John Foraker is the co-founder and CEO of Once Upon A Farm, a start up organic food company. Prior to that, Foraker spent more than 30 years in the natural and organic food industry. Foraker ran the natural and organic food brand “Annie” from 1999 to 2017.
He took the company public under the symbol “BNNY” before General Mills acquired it in 2014 for $820 million. For three years, he ran Annie’s operating unit and General Mill’s small business incubator 301, Inc., later continuing to work the General Mills in areas such as organic foods and regenerative agriculture.
Here are some highlights of his presentation to North Bay Business Journal's North Coast Specialty Food & Beverage Industry Conference on Jan. 31.
Corporate banker turned foodie
“This presentation is called the Power of Purpose. It’s really about the growth of the business of Annie’s, and lessons we learned, along with things I screwed up. I got a lot right, too.
“Purpose is the intention and reason for doing something. This is the single most important thing in business. You have to have an operating model and business model, but purpose is your north star. It’s the reason your business deserves to exist.
“Why does purpose matter? Consumers care a lot about it, and 75 percent are willing to pay more (for products from companies whose purpose they like); 66 percent are willing to pay more for companies that are doing good things for social and environmental (causes).
“In 2005 and 2005, we talked about changing demographics. There was this population bubble coming — millennials, roughly 18 to 35. Annie’s was growing rapidly. What we knew about them is that they were way different than their parents. It was so obvious. That is a tidal wave that is going to crash on your beaches. You should be in discussion with your grocery stores. That crash has obviously happened now. There has been more disruption in the last five years in the food business than in the prior 30 all combined. The next five years will be way more disruptive than that.
“As it relates to organic (food), there’s a big wave coming. (Organic food is) at $50 billion, about 5 percent of U.S. food, less than one percent of U.S. agriculture. Eighty percent of U.S. households bought organic last year. Only 25 percent of parents are millennials. Why is that important?
“My oldest son is about 25. I didn’t know anything about organics until I came home one day. My wife had gone shopping. She had created a whole shelf in our refrigerator called ‘Jack’s shelf.’ It had organic milk, which cost about four times as much then. It had awesome-looking strawberries that were about $8 a basket.
“I reached in there. She said, ‘No, no, no, no, no. You’re not touching that shelf. You’ve already been polluted.’ That was my introduction to organics. Organics come into the household in the biggest way when kids come into the household for the first time. Millennials will be 80 percent of parents in the next 10 years. That’s going to have a profound impact on the industry. I think the U.S. organics business is going to double in the next 10 years.
“The brilliance of Annie’s was back when Andrew (Martin) and Annie (Wilthey) started the company in 1989. They put lots of cool DNA on the package with a brand that stood out and did things differently. They were willing to stand up for social causes. From 1989 to 1998 when I got involved, it grew to about $6 million (in revenue), based in Massachusetts. They were ahead of the market. There was no mainstream organic food industry. They were told this stuff was hippie food. They persevered.