The investment round was led by new investor Forage Capital Partners, alongside Export Development Canada (EDC), and with substantial support from existing investor Whitecap Venture Partners.
"The funding is a gamechanger for us," Knowles told FoodNavigator-USA, adding that the brand's first priority will be to fund its current, rapid growth, which has taken off as consumers are looking for more fresh and plant-based options.
According to a 28,000-person survey conducted in 30 countries by OnePoll on behalf of Herbalife Nutrition, 47% of Americans have started eating more plant-based foods amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In its annual ‘Future of Fresh’ report, (conducted in July 2020 and based on survey responses from 2,000 US adults), Deloitte found fresh food is an important growing driver of sales for retailers and that nine out 10 consumers report that fresh food makes them "happy".
2019-2020: 3,700+ retail stores, +247% sales growth
Launched in 2019, Mother Raw is distributed in more than3,700 stores in North America, including 1,600 US retail listings with Meijer, Sprouts, Target, and Whole Foods -- many of which were added to the brand's distribution network during the pandemic, noted Knowles. Consumer demand has kept up with the company's robust distribution growth as sales for the emerging brand have grown 247% between 2019 and 2020, according to Mother Raw.
"Mother Raw's impressive growth is attributed to its focus on innovation and quality products that meet the demand of a growing industry," Carl Burlock, executive vice president and chief business officer at EDC, said in a release.
"We are pleased to support Mother Raw through EDC's investment Matching Program, which will enable the company to increase investment in business development and innovation efforts, helping it execute on its ambitious growth plans across North America," added Burlock.
“We were thoroughly impressed by the depth and accomplishments of the Mother Raw management team and their plans for the future, even more so during this very challenging time for most businesses,” Jim Taylor, partner at Forage Capital Partners, added in the announcement. “We’re delighted to invest in Mother Raw during a critical time in the company’s development and are looking forward to being a part of their continued success.”
Disrupting 'dusty' categories
"From a marketing standpoint, it [the funding] gives us more fuel to lean into the market that we know is working," said Knowles.
She explained its marketing message and strategy is centered around the brand's ultimate goal of encouraging consumers to eat more plants across categories by offering 100% plant-based formulations of its products, which are minimally processed and "cold-blended," according to Knowles. A blog post on the company's website further explains that cold-blending means its products "are NEVER heated or pasteurized during the blending process."
"We believe your salad dressing should be as healthy as your salad," said Knowles, who interprets this motto to mean creating products that are free from artificial ingredients, colors, and other highly-processed ingredients such as gums, preservatives, and thickeners.
"We’re disrupting categories that are sort of dusty, and that oftentimes might use artificial colors, flavors, and fillers."
Mother Raw's product portfolio includes 20 refrigerated dressings, marinades, dips, condiments, and quesos intended "to help make eating more plants more tasty, convenient and versatile," says the company. Mother Raw products are non-GMO and free of the top common allergens such as dairy, nuts, gluten, and soy.
The main ingredients in the brand's best-selling plant-based dressing SKU, caesar, for instance, include cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, filtered water, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, capers, minced garlic, gray sea salt, minced onion, black pepper, and dulse (a variety of edible seaweed which delivers an umami flavor to the product). Mother Raw products, which are merchandized most often in the refrigerated area of produce sections at retail, and have a nine-month shelf life, according to Knowles.
Innovation platform emerges
Other top-sellers for the brand include its Japanese, ranch, and Greek dressings, but on the company's online Shopify site, however, new favorites are emerging, according to Knowles.
"Because all of the products are available (as opposed to retailers who may only carry a handful of SKUs), it really allows you to see naturally where the demand is," said Knowles who noted that online orders for its vegan queso dip, onion dip, and ketchup are gaining steam.
"Our own online shop is showing us that there are definitely other favorites within our portfolio. We launched in 2019 with dressings as our focus. Now, our focus is really turning to dips and condiments," she said.
As a result, the cash injection will be prioritized for innovation, added Knowles.
"Mother Raw as a brand platform was created to be stretchy -- to be able to expand and go deeper into existing categories and go wider into other categories," she said. "We are very delighted to be kicking off an innovation platform so we can stick with this mission, which is to encourage people to eat more plants across categories."