Commentary

Ex-Annie's CEO John Foraker, Jennifer Garner Join Baby Food Startup

John Foraker, the CEO who transformed Annie Withey’s feisty mac & cheese startup into a line of organic products General Mills was willing to shell out $820 million for three years ago, announced yesterday that he was joining actress Jennifer Garner to nurture Once Upon a Farm, a two-year-old company that markets a line of cold-pressed organic baby foods and applesauces. Foraker will be CEO; Garner will serve as chief brand officer. 

They will carry co-founder status along with entrepreneurs Cassandra Curtis and Ari Raz, who launched the San Diego-based company on the premise that “babies deserve real food, too.” It currently offers 12 organic, cold-pressed, ready-to-eat baby food pouches, as well as three applesauce varieties. Once Upon a Farm pouches are cold-pressed using high-pressure processing (HPP) to maintain a higher nutritional content and fresher, less sugary flavors, according to the company.

Foraker, a father of four, left Annie’s in August after 18 years with the company, reportsWholeFoods magazine. Garner has been an ambassador with Save the Children for the last five years.

“As a mom of three and Save the Children artist ambassador, I am passionate about childhood nutrition and making sure we are leaving a healthier and happier planet for the next generation,” Garner says in a news release about the appointments. “Once Upon a Farm helps parents keep their promise to deliver the best nourishment for their children's bodies and souls.”

“I'm thrilled to be able to return to my entrepreneurial roots,” says Foraker, who has an MBA from the University of California Berkeley and is “a respected expert spokesperson in the organic and natural foods industry,” according to his Bloomberg profile.

“I love the brand name. And it is so clear that with our shared passion, we can make this way bigger than baby food. We want to become the next big nutrition brand for kids,” Foraker tells Max Goldberg in an interview on LivingMaxwell.com. “There is a lot of white space out there for healthier kids’ food than what is now found in the center of the store. There are a lot of products in the pipeline, and we’re currently working on many different ideas.”

Once Upon a Farm are currently available through company's website and at some Wegmans, Kroger and Whole Foods Market stores.

As many options as there may be, “baby food has become boring, Mr. Foraker said, because conventional brands are continuing to struggle with a lack of innovation,” Annie Gasparro writes for the Wall Street Journal.

“Baby-food sales, by volume, have declined an average of 4% a year for the past four years, according to market research firm Nielsen. Brands, especially the longtime industry leader Gerber, which is owned by Nestlé SA, have lost market share to new ones with organic ingredients that are sold in the increasingly popular pouches,” Gasparro continues.

“Organic varieties’ sales dollars have risen 25% in the past two years, accounting for about $415.4 million of the $1.75 billion in sales of baby food in the U.S., according to Nielsen data. More parents also are making baby food at home, according to market research firm Euromonitor International,” Gasparro reveals.

“In my work with Save the Children, where I have been an ambassador for the last five years, I have visited a ton of families in rural America, and kids just do not have access to fresh organic food,” Garner tells Goldberg. “Even though I have advocated for this issue in the government at both a state and national level, I understand that business drives change and wanted to find a company that could get nutritious food out to kids.

“I ended up meeting Cassandra and Ari, and loved the product. After some research, I soon learned that John was on the board of directors and wanted to know why. Once John and I met, everything he said rang true with me.”

Garner tells the WSJ’s Gasparro that she’s looking forward to getting involved with the nuts and bolts of the food business.

“I get to learn a whole new industry and be part of a conversation that I never thought I’d be a part of,” she says. “Watch for pictures of me on a tractor,” Gasparro writes.

We’re guessing that’ll more likely make the cover of WholeFoods than People.

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