Nardone brings more than 30 years of leadership experience in the food and beverage CPG industry, including as the former CEO of PopCorners owner BFY Brands, which PepsiCo acquired in late 2019, and the CEO of Annie’s Homegrown, Stirrings and the Immaculate Baking Co.
He replaces as CEO Joseph Serventi, who left HIPPEAS at the end of last year, and joins a c-suite that also boasts as chief financial officer Greg Buscher, who joined HIPPEAS earlier this year after serving as CFO at fast-growing US alkaline water company Essentia, which was acquired by Nestle USA for an undisclosed sum in March, and before that at Skinny Dipped Almonds and Herbivore Botanicals.
Founder Livio Bisterzo, who acted as CEO between Serventi's departure and Nardone joining HIPPEAS, will transition back to the executive chairman role, but will continue to play an active role in the company by focusing on strategic initiatives.
Beginning April 12, Nardone will focus on the brand’s portfolio, expanding production and opening new channels of distribution, initially.
HIPPEAS leverages macro-trends for fast growth
During the pandemic, many consumers embraced iconic legacy brands as a reminder of life before lockdowns – but Nardone sees better-for-you and plant-based snacks, like the chickpea puffs and chickpea-based tortilla chips that HIPPEAS offers, as a part of a long-term trend.
“People did splurge a little and reach for those nostalgic brands during the pandemic, but we feel that HIPPEAS is a great place for everyday snacking, not just for comfort in times of stress,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.
He added: “Plant-based is not a passing trend, it’s a lifestyle that more and more people are signing up for, for the long-term. Whether you’re doing it for your health, the environment, animal humanity or all three – there’s definitely a major shift that’s been happening that anyone can see. HIPPEAS is a great better-for-you alternative to the traditional cheese puff or tortilla chip and we are seeing more and more conversion everyday.”
New DTC platform offers growth potential, touchpoint for consumers
To meet this growing demand as well as shifts in consumer shopping patterns that arose during the pandemic, Nardone said that HIPPEAS is expanding its ecommerce presence with the launch of a direct-to-consumer platform.
“The pandemic has been very difficult for a lot of brands, and we’ve seen some major changes to the landscape of retail this year, with many consumers turning to online shopping for their essentials – including snacks,” he explained.
“HIPPEAS recently launched a direct-to-consumer platform, so we’re hoping to see some incremental sales there and use it as a launchpad for innovation testing, etc., while continuing to work in partnership with our key retailers and expanding distribution through those channels,” he added.
This strategy will build on HIPPEAS aggressive distribution strategy, which began with the dual launch of its puffs on both sides on the Atlantic in mid-2016 and quickly expanded to include retail locations ranging from quick-service and convenience outlets like Starbucks to the natural channel with Whole Foods Market to conventional and drugstores, including Kroger, CVS and Target, and finally mass as Costco among others.
In addition to its DTC platform, HIPPEAS also is distributed online through Thrive Market and Amazon.
“HIPPEAS is available at over 50K retail doors and is the #1 chickpea snack on the market. The brand has seen significant growth year-over-year – momentum is strong and the brand has secured major national partnerships, which will be launching this summer and beyond,” Nardone said.
He added the fast growth and “palpable” excitement around the HIPPEAS brand is one reason why he was attracted to the brand.
“HIPPEAS has all the tenets to become a household name and a true lifestyle brand,” he said.
He added that between the “fresh and focused leadership,” a line of products with attributes like plant-based, organic and non-GMO that consumers want and the recent $50m investment led by The Craftory Limited announced in January, “HIPPEAS future is looking very bright and I am thrilled to be a part of the team.”