Also participating in the round were S2G Ventures, Beechwood Capital and other Series A investors. The Series A round was led by Cambridge SPG in 2017.
John Foraker, former CEO of General Mills-owned Annie’s, joined Once Upon a Farm founders Cassandra Curtis and Ari Raz in 2017 and has helped the brand expand beyond its Southern California market to over 8,500 stores including Whole Foods, Target, Kroger, a number of Walmart stores, and many independent natural retailers.
“We’ve really been focused on building out distribution and selling the category concept of fresh baby [food] to big retailers. And we’ve been very successful, we’ve built a lot of doors and distribution and increasing velocity,” Foraker told FoodNavigator-USA.
“What this money is going to allow us to do is to really continue to drive that [growth], drive marketing harder, and also to continue to build out our innovation pipeline.”
Part of Once Upon a Farm’s marketing appeal has been the addition of actress Jennifer Garner who joined the company as co-founder.
“This latest round of funding allows us to continue to help busy parents give their children the most nutritious foods possible and make life a little bit easier for families across the country,” Garner said.
“It is incredibly exciting to see so many families embracing our products.”
‘We’re showing them that we can bring consumers back into their aisle’
Currently, Once Upon a Farm refrigerated products can be found in the dairy aisle (and at Target stores in the produce section).
“Most of our distribution is in the dairy set. We decided to go to dairy because there’s a really strong cross shot between moms and dads who are shopping in the conventional baby food aisle and also moms and dads who are shopping in the kids yogurt set,” Foraker said.
But that placement is about to shift as Once Upon a Farm has been leading the charge in showing retailers the benefit of installing coolers to house the brand’s fresh products in the center of the store and bring foot traffic back to the conventional baby food aisle.
“We’re bringing in the thought leadership to the consumers and showing them consumer research that we’ve done that shows how many moms and dads are making their own baby food and have really been avoiding the conventional baby food aisle,” Foraker said.
“We’re showing them that we can bring consumers back into their aisle and into the store and build a lot of loyalty and incremental sales with them.”
According to Foraker, Once Upon a Farm is providing its retail partners with a “wholly turnkey refrigeration concept” that will be rolling out to some retailers beginning in January 2019.
Beyond pouches and into spoon-feeding occasions
While the pouch format has taken the baby and toddler food category by storm in recent years, the on-the-go squeezable packaging does not fit into all eating occasions, according to Foraker.
“If you talk to moms and dads who are buyers of baby food only about 25% of baby food and toddler food needs are in a pouch, about 75% are in a cup or a jar,” he said.
“We knew that for us to have the assortment that met the needs of moms and dads we needed to broaden into cups.”
The company’s recent addition of organic baby food cups to its portfolio (debuted at Natural Products Expo East last month) are designed for spoon feeding occasions for babies 5- to 9-months-old. The new product line's nine flavors – three of which are WIC* (Women, Infants, and Children) eligible -- will start shipping to retailers this December, Foraker said.
The 4-ounce cups are packaged in BPA-free, recyclable plastic for an SRP of $2.49 per container.
“The cups gives us a broad assortment that allows us to make the economics of the cooler installation make sense. We have a broad enough assortment to meet their [consumers’ and retailers’] needs and drive the kind of revenue necessary to make the ROI on a cooler work.”
Building out its portfolio
Once Upon a Farm has anchored itself in the baby food space but Foraker said the brand’s ambitions are to be a complete kids’ nutrition brand for parents with babies and kids up to 12-years-old.
The company launched kids smoothie products in pouches earlier this year, which have been selling “incredibly well”, and more products will be added to that line, according to Foraker.
“We want to really focus on ‘fresh’ for baby all the way up to age 12 and build out a trusted brand moms and dads can follow.”
*The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children - better known as the WIC Program - serves to safeguard the health of low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets.