Big Food Companies Acquiring Natural Meats, Protein Snacks & Egg Farms

The relatively small yet growing natural meat market is attracting buyouts from conventional food companies. Here are just a few to get your entrepreneurial juices flowing...

Hershey Acquired Krave Jerky as a Relatively Young Food Startup

Krave Jerky's new branding
Krave Jerky gets Hershey's distribution. Hershey gets Krave's on-trend jerky line. Susie Wyshak

The Hershey Company acquired KRAVE Pure Foods, Inc. for an undisclosed amount in January, 2015. 

The KRAVE acquisition is a major food startup success story. Just a few years ago, I saw KRAVE pitching to get attention and funding from angel investors. Now, the founder of KRAVE is incubating new food businesses with his windfall and experience.

Benefits of the Acquisition

As soon as I heard about the acquisition, the win-win was clear.

KRAVE could tap into Hershey's unparalleled distribution in pretty much every retail channel (you see snack foods in electronics and clothing stores these days). Hershey gained a foothold in the meat snacks category, according to Fortune an estimated $2.5 billion opportunity in the U.S. and a category that’s growing at a double-digit pace. KRAVE'S sales in 2014 represented about $35 million of this huge category.

KRAVE offers Hershey another benefit. As a preservative-free jerky, you'll find KRAVE in Whole Foods Market, a juicy proposition for Hershey to reach consumers shopping at natural foods retailers.

NOTE TO ASPIRING FOOD ENTREPRENEURS: KRAVE does not state that the meat they use is natural. Their jerkies are just good. That's the difference between positioning your products as upscale / gourmet versus natural.

Hormel Foods Acquired Applegate Organics

Applegate Organics at Whole Foods
Applegate Organics got Hormel into Whole Foods. Susie Wyshak

Hormel Foods, of Spam and Skippy fame, acquired Applegate Farms, a maker of natural and organic deli meats, sausages and frozen burgers — in short, meat for pretty much every meal — for about $775 million in May of 2015.

The story of Applegate Farms's founding by Stephen McDonnell and evolution, with all its ups and downs, represents authenticity that leads to success as a natural brand consumers can trust.

Benefits of the Acquisition

The deal instantly introduced Hormel to natural and organic channels, such as Whole Foods Market and other natural grocers. An NPD Group research study from late 2014 indicates that half of American consumers consider animal meats the best source of protein.

With Applegate's mission to "Change the Meat We Eat" toward "good meat" made from animals that were raised humanely without antibiotics and hormones.

For Applegate, the Hormel deal brings them closer to their goal of making this good meat accessible to as many people as possible.

Perdue Farms acquired Natural Food Holdings/Niman Ranch

free range, grass fed cows for beef
These happy free range California cattle will be highly desired natural beef some day. Susie Wyshak

Perdue Farms acquired Natural Food Holdings / Niman Ranch for an undisclosed amount in September of 2015 from LNK Partners. The news shook the farmers who produce meat for the Niman Ranch brand.

Founded in 1969, Niman Ranch is based in San Francisco, California and produces natural pork, beef, lamb, and poultry products. While the founder of Niman Ranch, Bill Niman, was long gone at the time of the acquisition, the brand has increased distribution thanks to consumer trends and industry trends preferring natural, hormone-free meats.

Benefits of the Acquisition 

Bringing Niman Ranch into the Perdue fold has many of the same benefits to Perdue as did their acquisition of Coleman Natural Foods in 2011, in which Perdue was able to immediately claim an increased percentage of chickens it was raising as antibiotic 

“The strategy is to be the most trusted brand in premium proteins,” said Jim Perdue, the grandson of the company’s founder and its chief executive. 

Cage Free Egg Company Acquisitions are Hot Too

cage free chickens and eggs
Wouldn't we all like to be as happy as cage free chickens. Susie Wyshak

Both General Mills and Kellogg's have made major commitments that impact the egg producing world: In 2015, they both announced they would begin to source eggs produced by cage-free chickens. Unilever, McDonald's, Burger King and Sara Lee and other food brands have made the same commitment according to the New York Times.

This is a big deal, as the more big food manufacturers need pasture-raised eggs, the more farms will change their egg production, and the more likely smaller egg producers that are already raising free-range chickens will be acquired.

In 2015, Post Holdings gobbled up Willamette Egg as part of a natural food brand buying spree.

Perhaps it was the avian flu debacle and massive egg shortages that led these brands to commit to cage-free eggs. Or perhaps good old consumer demand from natural food lovers who want to know the eggs (or meat) they're eating came from happy animals.

General Mills Acquired EPIC

General Mills got 2016 off with a bang, acquiring Austin, Texas-based EPIC Provisions which had started a mere 3 years earlier.

EPIC took the idea of gourmet, protein-based snacks to make foods that were even more convenient and complex than jerky. EPIC's meat bars nearly resemble meals, blending dried fruits, nuts and spices with dried meats like lamb and beef.

Getting the itch to start a food company and get acquired? This list of 15 more acquisitions (including some more by General Foods) will really get to you!