Zego and Snacktivist unleash the power of partnership

Two CPG brands have joined forces to unlock barriers to accessing value-added gluten-free grains.

Amanda Hartt, Researcher | Data Analyst | Strategic Thinker

May 3, 2024

5 Min Read
Zego Foods and Snacktivist Foods

The natural products industry is full of entrepreneurs and emerging brands bringing innovative concepts and formulations to market. Natural products innovators must learn quickly to adapt to the challenges that come with being small and new, while also figuring out how to navigate things such as fundraising, accessing retail accounts, onboarding with distributors and being profitable, to name a few. These obstacles can prove to be even more ferocious for those entrepreneurs with a vision to change status quo food systems.

Colleen Kavanagh is one such entrepreneur. The founder and CEO of Zego Foods, Kavanagh started her company to meet the gap for those suffering from sensitivities and allergies associated with overly processed foods. She built a brand that offered allergen-free traceable oats that are USA-grown, certified gluten-free and certified organic. She was also committed to product testing that would ensure the absence of allergens such as wheat in her products, as well as high levels of pesticide/glyphosate residue, and heavy metals – toxins and contaminants associated with other health issues. The big challenge? Obtaining ingredients that meet these criteria in a consistent, affordable and reliable way—particularly in the smaller volumes required by her brand.


Joni Kindwall-Moore faces similar obstacles with her brand, Snacktivist Foods, which was founded with the mission of bringing healthier food habits and underutilized grains to market in the form of gluten-free baking mixes. Similar to Kavanagh, Kindwall-Moore faces challenges with finding a reliable supply of regeneratively grown, U.S. sourced, certified gluten-free hulled millet or sorghum in volumes suitable to her brand’s size. 

For both founders, some of the most obvious barriers come from the fact that the current, industrialized food system relies on specialized commodity grain chains that have slowly decimated the number of grain mills/facilities “from 24,000 mills 100 years ago to 183 today,” according to Natural Products Expo West 2024 Climate Day panelist Kevin Morse of Cairnspring Mills. One result of this is that diversified milling operations that accommodate various varieties of wheat and grain types have been lost. 


Among other things, these commodity grain chains contribute to an over-processed packaged foods system, incentivize monoculture farming and heavy input use, stifle biodiversity on farms and diverse food options on consumer plates, block small-holder farmers from participating in value-added supply chains and accessing premium payments and prevent entrepreneurs and start-up CPG brands from sourcing regenerative, local, and value-added ingredients.

For both Kavanagh and Kindwall-Moore, a key concern was not only that supply issues would continue, but also that these issues would keep them from scaling their brands confidently, or in a way that could eventually impact the small-holder farmers they both aspire to support. Fortunately, a Natural Products Expo West 2023 networking event brought these founders together, leading to a new friendship and collaboration partnership was born to support their shared mission to bring healthier food habits to everyday categories like oats, muesli, snacks and baking mixes.

The two started problem-solving, not only for their own brands’ needs but for others faced with the same situation. The solution: the Collaborative Integrative Value Chain (CIVC) model.

The CIVC vision

The solution Kavanagh and Kindwall-Moore came up with would be one that could not only meet their own brands’ needs, but also serve other mission-driven brands faced with similar challenges. Named the Collaborative Integrative Value Chain (CIVC) model, this solution was ideated to circumvent the gaps in the food system through a number of different approaches.


The first step would be to purchase a gluten-free facility in order to take it out of the commodity system, and create a regional mill to bring identity-preserved value-added organic and regenerative gluten-free grains to market. This would allow them to accept smaller volumes of grains to support small-holder farmers, as well as provide transparent and traceable testing ensuring the absence of allergens, and high levels of pesticides and heavy metals, as well as protein levels.

The founders are also committed to operating the mill as a utility, instead of a profit center, by creating a collaborative co-packing facility that brings vertically integrated-like benefits to disparate brands seeking value-added gluten-free grains. This would reduce the margin burden associated with co-packing facilities that typically add costs to products making it challenging for brands to remain price-competitive among category peers at retail.

Another goal of the CIVC is to build a value-chain for millet, and other underutilized rotational crops, by installing equipment to dehull millet so farmers can receive a premium and brands can use it as an ingredient. The model also strives to provide market access for farmers implementing soil-health practices for environmental impact on the field, but aren’t certified organic or regenerative and testing for clean-conventional standards that pays a premium to the farmer that meets those standards.

Finally, this collaboration allows Zego, Snacktivist Foods and other partners to share services, particularly in marketing and promotion to raise consumer awareness on the health and ecological benefits of oat groats, millet, sorghum, etc., and help consumers understand meal prep and recipes to incorporate these ingredients.

Just one year after their initial encounter, Kavanagh and Kindwall-Moore’s CIVC model is that much closer to becoming a reality. On March 14, 2024 at Natural Products Expo West, the USDA announced Zego and Snacktivist Foods as among the recipients of the Organic Market Development Grant program. They received $3 million to bring this CIVC vision to life, bringing these two grain revivalists much closer to their shared goals of advancing nutrient-dense grains, support small-holder farmers, and help CPG brands with similar goals collaborate.

About the Author(s)

Amanda Hartt

Researcher | Data Analyst | Strategic Thinker

Amanda brings 10+ years of experience in research and consulting roles, working for both SPINS and New Hope Network to track and grow the natural products industry. With an MS in Food Policy, Amanda looks at the dimensionality of marketplace challenges to grow and transform food systems to build thriving communities.

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