS. In September, Elizabeth Street Ventures led a $2.5 million investment in Tiny Organics, a brand of refrigerated organic finger foods designed to encourage “self-feeding.” Prepared with fresh ingredients and created in collaboration with Tufts School of Nutrition, the menu includes paella, ratatouille and coconut curry, with items sold at retail, online and via text-to-buy.
Toddler foods were also in the deal mix, with family company Rollin Greens raising $500,000 and expanding its portfolio of organic vegan food items with frozen cauliflower snacks, according to Food Navigator. Rollin Greens is focused on the freezer aisle with its flagship product Millet Tots, a non-potato version of tater tots.
Animal-free dairy deals
Culture Fresh Foods landed an $11 million Series A led by CEI Ventures and FreshTracks Capita. Funding will be used to convert a former Danone dairy facility into one for making plant-based yogurts, puddings and spreadable cheeses from nuts, oats and seeds. Founder Tom Moffitt previously established Commonwealth Dairy, a joint venture with the German yogurt company Ehrmann AG, which made its own Greek yogurt brand Green Mountain Creamery.
New Culture, a startup making animal-free dairy cheese, closed $3.5 million in a seed round led by Evolv Ventures, a venture fund backed by Kraft Heinz. New Culture uses microbial fermentation to make dairy proteins from plant-based materials, saying its end product is “sustainable, healthy, ethical and indistinguishable” from traditional dairy cheese.
Lyrical Foods Inc., doing business as Kite Hill, raised $10 million out of a total offering of $15 million, according to an SEC Form D filing dated in September. Kite Hill makes almond-based milk, yogurts and cheeses. General Mills’ 301 Inc. venture arm led a $40-million investment in Kite Hill a year ago, with Cavu Venture Partners participating.
Plant-based food deals
Frozen food business Strong Roots raised $18.3 million in a Series A round led by Goods Partners LLC, according to The Irish Times. Strong Roots makes plant-based products such as cauliflower hash browns, mixed root vegetable fries, and vegetarian burgers. Strong Roots recently expanded into more than 3,000 U.S. stores including Target, Wegmans and Whole Foods Market; it expects sales of $50 million this year, the newspaper reported.
Subscription vegan and vegetarian meal service Simple Feast raised a $33 Series B from 14W and existing investors, including Balderton. The Danish company delivers family-style dinners made with organic ingredients; its goal in providing plant-based fare is to improve health and help reverse global warming. The company plans to expand into new markets, including the United States.
Healthy breakfast cereal deals
Two direct-to-consumer breakfast cereal brands made deals in September. Magic Spoon received $5.5 million in seed funding, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. Magic Spoon makes better-for-you versions of sugary childhood favorites, replacing grains with tapioca flour and chicory root fiber. The high protein, low carb cereals are sweetened with a blend of allulose, stevia and monk fruit. The co-founders of Magic Spoon sold their previous company, Exo cricket protein bars, to Aspire Food Group in 2018.
Australian dairy processor and food manufacturer Bega Cheese is buying Hummingbird Superfoods, maker of subscription breakfast foods such as ready-made “blendies,” mueslis and porridge, in addition to superfoods like spirulina and raw cacao, according to The Australian Financial Review. This follows Bega’s acquisition of a majority stake in online protein-powder business 180 Nutrition in February.
Natural, organic & better-for-you food deals
The Hain Celestial Group Inc. sold Tilda, a premium basmati and specialty rice brand, to Ebro Foods SA of Spain for $342 million in cash. The price reflects an adjusted EBITDA multiple of 13.5x.
Campbell Soup Company is selling its European Chips Business to Valeo Foods of Ireland, a portfolio company of CapVest Partners LLP, for approximately $80 million. Brands to be sold include United Kingdom-based natural Kettle Foods chips and Yellow Chips in The Netherlands. Campbell bought Kettle as part of its acquisition of Snyder’s-Lance in 2018 and will retain the Kettle business in the United States.
Following its sale to Audax Private Equity in early August, specialty food producer Stonewall Kitchen is acquiring the Vermont Village brand of organic applesauce and apple cider vinegar. Stonewall Kitchen brands include its flagship Stonewall Kitchen, Tillen Farms, Napa Valley Naturals, Montebello and Legal Sea Foods.
ACH Food Companies Inc., a manufacturer of cooking oils and baking products, acquired Anthony's Goods, a digital-native brand in the natural and organic food space that sells almond and coconut flours, nuts, sweeteners, spices and other gluten-free ingredients.
Nounós Creamery, a maker of handcrafted strained yogurt packaged in recyclable glass jars, received a strategic investment led by AccelFoods, according to news reports. Joining the round was the founding investor of Siggi’s Dairy, and a Nounós Creamery board member who was formerly general manager for premium yogurt at Danone.
Wells Enterprises Inc., maker of Blue Bunny and three other brands, is acquiring the Halo Top brand from Eden Creamery LLC. Halo Top is a high protein, low sugar, low-calorie ice cream that comes in both dairy and vegan formats and is sweetened with organic stevia and erythritol. Family-owned Wells is one of the largest ice cream manufacturers in the United States, making both branded and private label products.
Functional food deals
IQ Bar raised $1 million in funding led by angel investors, according to Bakery and Snacks. The bars focus on brain nutrients such as omega 3, vitamin E, choline and Lion’s Mane mushroom extract. They contain less than 1 gram of sugar and are sweetened with allulose.
Purdue University-affiliated startup NutraMaize LLC was awarded a Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer Research grant of nearly $750,000 from the National Science Foundation for research into orange corn. Agronomy professor Torbert Rocheford, co-founder of NutraMaize, began working on naturally increasing the amount of carotenoids in corn more than two decades ago to address vitamin A deficiencies in Africa. It appears orange corn could also benefit Americans at risk of age-related vision loss because they don't get enough carotenoids.
Celsius Holdings Inc., maker of the Celsius fitness drink, is acquiring nutritional products marketer Func Food Group Oyj of Finland for approximately $15.1 million in cash and the assumption of $9.5 million of debt. Func Food had approximately $37 million in revenue in 2018. Func Food markets branded beverages, protein bars, supplements and superfoods, and has been distributing Celsius in the Nordic countries since 2016. Celsius said it would finance the acquisition from a secondary share offering.
Family owned Perricone Juices is purchasing the rest of Lambeth Groves that Perricone does not currently own. Perricone Juices says that this newly combined entity enables the company to provide the highest quality premium juices at the most cost-effective prices. Perricone Juices makes conventional and organic juices, including fresh, pasteurized, and HPP, in addition to essential citrus oils.
Cargill invested an additional $75 million in Puris, more than doubling the supplier’s production of pea protein. Using proprietary, non-GMO pea seed, Puris has a growers’ network of more than 400 U.S. farmers. Cargill announced its joint venture with Puris in January 2018 with an initial investment of $25 million to respond to consumer demand for plant-based protein.
AAK of Sweden says it is now one of the world’s leading suppliers of specialty lecithin after acquiring a majority stake in Soya International in the United Kingdom. The newly named business will trade as AAK Soya International Ltd., supplying non-GMO, organic and specialty lecithin.
Maroon Group LLC acquired Cambrian Solutions, a Canadian distributor of specialty ingredients and chemicals, marking Maroon Group’s tenth acquisition and extending the company's North American footprint. Cambrian Solutions supplies customers operating in the natural and organic, food, household, health ingredients, and personal care markets, in addition to industrial markets.
U.S. supplement industry pioneer NOW Foods acquired SuperNutrition, a family business offering high-potency multivitamin tablets and chewables. SuperNutrition was founded in 1977 by Patrick Mooney and his son, Michael Mooney, and remained a family business led by daughter Kathy Mooney. NOW Foods was founded in 1968 and sells supplements, natural foods, natural personal care, sports nutrition and pet health products.
Nestlé Health Science expanded into personalized nutrition by acquiring Persona, a company that offers customized nutritional assessments and dietary supplements online. Assessments take into account lifestyle, history and individual needs and are generated using Persona’s proprietary algorithms. Persona will operate under NHSc’s Atrium Professional Brands, which Nestlé acquired in 2017 for $2.3 billion.
Brightstar Capital Partners is acquiring contract manufacturer Capstone Nutrition in partnership with members of Capstone’s senior leadership team. Founded in 1989, Capstone owns a 300,000-square-foot facility, and produces supplements and anti-aging and general wellness products.
Illustrating cannabidiol’s (CBD’s) strategic advance into the nutrition and health & wellness industry, Bhang Inc., an umbrella company for cannabis brands, acquired beet beverages maker Red Ace Organics for nearly $2 million. Red Ace makes concentrated organic beetroot shots distributed in Whole Foods Markets, Sprouts Farmers Markets and on Amazon.
Pure Harvest Cannabis Group Inc. acquired Prolific Nutrition LLC, a hemp and CBD company. Prolific will operate under a wholly owned subsidiary called Pure Harvest Hemp Inc. Prolific Nutrition was formed in 2017 and sells CBD tinctures, gummies, capsules and lotion. It also makes hemp supplements and hemp oil treats for pets.
Sales of products with CBD in general retail are forecast to approach $13 billion by 2024, more than double dispensary CBD sales of $5.3 billion, according to BDS Analytics’ new report, “CBD: Cannabinoids Escape the Dispensary.” BDS Analytics estimates that food, drug, and mass channels will account for 63% of CBD spending in 2024, as legal issues around selling CBD as a food additive are resolved at the federal level.
Sustainable packaging deals
Karat Packaging, a maker of food packaging including the Karat Earth eco brand, filed in September for a $50 million IPO. Karat Earth is the company’s line of compostable cups, food containers and utensils made from renewable, plant-based materials. Karat’s customers include Applebee’s, Chili’s, In-N-Out Burger and Panda Express.
Tipa, an Israeli developer of compostable flexible packaging, raised $25 million in venture capital, according to a news brief by Chemical & Engineering News posted on Tipa’s website. The company says its multilayer packaging is made from a blend of polymers that are fully compostable in 180 days.
Vedanta Biosciences, a clinical-stage company developing therapies for immune-mediated diseases based on bacteria derived from the human microbiome, announced a $16.6 million Series C-2 financing. Total capital raised in its Series C and C-2 rounds now stands at $62.1 million. Investors include Quad Investment Management, Seventure Partners, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and several others. Vedanta Biosciences is developing drug candidates based on natural bacterial strains to effect therapeutic changes in a person’s gut microbiota.
Digital health deals
Kaia Health, a digital therapeutics company, announced an $8 million funding round led by Optum Ventures. Kaia has developed a smartphone-based approach for managing chronic conditions, starting with musculoskeletal disorders such as chronic back pain. The company is backed by three peer-reviewed clinical studies, including a randomized controlled trial recently published in NPJ Digital Medicine.
Fitplan raised $4.5 million in capital led by Corazon Capital and Sam Yagan, co-founder of OKCupid, Sparknotes and former CEO of Match Group. The Fitplan personal training app connects members to top trainers for workout plans and advice. Launched in 2016, Fitplan offers routines for all levels of fitness from beginner to pro.
Boll & Branch sustainably made bedding received a $100 million strategic investment from L Catterton. Launched in 2014, Boll & Branch has been profitable since 2016 as a family owned-and-operated business. Its products are Fair Trade Certified and contain no harmful chemicals, pesticides or GMOs.
Self Esteem Brands, parent company of Anytime Fitness, purchased The Bar Method low-impact fitness franchise with 123 studios across 30 states and Canada. As the name implies, The Bar Method, which opened in San Francisco in 2001, offers a barre workout that primarily uses your own bodyweight for resistance.
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