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'Braced for growth': How Austin startup Pet Honesty has become a national brand

'Braced for growth': How Austin startup Pet Honesty has become a national brand
Austin American Statesman
By Lori Hawkins
Published September 2022

Four years ago, entrepreneurs Ben and Camille Arneberg created their company, Pet Honesty, as an e-commerce outlet to sell natural pet supplements.

The Austin-based startup grew by selling its pet vitamins on its website as well as on sites including Amazon.com and Chewy.com. During the coronavirus pandemic, a sales boost came from people adopting pets and spending more time at home with them. Now the company is taking a big leap, with a new CEO, a new downtown Austin headquarters and a major launch into its first brick-and-mortar retail venture by entering 1,500 Petco locations nationwide.

"Pet Honesty has built a loyal and growing online following of health-conscious pet parents who seek products made with natural ingredients," said CEO Richard Greenberg. "There has been interest from retailers for the last couple years, and the company wanted to be very patient. Petco was the perfect fit."

'Large growth opportunity'

Greenberg said company research has found that 29% of pets are given supplements. "There remains a large growth opportunity," he said. "We have a pretty diverse customer base," he said. "It's that proactive pet parent. Often times they're giving their children a multivitamin, they might be taking a supplement themselves. They're looking to treat their four-legged children the same as they treat their two-legged children."

The company has high-profile displays and interactive surveys with QR codes at Petco stores to help pet owners and employees determine the most suitable supplements, Greenberg said.

Pet Honesty's supplements include its Multivitamin 10-in-1, which the company says supports overall health in adult dogs, as well as a range of supplements that target joint, immune, digestive and skin health for both cats and dogs. The company does not disclose where its supplements are produced, but Greenberg said they are made in the United States.

Retail prices for a jar of 90 supplements sold online and in stores begin at $26.99, with special formulations and maximum strengths ranging between $28.99 to $40.99. One jar would typically supply a small to medium dog for three months, according to the company.

Greenberg joined the company this year following a majority investment in Pet Honesty by New York-based private equity firm Vestar Capital Partners. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Vestar Capital Partners. has a background in investing in the pet food industry and consumer brands. The firm previously owned Big Heart Pet Brands, whose products include Meow Mix, Milk-Bone and Natural Balance. Vestar's current investments include Dr. Praeger's Sensible Foods, a manufacturer of plant-based foods; Simple Mills, a organic cracker, cookie and baking mix brand, and Presence Marketing, a national sales broker that represents natural and organic food, beverage and personal care brands.

Pet Honesty founder Ben Arneberg will continue to serve as a director on the company's board, and he and his family will retain their "significant investment" in the company, Vestar said. "We have been fortunate to find the right partner in Vestar, which remains committed to our business strategy and will help provide the financial backing, indust1y relationships and catego1y expertise needed to build on our momentum," Areberg said.

Greenberg has spent the past two decades as a consumer product goods executive, most recently servicing as chief commercial officer of Sovos, which had an initial public offering in fall of 2021. Sovos' brands include Rao's Homemade, Noosa Yoghurt, Birch Benders and Michael Angelo's.

'The company is growing'

Greenberg said Pet Honesty will be looking for additional brick-and-mortar retail opportunities.

As the 40-person company is ramping up for this new wave of growth, it has moved into a new headquarters in downtown Austin at 211 E. Seventh St. "The size of our staff has doubled in the last 12 months," Greenberg said." The company is growing and is really braced for growth as we launch into retail." The downtown move is intended to boost company culture. "We love the energy and vibe of downtown that it provides," Greenberg said. "We are a high energy, passionate company and building our culture is a big part of building momentum for the company."

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Simple Mills Reports Significant Post-Pandemic Growth, Doubling Retail Sales Since 2019

CHICAGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Simple Mills, the company on a mission to advance the holistic health of the planet and its people through delicious, better-for-you foods, today announced it experienced its most momentous growth in company history from 2019 to 2022. Simple Mills more than doubled retail sales during this timeframe. The brand was originally founded to help make clean, nutrient-dense foods easy and accessible, but evolved its mission in 2021 to include planetary health as an equally critical component, making a promise that all future innovation will advance regenerative agriculture.

“I started Simple Mills in 2012 with a brazen vision of helping people feel better through purposeful, nutrient-dense food that easily fit into their lives and didn’t ask them to sacrifice flavor for health,” said Simple Mills founder and CEO, Katlin Smith. “But as the business grew, I realized human health can’t truly exist without considering the health of our planet. I became interested in regenerative agriculture and how we can use food as a force for both human and planetary health. We took a significant leap in evolving our mission and making a commitment that 100% of product innovation moving forward will help advance regenerative farming principles – but what’s most exciting is how consumers and retailers are responding. We’re experiencing growth and recognition unlike anything we’ve seen since our founding and are excited to continue amplifying our people and planet-forward mission in 2023 and beyond.”

As consumers increasingly recognize the impact their food choices have on their own health as well as that of the planet, Simple Mills has become a staple in millions of American households. To pioneer the way the world eats through revolutionary food design, Simple Mills created three product innovation pathways: 1) design for diverse ingredients, 2) direct trade with farmers, and 3) invest in regional adoption of regenerative agriculture principles for key ingredients. One hundred percent of its product innovation now advances regenerative agriculture through at least one of these pathways. The brand’s evolved mission and commitment to personal and planetary health is evident in new product launches, including new Nut Butter Stuffed Sandwich Cookies, smartly sweetened with organic coconut sugar from perennial trees that thrive within agroforestry systems and Organic All Purpose Baking Mix, which features a diverse, nutrient-dense mix of chestnut, almond, buckwheat, and flax flours.

The company is also strengthening its work with farmers and suppliers to provide greater transparency to on-farm practices through a new Regenerative Agriculture Engagement Tool. This proprietary interactive platform gathers farm-level data from suppliers about specific practices used by farmers throughout the supply chain. It also helps visualize trends across regions and crops, while serving as a farmer-forward resource by prompting reflection on ways growers are already implementing regenerative principles on their land and highlighting opportunities to expand their approach in the future.

“Our commitment to a product design framework that connects our regenerative agriculture initiatives to our innovation pipeline is at the heart of our vision,” said Christina Skonberg, Director of Sustainability & Mission. “The three innovation pathways guide our product development process, and our programming allows us to gain visibility to the farm-level practices and associated impacts to our value chains, which is critically important for creating products that are better for consumers and the planet. We’re especially excited about our improved Regenerative Agriculture Engagement Tool, as it’s an incredible way to gain insight and visibility into ingredients throughout our supply chain, identify partnership opportunities to scale regenerative principles, and serve as a resource to farmers and suppliers who are interested in deepening their commitment to the health of the land.”

To support its robust innovation pipeline, Simple Mills recently opened a new innovation hub, called Sunworks, in Mill Valley, Calif. The space sits in a geographical epicenter for innovation and disruptive design, and serves as a new destination for creativity. It houses the Innovation, R&D, and Sustainability teams alongside Smith. Many of the brand’s farm partners and agricultural thought partners are also located in California, giving the team opportunities to learn from leaders in the agricultural movement on a regular basis while also providing a place to host farmers, media, and industry events. In addition to the Sunworks office, Simple Mills has seen powerful growth across its workforce, with 100% growth between 2020 and 2022, reaching nearly 100 employees. With 62% of employees having been hired since the start of COVID-19, the brand has fostered an inclusive hybrid work environment with employees spanning 17 additional states across the country.

Simple Mills crackers, cookies, bars and baking mixes are sold in more than 28,000 natural and conventional stores across the country. This includes national distribution with top U.S. retailers, including Whole Foods, Sprouts, Target, Walmart, and Costco. In the last five years alone, Simple Mills has entered more than 20,000 new stores, increasing its brick-and-mortar availability by more than 300%. Aside from significant retailer growth, the brand also has a strong e-commerce presence both on Amazon and its own website.

To learn more about Simple Mills, its commitment to advancing regenerative agriculture through innovations, and to find a retailer near you, please visit www.simplemills.com.

About Simple Mills

Founded in 2012, Simple Mills is a leading provider of better-for-you crackers, cookies, snack bars and baking mixes made with clean, nutrient-dense ingredients and nothing artificial, ever. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the company has disrupted center-aisle grocery categories to become the #1 baking mix brand, #1 cracker brand, #1 cookie brand in the natural channelwith distribution in over 28,000 stores nationwide. Its mission is to advance the holistic health of the planet and its people by positively impacting the way food is made. For more information, visit www.simplemills.com.

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Vestar Capital Partners Named to Inc.'s 2022 List of Founder-Friendly Investors

NEW YORKOct. 5, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Vestar Capital Partners, a leading U.S. private equity firm, today announced that it has been named to Inc.'s 2022 Founder-Friendly Investors list honoring the private equity and venture capital firms with the best track records of successfully backing entrepreneurs.

The list recognizes firms that entrepreneurs can trust and collaborate with while receiving the financial and strategic support they need to help accelerate growth. All the firms on the Inc. list have successful track records of remaining actively involved with the businesses in which they invest.

"Vestar is proud to once again be recognized by Inc. for our commitment to supporting founders as they unlock the growth potential within their businesses," said Dan O'Connell, Founder and CEO of Vestar. "Founders have many options when seeking a capital partner; working with a recognized firm that offers operational expertise, relationships, and a long-term perspective can be critical in achieving sustainable growth. Vestar is proud of our 30+ year track record of partnering with management to invest for growth, and we are eager to meet new entrepreneurs who can benefit from our partnership."

Vestar has invested nearly $3 billion in more than 25 founder- and family-owned companies since its inception in 1988, and its current portfolio consists of 10 founder-led businesses across Consumer, Business & Technology Services and Healthcare.

"Fully investing in an entrepreneur, and their innovative vision, involves far more than the financial investment. By developing relationships with and supporting entrepreneurs for the long-term, these private equity firms are more than investors, they're partners," says Scott Omelianuk, editor-in-chief of Inc. media.

Inc. compiled its list by surveying founders who have sold to private equity and venture capital about their experiences partnering with the firms, and examining data on how portfolio companies have grown during these partnerships.