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Middle Market CEOs to Watch: Food and Beverage Industry


The food and beverage industry is on the rise, with upstart brands increasingly gaining traction with consumers. SDR Ventures called 2015 the “crescendo” of the “Conscious Consumer movement”: “Consumers of all demographics and income levels increasingly want to identify and connect with brands that exemplify ethics and values that mirror their own.”

For the 2016 Growth 100, highlighting the most innovative and interesting middle market CEOs, we talked to a wide range of business owners running successful food and beverage companies at various stages of growth. Each is meeting consumer demand for fresh, responsible, and creative sustenance — narrowing in on a previously overlooked corner of the market.

Brad Van Dam, Marich Premium Chocolates

Brad, the CEO of Marich Premium Chocolates, took over the business from his father nearly twenty years ago. In that time, he’s increased sales 700% and has led the company toward a more sustainable future. Brad decided to focus Marich’s efforts on a well-established, but underrepresented category: chocolate-covered snacks. Meanwhile, he’s overseen a massive due diligence effort of the company’s food safety standards, and committed to removing artificial ingredients and using only fairtrade cocoa beans in their products. “Let’s do the right thing here,” says Brad.

Read more about Brad and Marich Chocolates >

David Birzon, Snooze Eatery

David Birzon, CEO of Snooze: an A.M. Eatery, describes Snooze’s next-generation breakfast experience as “1950s diner meets the Jetsons.”

The breakfast eatery currently has about 650 employees in 13 locations, and plans to open six more restaurants next year. The company is bringing in nearly $40 million in revenue and aiming to reach $100 million in sales within the next five to ten years.

“We would rather sit here in five years with 40 amazing restaurants than 80 okay restaurants,” says David.

What does amazing mean? Fresh, responsibly sourced ingredients. A CEO who understands his business and workers — David himself waits tables once a quarter to let an unvarnished look at operations. An engaged team — employees volunteer together at food banks and community gardens. An emphasis on sustainability — the company composts and recycles 90% of waste.

Read more about David and Snooze Eatery >

George Wooten, Wayne E. Bailey Product Company  

Family businesses are notoriously fraught with issues, from succession disputes to money squabbles to inexperienced leadership to good old-fashioned personality clashes. So it’s pretty rare to find a thriving, fourth-generation family business like the Wayne E. Bailey Produce Company. A major sweet potato producer based out of North Carolina, the company was founded in 1935.

The Wayne E. Bailey Produce Company currently employs approximately 125 team members. Agriculture is a $78 billion dollar industry in North Carolina, and constant innovation is at the heart of the business’s longevity. “I’m an idea guy,” says Wooten. The company has been at the forefront of many of the changes in the sweet potato industry. “We’ve gone to consumer bags, individual microwave bags, steamer bags, different sizes of packaging,” says Wooten. “We’ve gone from all retail to food service too. We helped get North Carolina sweet potatoes into the European market.”

Their openness to change will likely help ensure success not only now, but for years to come.

Read more about George and the Wayne E. Bailey Produce Company >

Matti Anttila, Grain and Barrel

“There has been a lot of consolidation in the spirits space over the last 20 years,” says Matti. “All the while, the trend in craft spirits has really emerged.” Matti has defined his company’s focus as unlocking the value in forgotten-about brands or categories that have fallen out of favor.

“What we’ve found to be pretty successful is identifying brands that have been lost in the shuffle in some of these large consolidations,” says Matti. Matti’s investment banking experience has helped provide him with the expertise he needs to structure and ultimately execute on a brand concept.

Read more about Matti and Grain and Barrel >

Lawrence Cisneros, In Spirit  

Lawrence Cisneros was at the grocery store picking up some pre-made cocktails for his girlfriend when he had the thought: Why doesn’t something better than this stuff — Skinnygirl Cocktails or Mike’s Hard Lemonade — exist?

Lawrence, who at the time was a third-year law student at the University of Southern California, couldn’t get the idea out of his head.

As a kid, his mom had made fresh juice drinks all the time. What if he mixed those with alcohol to create cocktails like the ones he and his friends enjoyed in LA and NYC bars?

Lawrence went home that very night and started experimenting.

Read more about Lawrence and In Spirit >

Mike Votto, Votto Vines

For many entrepreneurs, the old adage “business and family don’t mix well together” is a cardinal rule. Happily, that has not been the case for Mike Votto. As the CEO of Connecticut-based Votto Vines, a thriving six-year-old wine distributor/importer on track to generate $8 million in revenue this year, 38-year-old Votto helms a staff of 15, most of whom, save for five, are relatives.

Judging by the success that Votto Vines has amassed since it began selling wine out of the back of a Subaru wagon, now working with big box retailers like Costco and scoring a spot on Forbes’ list of most promising companies of 2015, doing business the family way has clearly worked in the company’s favor.

Read more about Mike and Votto Vines >

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