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2019-10-18 17:00:38

Dive Brief:Danone Manifesto Ventures, the investment arm of the French food giant, acquired a minority stake in Forager Project, a company that produces organic plant-based foods and beverages. Financial details were not disclosed.Forager Project said in a release it plans to continue expanding its product portfolio, enhancing sustainable sourcing and production, increasing brand awareness and widening distribution. The family-owned company launched in 2013. It makes organic plant-based yogurt, milk, sour cream and half & half sourced from cashews; protein and probiotic shakes; and a line of vegetable chips made from leafy greens.Co-Founder and CEO Stephen Williamson said in the release that he and co-founder JC Hanley spent three years getting to know the Danone Manifesto Ventures team. It's the right time and they are the right partner — good people with leverageable, relevant experience and capital, Williamson said.

Dive Insight:

As the plant-based sector continues to gain traction, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Danone would want to gain more market share in this trendy segment. Danone Manifesto Ventures said in a release it sees Forager Project as a unique brand with strong potential in the fast-growing plant-based space. Danone has openly discussed its ambition to continue developing its plant-based portfolio globally as consumers purchase more of the products. This investment aligns with that goal. 

Since launching three years ago, Danone's venture arm has invested in 15 companies, including Sustainable Bioproducts, an alternative protein manufacturer; Yumble, a children's meal delivery company; Harmless Harvest, which makes coconut water products; and Farmer's Fridge, a maker of smart vending machines offering salads and healthy snacks. These brands fit its mission of supporting and developing new companies with high growth potential that encourage healthier eating and drinking.

Why Danone Manifesto Ventures took three years before investing in Forager Project isn't clear, but the appeal of the brand may have stemmed from the company's desire to add another organic plant-based brand to its portfolio. Danone already has Horizon Organic dairy products, Wallaby organic yogurt, Good Plants almond-based probiotic yogurt, Silk and So Delicious dairy-free items and Vega cashew-based products. But taking a minority interest in an established organic plant-based company could give it an additional foothold in the sector.

Forager Project can also help Danone further expand its green credentials. Danone North America achieved certified B Corp status last year partly by cleaning up its supply chain and adopting standards of environmental responsibility. The company has launched Non-GMO Project-verified yogurt products and said it plans to keep investing in both plant-based and animal-based dairy — with the goal of enhanced sustainability. Danone has pledged to triple its global plant-based sales from $1.9 billion to about $5.7 billion by 2025.

In return, Forager Project will likely benefit from gaining access to Danone's operational and distribution expertise. Although Williamson said in the release that the investment will mostly be used to sustain Forager's growth by expanding distribution and increasing brand recognition, BevNet reported that it is also preparing to launch several new products in the coming months, including cashew butter and cereal.

If its signature products and these new ones proposer, it's possible Danone will take a majority stake in Forager Project down the road and use the platform to diversify itself more in the increasingly popular plant-based food and beverage sector.

Sales of plant-based food increased 11% in 2018 to $4.5 billion, according to a report from The Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association. The highest growth, 39%, was in sales of plant-based yogurt, while conventional yogurt sales fell 3%. As the market continues to grow, Danone's venture will likely continue to look for investments in the space and potentially increase its foothold in brands like Forager.  

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