Vestar Capital Partners (VCP), a New York City-headquartered middle-market private equity firm, has made a majority growth investment into Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods, a fast-growing brand specializing in nutritious plant-based frozen and refrigerated foods. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
Dr. Praeger’s has been a pioneer in the better-for-you food segment for more than 25 years. Founded in 1994 by two heart surgeons with a mission to provide nutritious, tasty and convenient frozen foods, the company offers a range of vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, soy-free, Kosher, and non-GMO foods. Its vegetable-focused lines of veggie burgers, meat alternative burgers, sausages and nuggets, kids Littles, appetizers, snacks, breakfasts and side dishes are sold in supermarkets, grocery stores, other retail stores and online across the United States.
Headquartered in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, Dr. Praeger’s is led by second generation family members Larry Praeger, chief executive officer, and Adam Somberg, president, who will continue in their current roles and remain significant investors in the company.
“We are extremely proud of the high growth better-for-you food brand our families have built,” said CEO Praeger. “When our fathers co-founded the company 25 years ago, they were truly innovators. In today’s competitive market, our partnership with Vestar will help provide the financial backing, industry relationships and category expertise to continue to build on momentum.”
“The better-for-you marketing the United States has never been stronger, and we are excited to partner with a company that has been at the forefront of this trend and knows the market intimately,” said Winston Song, managing director and co-head of Consumer at VCP. “Larry and Adam have done a tremendous job building the company and developing new products that speak to today’s consumers – flexitarians, vegetarians, vegans and those who seek a healthier lifestyle. We look forward to partnering with the Praeger and Somberg families as well as the senior management team to strategically accelerate growth.”
“With Vestar’s support, the company aims to launch further product innovations that will continue to deliver healthy, great tasting foods at an attractive price,” said President Somberg. “We are fortunate to have some of the most loyal customers in the industry, but with more consumers eating in and looking for better food choices, the timing couldn’t be better to team with Vestar to explore ways to expand the brand.”
As part of the investment, Jeffrey Ansell, a senior adviser to Vestar and consumer industry veteran with more than 35 years of experience, will join the Dr. Praeger’s board as chairman. He is currently chairman of Information Resources Inc. (IRI), a data, insights and information services company serving the consumer products industry.
Ansell was previously chairman and chief executive officer of Sun Products, and chief executive officer of Pinnacle Foods. Prior to that he spent 25 years in leadership positions at Procter & Gamble.
“Larry and Adam have inspired and led an impressive company featuring innovative, healthier food products that align with choices today’s consumers are seeking,” said Ansell. “There’s great opportunity to build on this strong foundation and grow the Dr. Praeger’s brand through increased awareness, trial, distribution and continued innovation. Vestar has a long history of partnering with companies to strengthen these fundamentals and help position them for greater success.”
Since its founding in 1988, VCP has invested $7 billion in 83 companies – as well as more than 200 add-on acquisitions – with a total value of approximately $50 billion. Dr. Praeger’s marks the most recent investment in family- and founder-owned businesses focused on better-for-you food.
Vestar’s current food investments include Simple Mills, an innovative, market-leading better-for-you cracker, cookie and baking mix brand in the natural and organic channel; Roland Foods, a leading importer and supplier of specialty foods; Nonni’s, a manufacturer of premium artisanal cookies and baked goods; and Presence Marketing, the leading national sales broker dedicated exclusively to representing natural and organic food, beverage and personal care brands.