The CircleUp25 list of winning companies was first published in Forbes on Thursday with all comments in italics below from Ryan Caldbeck, founder and CEO of CircleUp, an online marketplace that connects investors with consumer and retail companies. (Companies that have raised capital on CircleUp were excluded to avoid a conflict of interest.)
The winners go against the grain, breathe new life into staid consumer categories or create new categories entirely, according to CircleUp, which received thousands of submissions and then whittled them down to a shortlist of 100 using “a version of our Classifier, our machine learning algorithm, to assess brand strength, customer engagement, product, distribution, growth and more.”
The final 25 were then picked by an expert panel featuring:
- Jon Sebastiani, Krave Founder and Sonoma Brands CEO
- John Foraker, Annie’s Founder and President
- Craig Shapiro, Collaborative Fund Managing Director
- Bill Shen, Encore Consumer Capital Director
- Mark Rampolla, Founder of ZICO Coconut Water and Partner at Powerplant Ventures
- Brian Tockman, General Mills’ 301 INC Principal
- Danielle Gould, Food + Tech Connect Founder
- Josh Wand, Founder of Force Brands
- Nicholas Giannuzzi, Managing Partner of The Giannuzzi Group
Zach Grannis, business operations manager at CircleUp, told FoodNavigator-USA that plant-based foods underpinned by proprietary technologies, and functional beverages, were hot areas this year (the initiative is now in its fourth year), while brands such as Sir Kensington's had demonstrated an ability to disrupt a mature category (condiments) dominated by some huge multinational brands via innovation and superior branding.
While it is arguably easier to start a food company than an apparel or personal care company in that we can all knock up some prototypes up in our kitchens without specialist knowledge or equipment, the large number of food/bev companies on the list reflects just how dynamic the food/bev start-up space is right now, he added.
So where are all the meal/meal-kit delivery companies?
There is one on the list (HungryRoot), noted CircleUp communications lead Kira McCroden. However, while the business model of these companies is clearly appealing to many time-strapped consumers, winners in this space will have to offer products that are demonstrably better than the kind of stuff you usually cook at home in order to retain consumer interest.
The winners (comments in italics all from Ryan Caldbeck, CEO and founder, CircleUp).
Califia Farms | Los Angeles, CA
- Why? For taking the dairy out of milk and coffee and replacing it with alternatives even more nutritious and satisfying. Califia is best known for its ever-popular almond milk, but recently introduced its “Nitro Draft Cold Brew”—a new twist on the average coffee. The brand is loved by many, as it doubled revenue in 2015 and increased distribution to 18,000 storefronts.
- Founder: Greg Steltenpohl.
- Investors: Stripes Group.
Ripple | Emeryville, CA
- Why? For creating the first non-dairy milk from yellow pea protein that is creamy, nutritious, and good for the earth too. Ripple has eight times the protein of almond milk, is lower in sugar than other milks, and has a 93% lower water footprint than dairy. The all natural dairy alternative is easily produced sans GMOs, pesticides, and other allergens. Ripple is available nationwide and a featured product in all Target stores as part of the company’s Made to Matter program.
- Founders: Neil Renninger, Adam Lowry.
- Investors: Collaborative Fund, Khosla Ventures, S2G Ventures, GV.
Bulletproof | Bellevue, WA
- Why? For pioneering ‘biohacking’ in coffee, by subbing out cream and sugar for grass-fed butter. The shift helps burn fat and provide more energy throughout the day, making daily coffee habits healthier. Last year, Bulletproof raised $9 million in funding to open more retail locations through the West Coast.
- Founder: Dave Asprey.
- Investors: Trinity Ventures.
Sir Kensington’s | New York, NY
- Why? For bringing real, rich flavors to average condiments, many with plant-based products. Sir Kensington’s just introduced “Fabanaise”, the world’s first vegan mayo made from aquafaba, the viscous water in which legume seeds such as chickpeas have been cooked. From 2014 to 2015, Sir Kensington’s grew 170%.
- Founders: Mark Ramadan, Scott Norton.
- Investors: Verlinvest, Mike Kirban, founder of Vita Coco; David Barber, co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns; the co-founders of Sweetgreen through SWTLF Ventures.
Harmless Harvest | San Francisco, CA
- Why? Coconut Water is an established category, but no other brand is the first Fair for Life certified, meaning it meets the highest standards for environmental practices, farmer and employee wage and well-being, and commitment to sustainability. The brand recently upped its game by introducing a proprietary multi-step filtration process, so it can use significantly less plastic.
- Founders: Justin Guilbert, Douglas Riboud.
- Investors: Undisclosed.
Impossible Foods | Redwood City, CA
- Why? For showing meat lovers everywhere that that even if it looks, sizzles, smells and tastes like a burger, it’s not. By using a unique recipe with plant-blood, Impossible Foods has created a plant-based product eerily similar to real burger meat. With clean ingredients and sustainable practices, it’s better for you and better for the world.
- Founders: Patrick O. Brown, Tal Ronnen.
- Investors: Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Horizons Ventures, Viking Global Investors, UBS, GV.
Kite Hill | Hayward, CA
- Why: Kite Hill, a product by Lyrical Foods, is blending natural, non-dairy ingredients, biochemistry and traditional cheese- and dairy-making techniques to deliver mouth-watering, non-dairy alternatives. Kite Hill primarily works with almonds, but plans to expand to use an assortment of nuts to deliver a variety of healthier products.
- Founders: Tal Ronnen, Monte Casino, Matthew Sade (CEO), Pat Brown (Lyrical Foods).
- Investors: CAVU Venture Partners, General Mills 301 INC.
Umami Burger | Los Angeles, CA
- Why? There’s something distinctly recognizable about Umami’s burgers, from the rich flavor to a welcoming, modern brand. Now, you don’t have to be in California to experience the flavors of Umami. The company has expanded to over 20 locations in just three years, and in the last six months, opened two new U.S. locations as well as its first international location in Tokyo.
- Founder: Adam Fleischman.
- Investors: Fortress Investment Group, Nimes Capital, SBE Entertainment Group.
Chameleon Cold Brew | Austin, TX
- Why? For leading the cold brew trend, where grounds are soaked in water for 12+ hours, then strained to bring out subtle, smooth flavors. Chameleon Cold Brew is delicious, organic, fair-trade, and consciously crafted from Arabica beans. Named the best cold brew coffee in America by Thrillist, the brand boasted 200% growth from 2015 to 2016.
- Founder: Chris Campbell.
- Investors: Fortitude Capital, Boulder Food Group.
Health-Ade Kombucha | Los Angeles, CA
Why? Amid a crowded kombucha category, Health-Ade stands out for its vegan, non-GMO kombucha fermented in small batches. It is lower in sugars than other brands, and committed to using the highest quality ingredients. Health-Ade recently raised $7 million and currently has products in over 3,000 stores in 42 states, including in over half of the Whole Foods regions.
Founders: Daina Trout, Justin Trout, and Vanessa Dew.
Investors: CAVU Venture Partners, First Beverage Group.
Hungryroot | New York, NY
- Why? For creating vibrant, delicious vegetable-based meals and delivering them right to your door. Hungryroot, on track to do $8M in sales this year, believes you shouldn’t have to compromise comfort foods like pasta and cookies while getting you daily dose of veggies and keeping healthy.
- Founders: Ben Mckean, Franklin Becker, Greg Struck.
- Investors: Lightspeed Venture Partners, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Crosslink Capital and KarpReilly.
Navitas Naturals | Novato, CA
- Why? For creating an organic superfood company making it easy for anyone to get the best quality superfood ingredients and snacks, like acai, chia, goji, cacao, hemp and more. Every Navitas product is USDA certified organic, non-GMO and contains health benefits that have been celebrated for generations.
- Founder: Zach Adelman.
- Investors: Encore Consumer Capital.
Veggie Grill | Irvine, CA
- Why? For making vegetables a mainstream fast casual menu item with over 25 locations. Even with an entirely plant-based menu, everyone can find something delicious at these bright, modern restaurants. Veggie Grill is rumored to be on the move to Middle America so more people across the nation can enjoy its healthful meals.
- Founders: T.K. Pillan, Kevin Boylan, Ray White.
- Investors: Brentwood Associates.
GT’s Kombucha | Los Angeles, CA
- Why? You’d be hard pressed to go into any natural foods store and not find a full selection of GT’s Kombucha or Synergy drinks. The brand has grown kombucha into a mainstream beverage, enabling people everywhere to load up on probiotics through the tea-based beverage. GT’s Kombucha rang up $346 million in sales in 2014, and has since showed no signs of slowing down.
- Founder: GT Dave
- Investors: Undisclosed
Lemonade | Culver City, CA
- Why? For revitalizing the staid cafeteria experience with bright locations serving fresh, California cuisine. Lemonade’s fanatical following has led to growth as sweet as its signature lemonade, with 24 locations to date–including one that opened just this week.
- Founder: Alan Jackson.
- Investors: KKR & Co., Butterfly Enterprises.
Peloton | New York, NY
- Why? For bringing the spin craze right into your own home. Peloton is the only exercise machine to stream live cycling classes, so you can experience the best spin classes on your own schedule. This innovation is projected to put the brand at $150M in revenue this year.
- Founders: John Foley, Graham Stanton, Tom Cortese, Hisao Kushi, Yong Feng
- Investors: L Catterton, Tiger Global Management, and True Ventures
S’well | New York, NY
- Why? For rethinking why a personal accessory we use daily is only fashioned for outdoor gear, then combining style and functionality to built a sustainable, luxury, stainless steel water bottle. What started as a one-woman show has now grown into a water bottle empire with 50+ unique designs and $50M in sales.
- Founder: Sarah Kauss
- Investors: Sarah Kauss, a self-proclaimed “recovering accountant”, never sought outside financing.
Revolve | Cerritos, CA
- Why? For creating a blue chip ecommerce experience with a highly curated selection of fashionable brands, ranging from big, small to unique. The impeccable customer service and inventive styles led Revolve to do a cool $400 million in sales in 2015.
- Founders: Michael Karanikolas, Michael Mente.
- Investors: TSG Consumer Partners.
CrossFit | Washington D.C.
- Why? For creating a high intensity workout spanning 10 focuses: cardio, flexibility, coordination, strength, stamina, power, speed, agility, balance and accuracy. Crossfit isn’t just a phenomenal workout, it’s a lifestyle and community—and it’s grown like crazy. Apart from an estimated $4 billion in sales, the number of crossfit gyms in the U.S. grew 1900% in the first 6 years.
- Founder: Greg Glassman.
- Investors: Undisclosed.
CircleUp head of funds Jason Starr (second from right, below) will be speaking on the opening night of Food Vision USA 2016 in Chicago on November 9 on a panel with Seth Goldman (Honest Tea, Beyond Meat), John Haugen (Gen Mills 10 INC) and Jon Sebastiani (Sonoma Brands).