Indra Nooyi, Irene Rosenfeld, and Denise Morrison are some of the biggest names in the food and beverage industry, but less is known about the women behind the up-and-coming startups that challenge major manufacturers — the investors.
The food and beverage investment community has exploded more noticeably in the last year. Edible Ventures launched in fall 2015, followed by CAVU Venture Partners in January. Strategics, or manufacturers, are getting involved as well, including General Mills' 301 Inc. and Campbell's Acre Venture Partners. These firms join food and beverage startup accelerator AccelFoods and other accelerators like Food-X and Now We're Cookin'.
Men continue to dominate much of the efforts in food and beverage investments, but women are making their voices and perspectives heard. These three investors made their way to AccelFoods and Edible Ventures by way of financial careers that were impacted by experience in food and beverage. That experience helped inspire all three to now focus on enabling the stars of tomorrow's food industry to start growing today.
Meet: Lauren Jupiter, cofounder of AccelFoods
Lauren Jupiter began in investment banking. She focused on the CPG and retail industries, which enabled her to explore her passions for consumer purchasing behaviors, brands, and foods.
After several years in that field, Jupiter spent six months working on-site for a large private equity-owned frozen foods business in the UK. She said she enjoyed working with companies in a more hands-on capacity. She also realized how the resources and hands-on support she provided could help the up-and-coming "that were trying to change the industry and bring innovation to the space," Jupiter said.
After moving back to the U.S. and earning her MBA, Jupiter said she found the industry lacking in terms of structured funds or investment groups that were either early-stage enough to excite her or that allowed her to really be hands-on.
Notable AccelFoods investments:
- Nona Lim (all-natural bone broths and gluten-free noodles)
- Crunchsters (salty and savory snacks made from mung beans)
- Wandering Bear (brewed ice coffee)
- Tea Drops (compressed tea that dissolves in water)
- Il Morso (coffee and cocoa butter bars)
- Purely Pinole (hot cereal).
Jupiter met her future business partner and cofounder Jordan Gaspar, who proposed the concept of accelerators, which were prevalent in the technology space. With a tweaked version of that model customized for food and beverage, AccelFoods was born in early 2013.
AccelFoods has since evolved from its initial form as an accelerator program into what is now the group's second fund. This more than $20 million fund supports companies not only at the early accelerator stage, but "as they continue to evolve to a more early growth stage," Jupiter said. "And (we're) writing significantly larger checks to businesses that have shown traction and success."
While AccelFoods is not mandated to fund companies in the natural and organic space, its investments have trended that way.
"The market trajectory and our personal preferences really do dovetail in that one particular space," Jupiter said. "It's purposeful in the sense that we think that's where the market is going, and we are interested in growing companies that we feel good about and that we feel we can get behind the ingredients statement."
Meet: Sherri Wolf, member of Edible Ventures
Sherri Wolf also got her start in investment banking as an equity analyst following technology stocks. Years later she moved on to Internet Capital Group where she continued to work with tech, but this time within the venture capital market.
During this time, Wolf connected with entrepreneurs in the CPG space, including food and beverage. In 2010, she joined JOOS, a fresh-pressed organic juices company, as CFO, where she experienced the financial and operational challenges food and beverage startups face.
Notable Edible Ventures investments
- Maple (maple water)
- Deep River Snacks, (better-for-you chips and popcorn)
When Wolf became a member of Edible Ventures in late 2015, she brought that expertise and understanding with her to aid in startup investment selection.
"(The experience) was from being the CFO of a beverage company and being very focused on our cash management and trying to leverage that," Wolf said. "It was seeing how sales and execution were just so critical during that time before (startups) reach that inflection point."
Her experience at Juice also inspired her to look beyond the factors that often make investors hesitate on funding food and beverage startups.
"Most (investors) were focused on technology or life sciences because, one, it takes less capital in many of those segments of the market in order to scale a company," Wolf said. "And two, the returns can often be much higher for companies in those spaces, so food and beverage were not as popular in that area."
Meet: Julia Paino, member of Edible Ventures
Julia Paino had experience in investing and the food industry before she became a member of Edible Ventures. She worked at a small early-stage technology venture capital firm for a few years. During that time, she met other people in the investments and innovation area, including Jeremy Halpern, who would eventually become managing director of Edible Ventures.
Paino left the VC world to cofound Swoffle, maker of gluten-free Dutch waffle cookies, with her father John. She remains CEO of Swoffle and has used what she's gained from running her food company to provide industry insight to fellow investors at Edible Ventures.
"I really see myself specifically more in terms of someone who advises on matters related to food more than seeing myself as a very active investor," said Paino. "As a food entrepreneur invested in my own venture, I probably won't be one of the active investors who's writing 10 to 15 checks per year because my primary responsibility is to my own food venture."
Edible Ventures includes several active food entrepreneurs, which Paino believes lends a different perspective to identifying food and beverage investments.
"It really helps me relate to entrepreneurs and understand the challenges or hurdles they face," said Paino. "And at the same time, I can really appreciate the different success stories that they can point to and the different milestones and achievements they have accomplished."
"It's the unique ability to actually be able to understand those day-to-day issues or moments that occur in an entrepreneur's life," Paino continued. "… We understand it, we get it, and we can relate to that, and that's what makes (Edible Ventures) a really great collaborative team."
What women bring to the investment table
Women are in the minority among investors and later-stage executives in the food industry. But because women often manage household expenses, including grocery purchases, they may be able to offer "a certain level of insight and connection to who's ultimately making the purchasing decisions for the family," Jupiter said.
"Women in this space tend to be comfortable with things that they know and do and purchase themselves, so they can understand that space from a different personal standpoint," Wolf said.
Paino said that she is particularly excited to support women-led ventures in addition to women entrepreneurs "who are determined and really have the ability to make something happen."
Women investors may choose to highlight successful women business owners who may otherwise be overlooked in the industry.
But ultimately, investments are also a numbers game, Wolf said. Men and women are equally capable of interpreting growth rates, velocity, and all the metrics that would drive any investor to make an informed investment decision based on a company's performance.
"It really just has to do with industry knowledge and experience and having a good feel for the team that's pitching and what kind of company has come to the table," said Paino.