HumanCo gets $35M and buys gluten-free pizza maker Against the Grain

Dive Brief:

  • HumanCo, the holding company with a portfolio of better-for-you and natural brands, raised $35 million in bridge round funding. Firms 8VC and Jazz Venture Partners participated. Personal investors included former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, former Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb, athletes Venus Williams and Andy Roddick, and former models Brooklyn Decker and Cindy Crawford.
  • The platform company also took a majority stake in grain and gluten-free bakery company Against the Grain. HumanCo plans to help the family-owned, Vermont-based brand grow into one with national recognition, and is making investments in sales, marketing and innovation.
  • HumanCo, founded by Jason Karp and Ross Berman, has made its name as a buzzy platform for food innovation. Karp and Berman both have significant experience in the investment realm, and Karp previously co-founded CPG brand Hu — acquired by Mondelēz in January — and its associated New York restaurant Hu Kitchen. 

Dive Insight:

If HumanCo weren’t already a talked-about brand in the realm of wellness and natural products, this latest funding round could be enough to push it there. With a roster of funders made up of luminaries in business, sports, health and entertainment, it’s clear that diverse sectors of society see this company as one of the paths to the future of food.

Beyond those previously mentioned, HumanCo also saw personal investments from functional medicine expert Dr. Mark Hyman, Vital Proteins founder Kurt Seidensticker, Thrive Market co-founder Nick Green, singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes, entertainment industry businessman Rande Gerber, Vista Equity Partners co-founder Brian Sheth and former Focus Brands president and COO Kat Cole.

And these investors aren’t just people and firms who know the food business. They’re the celebrities who regular consumers idolize, tacitly giving HumanCo an extra endorsement with their personal money.

“HumanCo is the new standard bearer in indisputably healthy and delicious food brands,” Cole said in a written statement. “Having led successful, global brands over 15 years and having invested in the better brands space for seven, I can confidently say there is no one putting as much high-impact intention and high-standard action into building healthy food brands than Jason Karp and HumanCo.”

The new investment gives HumanCo more ability to get to that future through acquiring brands with potential and developing its own products. Against the Grain is the third acquisition in HumanCo’s history, following plant-based cheese company Monty’s in 2019 and nondairy ice cream brand Coconut Bliss in July 2020. HumanCo also owns better-for-you frozen pizza bites brand Snow Days, which it developed internally and launched in March.

Against the Grain — which specializes in grain-free frozen pizzas, brownie and cake mixes and bread and bagels — serves a consumer niche and fits into HumanCo’s portfolio of carefully sourced and allergy-friendly products. Against the Grain was founded more than a decade ago by Nancy and Tom Cain, former academics who developed their recipe for gluten-free pizza after Tom and one of their children were diagnosed with celiac disease. It grew to a $20 million a year company with 100 employees, selling products in about 15,000 stores nationwide, according to a 2019 article in VT Digger. 

Tom Cain told local paper the Brattleboro Reformer last month that the company had long wanted to expand, but didn’t have the expertise or ability to do so. HumanCo Chief Operating Officer Amy Zipper told the newspaper that the Cains, their employees and the Vermont operations of Against the Grain would all stay in place.

While this funding round and acquisition represent new opportunity for HumanCo, it isn’t the only one that looms in the future. Last December, a special purpose acquisition company co-sponsored by HumanCo and CAVU Venture Partners started trading on the NASDAQ. The SPAC, which is currently valued at $374.8 million, will eventually be used to help a company that meets HumanCo’s health, wellness and sustainability values go public, Karp said in a previous interview. While nobody knows when that deal will happen, it’s clear there are investors who place their trust in Karp’s choices.