Filmed during Project NOSH Live Winter 2017. Featuring Jeremy Smith, Founder and CEO of LaunchPad.
Published on Feb 7, 2018
Ryan Caldbeck Contributor
This marks the sixth year of CircleUp25, our awards recognizing some of the most innovative consumer and retail brands of the year.
CircleUp25 is decided on by our expert judges and Helio, our machine learning platform that identifies, classifies, and evaluates 1.4 million brands. This year saw fierce competition across a number of categories which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows the sector. The finalists and winners produce a number of indicators about where innovation in consumer is heading. In addition to crowning the finalists, we’re excited to dive into some of the data which underscores why these are the next generation of innovative consumer and retail brands––keep in mind it is just a sampling!
But first, we want to review the selection process and methodology. As with last year, we announced the awards and allowed brands to submit themselves or be nominated by their peers. Following the call for nominations, we reviewed all companies via Helio to better understand each nominee and check for relevancy. After separating the nominees by category to ensure representation across the multi-faceted consumer industry, the judges voted independently to determine the finalists. Since launching in 2012, CircleUp has worked with more than 300 brands in the consumer industry and we would like to call out here that after much deliberation and in keeping with the spirit of Forbes, we chose not to include companies that have received an investment from one of CircleUp’s equity funds.
So without further ado, we bring you this year’s class of the 25 Most Innovative Brands in Consumer and Retail.
Ancient Nutrition | Palm Beach, FL
Founding Team: Jordan Rubin, Josh Axe
Investors: VMG Partners, Hillhouse Capital
Why? Ancient Nutrition sits at the heart of the booming wellness and supplements industry. On a mission to bring whole food nutritional products to the modern consumer, the company pioneered all natural and easy-to-digest pure bone broth protein powders and in March announced $103 million in funding from over 100 investors.
Beyond Meat | El Segundo, CA
Founding Team: Ethan Brown
Investors: Kleiner Perkins, Humane Society of the United States, Tyson Foods
Helio Insight: A star with our judges, Beyond Meat makes 100% plant-based products that look, cook & taste like meat, without sacrificing on taste or juicy satisfaction. Helio surfaced Beyond Meat as the company with the strongest brand score of companies tracked in the meat and seafood alternatives category. The brand has great distribution and has seen significant yearly growth in door count.
Distribution and Brand Score for meat and seafood alternatives companies
Brew Dr. Kombucha | Portland, OR
Founding Team: Matt Thomas
Investors: Castanea Partners, Townshend Tea
Why? Did you know that kombucha takes up to one-third of the refrigerated functional-beverage shelf space in Whole Foods? With a market that is projected to reach $1.8 billion by 2020, Brew Dr. Kombucha takes an innovative approach by removing the alcohol without the use of heat, preserving the beverage’s health benefits and live, active cultures.
Caulipower | Studio City, CA
Founding Team: Gail Becker
Investors: Boulder Food Group
Why? In a world that loves to snack or dig into a yummy pizza, Caulipower makes better-for-you favorites without the guilt. Leading an all new grocery category, the company makes convenient pizzas that taste like conventional recipes and are easy for any family to enjoy. Since launching in 2017, Caulipower has quickly become the fastest growing frozen pizza brand in the U.S. and the #1 gluten-free pizza. A year ago the brand had almost no offline distribution, but here, Helio shows today how in the course of a year, the brand has grown quickly spread to major distribution areas across the country.
Cece’s Veggie Noodle Co. | Austin, TX
Founding Team: Mason Arnold
Investors: Encore Consumer Capital
Why? Cece’s Veggie Noodle Co. has pioneered the first pre-packaged USDA organic spiralized vegetables available in Zucchini, Sweet Potato, Butternut, and Beet. Their spiral noodles are made from 100% fresh vegetables and are a healthy alternative to grain-based noodles. As the company puts it, “simple, but twisted”.
Credo Beauty | San Francisco, CA
Founding Team: Annie Jackson, Shashi Batra
Investors: NextWorld Evergreen
Helio Insight: In a health and beauty industry often dominated by products with toxic and dubious ingredients, Credo makes a point of only stocking clean label health and beauty products. In fact, the clean labels of many of this year’s winners stood out to us in Helio.
Daily Harvest | New York, NY
Founding Team: Rachel Drori
Investors: Lightspeed Ventures, VMG Partners
Why? Daily Harvest is bringing farm-frozen ingredients in pre-portioned, no-cook recipes to your doorstep. The smoothie ingredient delivery service helping people get regular servings of their fruits and veggies.
Farmhouse Culture | Watsonville, CA
Founding Team: Kathryn Lukas
Investors: 301 INC, Renewal Funds
Why? Farmhouse Culture is a leader in its category for making probiotic-rich foods and beverages. Originally founded as a line of Krauts, the company has since expanded to include four varieties of fermented vegetables, a probiotic drink line, and Kraut Krisps, a line of kraut-based snacks.
Four Sigmatic | Santa Monica, CA
Founding Team: Mikko Revonniemi, Tero Isokauppila
Investors: Accel Foods, Able Partners
Why? Medicinal mushrooms have been on several lists as a trend to watch in 2018 and the global mushroom market is expected to hit $50 billion dollars within the next 5 years. Voted highly by our judges, Four Sigmatic makes drinking mushrooms easy-to-do with their variety of superfood beverages.
Herbivore Botanicals | Seattle, WA
Founding Team: Julia Wills, Alex Kummerow
Why? Since co-founders Julia Wills and Alex Kummerow started Herbivore Botanicals in 2011 out of their kitchen, the brand has gone from being sold at farmer’s markets and on Etsy, to becoming a direct-to-consumer powerhouse that is now widely available at the likes of Sephora and Space.NK in the UK. With a newly launched Prism Exfoliating Glow Potion, this cult favorite natural beauty company shows no signs of slowing down.
Health Warrior | Richmond, VA
Founding Team: Daniel Gluck, Nick Morris, Shane Emmett
Investors: VMG Partners, NRV
Why? Health Warrior is a fast-growing natural food companies in the U.S. The company makes “super snack” Chia Bars—with chia seeds as the #1 ingredient—and Superfood Protein Bars—packed with 10g plant protein from chia, quinoa, oats, and peas. They are on a mission to inspire healthy diet and exercise habits and to deliver superfoods – the most nutrient-dense foods on the plant – in convenient form to power everything that you do.
hims | San Francisco, CA
Founding Team: Andrew Dudum
Investors: Institutional Venture Partners, Forerunner Ventures, Thrive Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Maverick Ventures, Atomic
Why? Launched in November, hims is a one-stop shop for men’s wellness and personal care. As the latest direct-to-consumer darling, hims follows in the footsteps of DTC brands like Casper and Warby Parker that have skyrocketed to success with their quirky and approachable branding. According to CEO Andrew Dudum, the company has ambitions to build a full-service prescription medicine brand for men of all ages and backgrounds.
LOLA | New York, NY
Founding Team: Alexandra Friedman, Jordana Kier
Investors: Lerer Hippeau, Spark Capital, Alliance Consumer Growth
Helio Insight: LOLA is challenging the lack of transparency in feminine hygiene with 100% organic cotton tampons. In a world where many brands start are now starting out as direct to consumer, it’s important to be able to measure signals that a brand is heating up online. Helio pinpointed Lola as having significant monthly web traffic and noticeable increases in that traffic over the past 6 months compared to other brands in the feminine care category.
MM.LaFleur | New York, NY
Founding Team: Miyako Nakamura, Narie Foster, Sarah LaFleur
Investors: Grace Beauty Capital, 645 Ventures
Why? The wardrobe solution for professional women. MM.LaFleur creates luxury apparel and accessories with the same attention to detail as a high-end fashion house. Their clothes are designed and made for the everyday woman on the go.
Naadam Cashmere | New York, NY
Founding Team: Matt Scanlan, Diederik Rijsemus, Hadas Saar
Investors: Torch Capital, Vanterra Capital, Plug and Play
Why? For disrupting the cashmere industry. By cutting out the middleman and purchasing directly from herders, Naadam responsibly sources & produces luxury knitwear while preserving the nomadic lifestyle in Mongolia.
Once Upon a Farm | San Diego, CA
Founding Team: Ari Raz, Cassandra Curtis, Jennifer Garner, John Foraker
Investors: Cambridge Companies
Helio Insight: From the farm to the fridge, not the shelf, Once Upon a Farm delivers cold-pressed and nutritious baby food. Each ingredient used is sustainably grown, certified USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, and can be traced right back to the source. Helio tagged that all of Once Upon a Farm’s ingredients are organic, compared to just over half for the baby food category as a whole.
Rothys | San Francisco, CA
Founding Team: Roth Martin, Stephen Hawthornthwaite
Investors: Lightspeed Ventures
Insight: It’s clear that being mission-aligned has propelled this year’s list of consumer brands to success. Rothy’s, which are made from recycled water bottles once destined for the landfill, has catapulted into the spotlight.
Spindrift | Charlestown, MA
Founding Team: Bill Creelman
Investors: VMG Partners, Prolog Ventures
Why? Spindrift is America’s first sparkling beverages made with real, fresh squeezed fruit.
ThirdLove | San Francisco, CA
Founding Team: Heidi Zak, David Spector
Investors: New Enterprise Associates, L Catterton
Helio Insight: For challenging the reign of Victoria Secret. ThirdLove was the first bra and underwear brand to offer half cup sizing and a mobile app that allows women to measure themselves at home. The company now offers 70 bra sizes and takes the hassle out of shopping with a 100% fit guarantee. Helio flagged the strong ways in which ThirdLove’s brand is resonating with its consumers across a variety of factors.
Urban Remedy | Richmond, CA
Founding Team: Neka Pasquale
Investors: 301 Inc, Slow Ventures
Why? Urban Remedy is a plant-based organic food company that embodies the belief that Food is Healing. The company makes ready-to-eat, certified organic salads, bowls, wraps, snacks, desserts, juices, nut milks, and shakes delivered to your door.
Vital Proteins | Chicago, IL
Founding Team: Kurt Seidensticker
Investors: CAVU Venture Partners
Why? Collagen peptides are here to stay. Sourced from pasture-raised cows in Brazil and New Zealand and wild-caught fish in Hawaii, Vital Proteins is making collagen accessible with their colorful branding and availability on the shelves of Whole Foods and Anthropologie’s latest wellness shop.
Vive Organic | Venice, CA
Founding Team: Wyatt Taubman, Kyle Withycombe, JR Simich
Why? Vive Organic packs the highest quality ingredients into Wellness Shots to deliver the closest possible match to a living plant. Their shots are cold pressed––not heated––made without artificial colors or sweeteners––not even honey, stevia, or sugar––and certified USDA Organic, Kosher, and Non-GMO.
Youth to the People | Los Angeles, CA
Founding Team: Greg Gonzalez, Joe Cloyes
Investors: Strand Equity Partners
Why? Youth to the People was founded on the principle that the products we put on our skin should be as whole, clean and packed with nutrients as the best foods we eat. That’s why their products combine superfoods, adaptogens, and science. Youth to the People is the best of plant-based skincare.
A big thank you to our judges for the time and effort they put into voting on this year’s finalists! And a big thanks to the CircleUp25 winners, the nominees, and the countless other consumer entrepreneurs out there who help make this sector great.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be posting more data deep dives into some of the companies and categories surfaced here. Stay tuned for more!
In accordance with Forbes contributor standards and to avoid bias, companies who received an investment from one of CircleUp’s equity funds were excluded from consideration. None of CircleUp’s equity funds participated in the selection process.
Helio is CircleUp’s machine-learning platform that identifies, classifies, and evaluates 1.3 million brands. The data presented here is derived from a variety of proprietary, public and partnership sources and includes data from one of our partners Nielsen.
Ryan Caldbeck is the founder and CEO of CircleUp, the investment platform that provides capital and resources to early-stage consumer brands.
Ryan founded CircleUp after nearly seven years of investing experience in consumer product and retail-focused private equity. His experience in private equity exposed him to many great consumer and retail businesses that were too small to obtain funding through the customary…
Ryan Caldbeck , CONTRIBUTOR
Welcome to our annual Consumer Catalyst Awards, where we honor the top dealmakers, leaders and influencers in the consumer industry.
There is no question that the early-stage consumer market is reshaping every aspect of the broader industry, with new brands stealing market share and exciting new entrants launching every week. Monster exits like RXBAR’s and Blue Bottle’s seem to drop every other month, while numerous smaller, yet strong exits like Native Deodorant’s, Sir Kensington’s and Yasso’s are consistently peppered in between.
What’s less obvious is who the dealmakers and leaders are behind this boom. We generally know the brands, as their sleek Instagram ads pop up in our feeds and they line shelves of Target and Sephora. However, many often don’t know who’s working behind the scenes and at the crux of the business and operational functions keeping the brand innovation at pace.
Similar to how CircleUp25 shines the light on the year’s top brands, Consumer Catalysts shines the light on the other side of market—on the investors, CEOs, merchandisers, editors, reporters and bankers helping make emerging brands pop.
To determine this list, CircleUp distributed a survey to over 1,000 entrepreneurs to gather nominations and feedback, and gathered our team’s insights based on the hundreds of investors, retailers and influencers we work with throughout the year. Because we have worked with thousands of investors and companies, we have a unique view on which investors, retailers and experts are most influential in the space.
Without further ado, here’s the list of Consumer Catalysts this year.
Unilever Ventures has upped it pace significantly this year, making several investments in unique beauty brands where is can pair its operational and distribution expertise. Of note, we’re especially excited about her and the firm’s investments in Beauty Bakerie, Nutrafol and LXMI.
While Arif’s firm, Blueberry Ventures, only came into play in 2015, it already has a portfolio of some of the latest and greatest companies in Food and Beverage. Arif has led investments into Rhythm Superfoods, REBBL, Ripple Foods, Barnana, Revive Kombucha, Fishpeople Seafood and several other breakout brands.
Bill Weiland has grown Presence Marketing into the largest independent natural and organic products brokerage in the U.S. In working with leading national brands as well as successful startups, Bill has a keen eye for the trends driving the rapidly growing healthy lifestyles market. Bill also is a big advocate of consumer transparency and GMO labeling, using his expertise to have a positive impact.
Brad Barnhorn sits on the boards of some of the most exciting food brands of today. Kevita (sold to Pepsi), Chameleon Cold Brew (sold to Nestlé), Health Warrior, Rhythm Superfoods, Biena and Fishpeople all turn to Brad for consultation on brand strategy and growth.
Few other consumer industry firms have seen so much early success as CAVU Ventures, which despite being only 4 years old, was early to invest in Bai, Kite Hill, Health-Ade Kombucha and Thrive Market. After leading CAVU’s investments in Hippeas and Vital Proteins this year, Brett is sure to have big things in store for 2018.
Carol is one of the undisputed leaders in natural foods media. She has deep access to entrepreneurs and investors alike, coupled with a profound understanding of how all angles of the industry work. In addition to writing compelling stories, Carol helps manage Project Nosh’s flagship event Nosh LIVE, which has quickly grow into one on the industry’s most influential conferences.
In the food world, Food Navigator is a primary destination for trends and analysis on the products, brands, and leaders shaping the industry. This is largely thanks to Elaine and the rest of her team, who demonstrate incredible depth and critical thinking in interviews and articles. Elaine is also heavily involved in Food Vision, Food Navigator’s flagship event, which is recognized as one of the food industry’s most influential.
Simply put, Janica Lane is one of the most important figures in the business, behind most major investment banking and M&A deals for consumer companies spanning healthy, active and sustainable living, with a focus on food and beverage. Additionally, she is widely regarded as one of the most respected and well-liked in the industry, from her conference presentations to 1-1 meetings.
Brand is very hard to get right, but if accomplished effectively is extremely powerful—and arguably no one knows that better than JB. JB and his team at branding firm Red Antler have refined the craft of building incredibly sleek, empathic and modern brands, which people everywhere fall in love with. It’s no coincidence that JB and Red Antler are behind the genius branding of Brandless, Allbirds, Casper, Burrow and more.
Jeannette knows what people love – and what people are sure to love next. Her blog Shut The Kale Up has amassed a cult following of conscious consumers looking to discover emerging, craft products that are healthy or satisfy a unique need. For the early-stage consumer brands lucky enough to be included on the blog, Shut the Kale Up is a powerful way to reach highly engaged audiences.
Jeff Klineman, alongside his teams at the three publications, has built a media powerhouse that leads industry conversations around beverage, natural foods and beer. Under his editorial leadership, the teams consistently produce thought-provoking analysis that keeps the pace of the fast-moving categories. Between the publications’ news coverage and events, Jeff has had an invaluable impact on the industry.
After more than 35 years in strategic sales, design, branding and marketing, Jeremy has been a boon to early-stage consumer brands getting off the ground. He now runs LaunchPad, which is reshaping the traditional retail food broker network as a full service business strategy, branding and representation group for emerging food brands, highly specialized in Costco representation and strategy.
While Josh initially climbed the ranks in consumer investing while sitting on the boards of Suja Juice (acquired by Coca-Cola), Babyganics (acquired by SC Johnson) and Shake Shack (NYSE: SHAK), he’s shown no sign of slowing down, and continues to lead deals in category-defining companies. At consumer-focused private equity firm ACG, a few of his most recent include fast-casual salad chain Tender Greens and popular natural skincare line Tata Harper.
While corporate consumer venture may be a relatively new phenomenon, General Mills has long been leading the movement, as one of the first big CPG company to launch a venture arm. To the this day, it’s still the most active of the bunch. Under John’s leadership, General Mills 301 INC has become a powerful hybrid of capital and legacy industry insight for emerging brands to tap into.
Recruiting is a challenging, pivotal area for any business field. Those in CPG turn to Josh and his recruiting firm Force Brands for expertise in finding and acquiring top talent, ultimately helping get businesses off the ground with the right minds and experience on board. Currently working across food, beverage and beauty, Josh is the top resource for hiring needs across sales, marketing, finance and operations.
Encore Consumer Capital is widely regarded as one of the top consumer industry firms, from the success of its portfolio to the hands-on, strategic guidance of its investors. Kevin has helped his companies become market leaders since joining Encore Consumer Capital in 2005, serving as Chairman/Director for LONDON, Fantasy Cookie, Juice Tyme (acquired) and tarte (acquired).
Kirsten Green hardly needs any introduction after her and her firm’s investments in runaway successes like Glossier, Outdoor Voices and Away, as well as massive exits like Jet.com and Dollar Shave Club. Kirsten continues to bring to market some of the most fascinating consumer brands straddling e-commerce, beauty and wellness, fashion and technology. Of note, we’re particularly interested in watching how her latest investment, men’s care brand Hims, develops.
Nick Giannuzzi is the most prominent early-stage consumer industry lawyer, and an indispensable strategic partner to those executing M&A deals, manufacturing contracts and fundraises. Several of the most exciting early-stage CPG brands turn to Nick’s expertise, including Malin & Goetz, Califia, Dang, REBBL and more.
After pioneering a new wave of innovation in the previously dormant popcorn category, Pam Netzky and Andy Friedman sold SkinnyPop to Amplify Snack Brands, which later IPO’ed, taking the popcorn brand from zero to $1.35 billion business in just five years. That success was just the beginning for Pam and Andy, who are now dedicated angel investors helping usher in the next wave of exciting early-stage food brands.
Despite his firm only being a few years old, Pat has led investments into fast-growth, dynamic brands like Barnana, Tatcha, Ripple and Marine Layer. Pat focuses on the lesser-served, very early side of the market, specifically companies doing less than $10M in revenue with healthy margins, which is an approach that has so far served him very well.
Sephora has become more than just the most comprehensive retailer for skincare and beauty. The makeup and skincare giant’s refreshed dedication to carrying early-stage brands – everything from natural, Korean, to clean beauty – has made it a playground consumer discovery and powerful channel for incubation. Much of this is thanks to Priya, who helms Sephora’s merchandising in skincare and haircare.
Tom, along with the rest of the team at his early-stage investment firm Boulder Food Group, is ushering in a new wave of better-for-you food products breaking grounds in their categories. Some of the top investments include Malk, Fourth & Heart, Caulipower and Quinn.
Good PR is hard to come by in any field, and the CPG industry is no different. Luckily, brands and media have the benefit of getting to work with PR mastermind Sabina Gault, and the rest of the talented team at her firm. Sabina and Konnect are behind the storytelling of some of the most exciting brands, including 4505 Chicharrones, Rhythm Superfoods, Kite Hill and more.
When it comes to investment banking in the beauty industry, Vennette is a key leader, working with companies at a crossroads and either looking to sell, find a partner or fundraise. Vennette is known for her expertise in maximizing value for brands, whether it’s improving valuation, contract terms, or partner fit. As indie beauty brands continue to gain speed at an alarming rate, we’re sure Vennette will become even more renowned dealmaker.
You’d be hard pressed to find a CPG entrepreneur who doesn’t know of Wayne Wu. Despite his seniority and utmost expertise, he dedicates time and effort to meet with many, and get to know people in a meaningful way. The approach has certainly paid dividends for him—he and VMG led some of the most exciting deals of the year, such as Drunk Elephant and Spindrift.
CircleUp has relationships with some of the organizations in this article.
Ryan Caldbeck is the founder and CEO of CircleUp, the investment platform that provides capital and resources to early-stage consumer brands.
This week’s guest: Jeremy Smith from Launchpad. Once a week we broadcast open office hours to address questions that you have regarding cannabis startups. Every week, we gather questions from the community here on Facebook, and via Twitter or Instagram @gtwyinc. Just use the hashtag #GatewayOH and we’ll give you a shout-out if we select your question.
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Written by Matt Aaron / April 13th, 2017
Jeremy Smith is fed up with the food brokerage industry. There are a shortage of great food brokers. And grocery buyers have noticed. That’s why he is back in the game.
He previously sold his food brokerage, Level One, and is back with an innovative Food Brokerage and Consultancy: LaunchPad.
Over his career in food, design and advertising, Jeremy has worked with iconic brands.
Think Chobani, Apple, 5-Hour Energy, popchips, EVOL Foods, Promax, Pure Foods, Krave Jerky and Bob’s Red Mill.
His relationships with buyers and marketers, strategists and designers presents enviable connections in the food industry. Jeremy sheds all kind of golden advice:
When I read this NY Times article last night I was so angry I had trouble going to sleep. The article stuck with me most of the day and I felt I had to say something. It’s embarrassing that in this great country there are still people who are full of such anger and hatred towards others they manipulate social media to spread their ugly messages. A person associated with one of the presidential candidates political campaign, his publication is mentioned in the NY Times article, has chosen to be a purveyor of lies and hate against Chobani Founder Hamdi Ulukaya. We have an obligation to stand up to these bullies, disavow their lies and not allow their messages to go unopposed.