Natural Foods Merchandiser

Money rolls in for manufacturers of healthy spreads, frozen meals

A holding company helmed by a natural foods industry veteran will pay $465 million to make its first acquisition, a manufacturer of healthy foods based in New Jersey.

Boulder Specialty Brands, based in Longmont, Colo., signed an agreement Sept. 26 to acquire GFA Brands, maker of Smart Balance and Earth Balance heart-healthy foods. The company also announced that upon completion of the transaction, expected by year's end, it will change its name to Smart Balance Inc.

Stephen B. Hughes, chairman and chief executive of Boulder Specialty Brands, said the acquisition would help the company launch its strategy to be a leading marketer of healthy and organic brands. In an interview with the Rocky Mountain News, Hughes said, "I launched Healthy Start for ConAgra in the 1980s. This brand has all the earmarks of that kind of brand." In addition to ConAgra, Hughes has worked at White Wave, Simply Organic and Celestial Seasonings.

The company's Smart Balance line is sold nationally in supermarkets and at Wal-Mart; Earth Balance products are sold in natural foods stores, Hughes said. The company makes butter alternatives, popcorn, mayonnaise, peanut butter and cooking oils.

At least one other company in the natural foods arena has received a financial boost recently.

Callaway Consumer Products has partnered with the Sea Change Investment Fund to increase retail distribution of the company's Organic Bistro Whole Life Meals. The line of healthy gourmet frozen foods was launched in April in Southwest retail chains.

The money from Sea Change will allow the company to expand its rollout and develop new products, specifically those that include sustainable seafood. In addition to stimulating the market for sustainable seafood, Sea Change uses some profits from its venture capital investments to improve the marine environment and the health of fisheries.

"Our consistent company mantra is, 'Take the high road.' This translates to organic, premium quality and sustainable ingredients in our products," Laryn Callaway, the company's founder and chief executive, said in a prepared statement about the partnership. "Financial partners who not only support, but require, such a high standard are unique."

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