Forward Consumer Partners makes first purchase with Firehook Bakery acquisition

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Forward Consumer Partners
Image Credit: Forward Consumer Partners

Related tags Private equity Bakery Cracker

Private-equity firm Forward Consumer Partners acquired artisan baker, Firehook Bakery, marking the first acquisition of the company’s $425m initial fund, the firm’s founder and managing partner, Matt Leeds, told FoodNavigator-USA.

Founded in 1992 by Pierre Abushacra, Firehook Bakery grew from a small-town neighborhood bakery located in Alexandria, Va., into an artisanal cracker brand available nationwide. As part of the deal, Abushacra will retain a significant minority stake, and Leeds will become a Firehook chairman. 

In tandem with the acquisition, Forward Consumer Partners appointed​ Maura Mottolese, former CEO of Cholula and Tate's Bake Shop, as the CEO of Firehook. Forward Consumer Partners rounded out the brand’s executive team by appointing Terry Bigham, former sales executive at Cholula, Tate’s Bake Shop and Carbone, to the role of chief growth officer, and Ellen Howse, former marketer for Godiva, Dewey’s Bakery and Hello Products, to the role of CMO.  

Houlihan Lokey and Kirkland & Ellis advised Forward Consumer Partners on the acquisition, and Firehook was represented by Novelty Hill Capital and Stein Sperling.

“Our focus as a firm is on powerful brands that make beloved products — that is the core of what we do. When it comes to Firehook, it is a business that has deep roots. It is a powerful brand that makes beloved products proven over 32 years across multiple economic cycles. It is a brand and a product that resonates with retailers and resonates with consumers,” Leeds said. 

Moving Firehook from the perimeter to the center store 

Forward Consumer partners will accelerate Firehook's growth through a three-prong plan, Leeds said. This includes increasing consumer awareness and demand, expanding the sales team and expanding distribution beyond the perimeter of the store.

While commending the "unbelievable" performance of Firehook's existing two-person sales team, Leeds plans to reinforce the team and "help raise the level of sophistication of the selling process ... to really tell the story about the Firehook branded products to retailers in a bigger and better way," Leeds said. 

Based on its consumer research, the private-equity firm also sees an opportunity to expand the Firehook brand into more snacking occasions, which will move the brand into the center of the store, Leeds explained. The US cracker and cookies market was valued at $34.18bn in 2024 and is expected to grow by a 2.54% CAGR between 2024-2028, according to Statista data​.

“It is obvious that [Firehook crackers do] a great job at being a carrier product for cheeses and meats and other things that belong on a charcuterie board. But we were pleasantly surprised at the amount of people who are using it already for snacking. Our job will be to help innovate the brand into even more snackable, even more craveable products, that allows us to do both the perimeter of the store as a carrier and also the center store in a much more snackable way," Leeds said.

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