Natural Foods Merchandiser

Annie's Buys Simply Organic Meal Lines from Frontier

Co-op hangs on to spices and mixes

Frontier Natural Products Co-op has gotten out of the pasta business, selling its line of Simply Organic macaroni and cheese, side dishes and skillet meals to a company that knows noodles, Annie's Homegrown Inc.

No other units of Frontier are for sale, said Tony Bedard, chief executive of the Norway, Iowa, cooperative. With the sale to Annie's deal, "We have returned Frontier to financial stability," said Tony Bedard, chief executive of the Norway, Iowa, cooperative. The co-op is no longer looking for outside funding, he said. Frontier put the brand on the block in February but its board decided to sell only the pasta piece and retain baking flavors, seasoning mixes and bottled spices that fit better with the co-op's core product lines. In fact, the line is expanding to include Simply Organic dips and salad dressings.

Simply Organic launched in 2001 as a certified organic line with mainstream flavors. "It's not just a high-quality brand, it's a value brand," Bedard said. They're sold in more than 600 naturals stores and 2,500 supermarkets. Besides financial improvement, Frontier has "restored its historic service levels," Bedard said. "Retailers ought to know we really are out there like we have been for 27 years."

Annie's started manufacturing Simply Organic products a week after the sale closed, said CEO Paul Nardone. "It fits perfectly" with Annie's existing plant and suppliers, and "it really helps with our penetration in the organic category." Formulations have been tweaked to lower sodium by 30 percent, reduce fat and improve flavor.

Annie's Homegrown, based in Wakefield, Mass., paid an undisclosed sum for four pasta dinners, nine add-meat dinners, and eight pasta and rice side dishes, plus licensing rights to the Simply Organic name. "We thought from the beginning it was a great concept," Nardone said. Whether it goes forward as Simply Organic or Annie's brand, and which lower-performing SKUs may get pruned, are open questions, he said.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 9/p. 16

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