What do coconut caramels, dairy free ice cream, and dark chocolate almond butter have in common? Aside from enticing your sweet tooth, they are all products that have received investments by AccelFoods: A three-year-old investment fund for food startups. Co-Founders Lauren Jupiter and Jordan Gaspar were one of our first 33founders interviews in 2014. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the team’s progress as they invest in their fourth class of entrepreneurs who are equally driven to change the way we eat and live.
Lauren recently joined us to share an exclusive look into Class IV, how the fund’s evolved, and what can we expect from their team and portfolio companies in the future.
The AccelFoods team catalyzed the first quarter of 2016 by closing a $20 million second fund and announcing the companies comprising their fourth class, which you can learn about below.
- Crunchsters: Flavored mung bean snacks (think Island Spice and Maple Barbecue)
- Il Morso: Coffee beans ground into organic cocoa butter to help you power through your 4 p.m. slump
- Nona Lim: Dairy and gluten free soups – Ranging from bone broth and ramen to carrot ginger – that are local, organic, and shipped to your home
- Purely Pinole: The first premium pinole product made in the U.S. It is a warm breakfast porridge that was a staple for the Aztecs.
- Tea Drops: Handcrafted ‘drops’ of herbs, spices, and sweeteners that you drop into a cup of hot water and mix.
- Wandering Bear Coffee: Bold, cold brew coffee delivered to your home or office
Lauren and Jordan founded AccelFoods to create an early stage investment platform specifically designed to help food companies navigate the unique challenges they face scaling their products. The new fund enables them to be long-term partners for their portfolio companies such as cricket flour startup Exo, whose Series A they led in March.
“Our goal is to find founders who are uniquely focused on disruption, whether it’s in their product, ingredients, or distribution. Gabi and Greg at Exo are great examples of that. To be able to jump into the next phase with them is extremely rewarding,” Lauren says. Since graduating from AccelFoods in 2014, Exo has created a strong following of customers who are passionate about their protein bars. Their holistic perspective to food, which is a founding and thriving tenet at AccelFoods, continues to inspire a growing community of evangelists. You can gain a closer look into their growth and future goals in Gabi’s episode of Beyond the Headline this Wednesday.
“We’re really excited about the innovation Exo brings to the portable protein space,” Lauren continues. “More broadly, the technology they have developed doesn’t stop at bars. We’re going to see it in applications that we never imagined.”
We’re looking to help disruptive teams succeed in their vision of changing the food landscape.
To achieve that, AccelFoods has significantly evolved since the first class that Gabi and Greg participated in early 2014. The program is now eight to nine months so that the team can maintain their involvement with companies working on long-term initiatives such as branding and distribution. They are also accepting fewer companies to their cohorts to maximize involvement.
“To completely execute on the types of changes we were working through with founders, such as brand refreshes and packaging design, we needed to be there to see them through. We want to walk through everything with them from start to finish,” Lauren says. Specifically for projects such as forging new retail partnerships, where some stores evaluate new products annually, the team wanted to maintain their hands-on commitment when their startups needed them most.
While entrepreneurs stay in their local communities – This is critical to remain close to customers, manufacturers, and retailers – the program kicks off with a weeklong boot camp in NYC where they spend time with the founders in their class and the AccelFoods team. They also visit corporate partners like United Natural Foods, the largest natural and organic distributor in the country. Partners provide AccelFoods brands with discounted services, value additive packages, and elevate the company’s concerns in the organization, giving them access and support that is uncharacteristic for small businesses.
Internally, the AccelFoods team is equipped with specialized skill sets, Lauren heads finance and Jordan focuses on legal and investor relations, to act as “an extension of their startups’ teams.” They utilize weekly calls to help founders shape and practice product demos, iterate on product design, and review company financials. “We’re a hands-on operating team for our companies,” she says. “It allows them to feel like they have much longer tentacles than they would have on their own.”
Take packaging for example. The team, specifically Tapan Shah, works on a company’s brand brief and story to ensure that their final iteration boasts straightforward messaging and a sleek exterior. The goal is to help companies streamline processes in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible.
In the same way, that their startups iterate, AccelFoods is constantly changing. “We’re flexible to our industry and modifying the program to see what sticks. We see things evolve in every class,” Lauren asserts. She specifically highlighted the impact of bringing portfolio companies to NYC to be on site with AccelFoods’ strategic partners and finding more meaningful ways to connect founders with mentors. They now bring in graduated entrepreneurs, like Gabi and Greg, who can provide direction for founders aiming to follow in their footsteps.
AccelFoods’ insatiable quest to evolve is rooted in the necessity to help founders prepare for unexpected growth, which is among the most common challenges they face. “We want to ensure that companies are implementing the right processes so that when growth hits all of the building blocks are in place, and they can take advantage of the opportunity,” Lauren says. “We want new opportunities to be additive to their business instead of causing chaos.”
In light of growth, Lauren advises food founders “not to go too wide and too shallow.”
It is always better to start deep and then expand broadly.
“The early days are about proving out your business model and consumer demand for your product. Go deep in a single market and show that you’re seeing repeat purchasing and velocity; That the product is really moving off the shelves. If you’re going to have $1 million in revenue an investor wants to see that coming from 500 stores, not 5,000,” she says.
The insight is critical as the number of food startups being launched and funded reaches an all-time high. AccelFoods is seeing a significantly greater influx of startups applying compared to when they launched two years ago.
Investors are similarly eating up these investments with more than $600 million invested in food companies last year, a 60% increase from 2014, according to Dow Jones VentureSource data (as cited in The Wall Street Journal). Food is also more recession friendly than technology. As Lauren says, “People may alter their spending habits as the economy fluctuates but at the end of the day we all have to eat.”
Lauren attributes the growth to high-quality founders who are often young and sophisticated entrepreneurs who would have previously been attracted to finance or technology. Their unique perspectives directly target health and environmentally conscious individuals who are dedicating more of their disposable income to nutritious and sustainable products. “The opportunity to sell to that group of consumers [namely millennials] and have them identify with your product creates a tremendous opportunity for brands coming into the space,” she asserts. This is vividly depicted on social media with individuals gravitating towards AccelFoods brands like Four Sigma Foods, Exo, and Kalot.
Larger corporations are equally eager to acquire startups to “buy rather than build innovation.” Noosa yoghurt, which was acquired by Advent International, an NY-based global private equity firm, is a recent example. The company has since scaled to 130 team members bringing in $100 million in revenue in 2015.
“It’s a unique moment in the food industry with the number of companies launching every year,” Lauren says. “We are seeing the market completely change.”
Images retrieved from AccelFoods, Exo, The Wall Street Journal, and Women 2.0