PE firm acquires majority stake in Dr. Praeger’s: 'We have some of the most loyal customers in the industry'
New Jersey-based Dr. Praeger’s – which was founded in the mid-1990s – is led by second generation family members Larry Praeger (CEO) and Adam Somberg (President) who will continue in these roles and remain significant investors in the company.
“Larry and Adam have done a tremendous job building the company and developing new products that speak to today's consumers – flexitarians, vegetarians, vegans and those who seek a healthier lifestyle,” said Winston Song, Managing Director and co-head of consumer at Vestar, who is bringing in CPG industry veteran Jeffrey Ansell (currently chairman of data insights firm IRI) as chairman.
"With Vestar's support, the company aims to launch further product innovations that will continue to deliver healthy, great tasting foods at an attractive price," said Somberg.
A more meaty experience
Dr Praeger's is probably best known for its flagship California Veggie Burger, but has since expanded into seafood, bowls, hash browns, puffs, spinach cakes, frozen kids’ finger food, oat snacks, and a new range of pea-protein-based plant-based burgers and sliders. It has national listings at retailers from Whole Foods to Sprouts, Albertsons, Publix, Kroger, and Safeway.
Its most recent innovations, launched in Walmart last fall - a Classic Veggie Burger combining vegetables, quinoa, and brown rice (13g protein); and a Chipotle Black Bean Veggie Burger combining black beans, corn, peppers, and brown rice with chipotle (16g protein) - took it into the refrigerated aisle for the first time.
The move followed the launch of the brand's 'Perfect' pure plant protein line of products attempting to more precisely mimic meat.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA in September 2020 after launching a pea-protein fueled 'Turk'y' burger - the latest addition to the 'Perfect' line-up - CEO Larry Praeger said the product met demand for a more meat-like experience from plant-based products, but stayed true to Dr. Praeger’s 'DNA' of focusing on vegetables and clean ingredients (the patty is infused with carrots, sweet potatoes and butternut squash).
"We are probably ultimately targeting different people, but for us it was really about offering more products to the Dr. Praeger’s consumer – giving them more opportunities to choose different meals and different type of food during different occasions,” Praeger said, adding that while the lines reach different consumer bases, there is also significant overlap.
“One night you might be in the mood for something that tastes like meat, and one night you might be in the mood for something that is more like our Cali Veggie burger."
Dr. Praeger's Perfect Burger has about the same amount of protein (20g) as rival products, but less saturated fat (2g), owing to its use of sunflower rather than coconut oil. It also features 4g fiber.
Perfect Burger ingredients: Hydrated Pea Protein Blend (Water, Pea Protein), Sunflower Oil, Beets, Natural Flavors, Sweet Potato Puree, Butternut Squash Puree, Carrot Puree, Methyl Cellulose, Oat Fiber, Fruit And Vegetable Juice (For Color), Sea Salt, Onion Powder
The Dr. Praeger's story dates back to the late 1980s, when Dr. Peter Praeger and colleague Dr. Eric Somberg conducted emergency heart surgery on a man with a ruptured aorta who had been hit by a car. He was paralyzed in the accident, but thanks to the surgeons’ efforts, he survived.
Around 18 months later, Rubin Ungar - the patient’s brother-in-law and regular visitor to the hospital - got back in touch to report that his brother-in-law was doing better. However, Ungar’s business - Ungar’s Gefilte Fish, which made kosher fish dishes popular in the Jewish community - was in trouble.
In the next few years, Praeger and Somberg - who were experts at rescuing people, not struggling businesses - stayed in touch, and helped out, but finally grasped the nettle in 1994, bought Ungar’s Gefilte Fish and moved into the food manufacturing trade.
Peter son Larry Praeger (pictured left), told FoodNavigator-USA in 2014: “It was always about ‘sensible’ foods, not diet foods. My father [who died in 2012] wanted patients recovering from heart surgery to have something healthy and tasty to eat.”