The baby food world is about to experience a huge growth spurt. Today former Annie’s Homegrown CEO John Foraker and actress Jennifer Garner announced they are joining baby food brand Once Upon a Farm as co-founders and investors. Foraker will also assume the role of CEO and Garner will act as Chief Brand Officer. The two join Once Upon a Farm co-founders Ari Raz and Cassandra Curtis in taking the infant brand, which produces a line of high pressure processed (HPP) organic baby food and applesauce, into toddlerhood.
The investment reinforces the popularity that celebrities and public figures see in the natural foods business. Garner told NOSH she had spent six years looking for the right food brand to invest in, and was drawn to children’s food brands, in particular, as a mother of three children.
When Garner found Once Upon a Farm through the baby food brand’s advisor, Foodstirs’ co-founder Greg Fleishman, she was excited to see Foraker was an early investor and advisor and asked to meet him. The subsequent meeting, which was supposed to last one hour, ended up going for several more.
“To say that we clicked would be a seismic understatement,” Garner said. “We care so much about the same things. We care about the industry pushing advocacy. We care about feeding kids and feeding them healthy foods and doing it the right way. We care about being part of a culture and a company that you can be proud of and stand by and lives above and beyond you,”
She added that she had told Foraker, ‘If you’re in, I’m in. No matter what that is.”
The two then went to Curtis and Raz, who had just recently closed a $3.1 million round of funding in January and was in the midst of another, $4 million round, in June. While the founders weren’t necessarily looking for another set of co-founders, Garner told NOSH that she and Foraker approached the original founders as a package: either they both joined as co-founders or neither of them would.
Raz and Curtis were excited by the opportunity and felt it could only help the company’s growth.
“It was very serendipitous but it was also very thrilling when we found out that both of them would be willing to come on board and join our company,” Raz told NOSH. “In the stage that we were in, this whole arrangement between the four cofounders, this was completely optional for Cassandra and I. We chose this and we believe that this is the right way forward and we still firmly believe it.
With the new co-founders on board, Curtis added, she and Raz will be able to focus on what they do best: sales and operations, and product development, respectively. As the newly appointed company President Raz will focus mainly on operations and sales while Curtis, as Chief Innovation Officer, will delve into product innovation and maintaining the brand voice throughout consumer touchpoints.
Foraker will oversee the company as CEO. He’s joining the company just a month after he announced announced his departure from General Mills-owned Annie’s, which he had spent the previous 18 years. At the time he had hinted he was going to be involved with a “disruptive” new project in the entrepreneurial realm.While Once Upon a Farm is one of the early leaders in the HPP baby food category, it’s still nascent, with revenue approaching $1 million in the past year. The brand is in about 400 retailers, including Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Kroger, and has also experiment with direct-to-consumer subscriptions and club packages. Foraker said he expects that with his new team in place — he’s bringing on several current or former Annie’s and General Mills employees — the brand will see rapid distribution growth and that discussions with major U.S. retailers are ongoing.
“It’s a shelf stable category right now so we think there’s a pretty significant opportunity to disrupt with a higher quality product positioned in a refrigerated set,” Foraker said. “We want to deliver against the promise of much higher quality that exists in the conventional category so that would be the bar we would have to cross.”
Pricing is an issue: right now, a baby food pouch from Once Upon a Farm retails for $2.49-$2.99. All four co-founders say they would like to drop prices and have offerings in a wider range of price points. Along with this strategy will be a focus on making the brand approachable and speaking to a wide range of parents.
“Our objective will be to drive this business to the scale that will allow us to push those entry price points down, make the brand more accessible, and get into retailers where we can be accessible to populations that have been underrepresented for these types of products in the past,” Foraker said. “That’s our chance and we have a lot of work to get there, but I think we have a pretty good strategy to do it. I think the criticism of this category and many others in organic, there’s some validity to it.”
The plans include an eventual expansion into toddler products and, within a few years, the company plans to have products targeting children up to age 12. The line will try to stay within the refrigerated set, but not necessarily use HPP.
It’s this focus on fresh and chilled that Foraker said differentiates the company from Annie’s, though that brand has also recently expanded into coolers with a line of yogurts. Once Upon a Farm also tends to prioritize shorter, easier to understand ingredient lists.
“The way I think about [Once Upon a Farm] is if Annie’s was invented today, with the technologies and capabilities and knowledge that consumers have about health and wellness and organic ingredients, [this is] what would it look like,” Foraker said. “They are very different brands that are going to stand for very different things, but there are some commonalities obviously in advocating strongly for organic and educating kids about real food. We’ll just do it in a different context.”
Like Annie’s as well, all four co-founders plan to make Once Upon a Farm a mission driven company. Foraker, in particular, is known in the industry for being an outspoken advocate for organic farming and food access. The team is currently working on a mission statement and statement of official company values. Within the next few weeks as well, Once Upon a Farm plans to receive its B-Corp certification.
Curtis told NOSH that another reason she and Raz wanted Foraker and Garner to join was that it would not only accellerate company growth, but also accelerate the company’s ability to be a “force for good in society to drive positive impact.”
It’s this ability to change societal dynamics that drew Garner to the company, she said. A West Virginia native, Garner has spent about a decade as a trustee for the charity Save the Children focusing on the rural U.S.
“I’ve traveled across this country and visited moms and I’ve seen the lack access to food and the lack of access to healthy food. And It sits on my heart, I guess is a way to say it,” Garner said. “I’ve really realized that business is another way to drive advocacy.”