About four years since the trendy chickpea puff snack launched, Hippeas has moved into nearly 100,000 stores, increased its fundraising, grown its brand recognition and changed its C-suite.
But Founder and Chairman Livio Bisterzo told Food Dive the company is just getting started. He said Hippeas plans to continue scaling its distribution and outreach to become a household name. It also plans to launch new products.
"We are a puff brand today, but over the next five years, we will launch innovation across a handful of different categories," he said. "The big vision over the next five years is, without a doubt, we will be a snacking platform that has the potential to operate across the different snacking categories."
Hippeas raised $8 million in its most recent funding round, which closed in December. Venture group CAVU led the round while barkTHINS founder Scott Semel and some Hippeas employees also invested. The puff maker previously raised a total of $14 million, according to Crunchbase.
"The funding has definitely helped us lay the infrastructure for allowing us to grow," Bisterzo said.
More than just product innovation and fundraising in the future could facilitate further growth. Last year, the company announced that Joe Serventi, who joined as general manager in 2017, was promoted to global CEO. Bisterzo, who had served as CEO, became chairman. Serventi oversees global business while Bisterzo is in charge of brand marketing, innovation and the company's charitable work.
"We really recognized an underserved white space and we went after it. All our early stage retailers and still today, all of our partners, investors, stakeholders still feel there is an opportunity to build a brand that will become a household brand over the next 10-20 years."
Founder and Chairman, Hippeas
Prior to Hippeas, Serventi led several small brands that were acquired by Big Food. He was executive vice president at barkTHINS, where he helped establish the brand before selling it to Hershey. Serventi also served on the Pirate Brands management team, working to revitalize it before selling to B&G Foods for $195 million. Pirate Brands is now owned by Hershey, which acquired it last year for $420 million.
"He has a very successful track record of growing companies from small to big," Bisterzo said.
The puffs category continues to expand and more big companies could be looking to buy growing brands in the space. When asked whether Hippeas could be working to get acquired by a bigger company, the founder said "potentially," but it could be years down the line.
"Right now, we have so much opportunity, we have a clear path to keep growing this business exponentially, and we just want to keep doing what we're doing," Bisterzo said.
Bisterzo said the rise of the plant-based snacking trend has helped the company grow. He said the company’s target audience is millennials — whom the company deems modern day hippies — wanting to eat more better-for-you snacks that help the world.
"We were very much at the forefront. We sort of picked early on the trend. It's a growing category," he said. "There's room for many newcomers, and to be fair, the texture of puffs is something that consumers really like. There's been a lot of companies that have developed puffs over the last few years. We find it flattering, and exciting to see that we're still leading the charge."
Bisterzo has been a serial entrepreneur in the consumer space for 15 years. In 2015, he founded Hippeas' parent company Green Park Holdings, an innovation business with a mission to create multichannel food and drinks brands. He isn't surprised by Hippeas' success.
"We really recognized an underserved white space and we went after it," Bisterzo said. "All our early stage retailers, and still today, all of our partners, investors, stakeholders still feel there is an opportunity to build a brand that will become a household brand over the next 10-20 years."
Hippeas is also looking to grow its philanthropy as the company scales up, one of the focuses announced for Bisterzo in his chairman role. The company — with the mantra "Peas, Love & Giving Back" — has previously partnered with Feeding America to donate to food banks and help with disaster relief across the country.
The company just announced it is donating up to $50,000 to Whole Kids Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Whole Foods Market that supports grants for school gardens, salad bars and beehives to help children make healthy food choices. For every Hippeas bag sold at Whole Foods Market locations in the U.S. for three weeks in August and September, Hippeas donated a portion of proceeds to the foundation.
The chickpea puff brand is the latest company to sponsor the Growing Healthy Kids Campaign, which builds awareness about healthy eating habits in children and increases access to healthy foods. Other organic brands, including Annie's, Clif, Back to Nature and Bearitos also invested in the program.
"One of our major drivers at Hippeas is doing good for yourself and the earth," Lindsey Valliere, vice president of marketing at Hippeas, told Food Dive. "This year it is our first year to pledge to donate $50,000 by working with them, alongside them, to help teach kids better snacking behaviors."