Beanfields was a family business begun by food broker Reed Glidden, his wife Liza Braude-Glidden, and his brother Roy Glidden in 2010, to turn the family’s twin passions for beans and tortilla chips into a new breed of snack food.
“They were tinkering in the kitchen and came up with the basic chip, and then they were thinking about retirement dreams and their idea of bliss, which was walking in a field of beans,” said CEO Arnulfo Ventura.
The Beanfields brand grew as a family enterprise, making and selling chips made from beans and marketing them as a healthier vegan alternative to traditional corn-based chips. Today the company is also a B Corporation, signifying its commitment to sustainability and giving back to society with projects like its partnership with Homeboy Industries.
The brand caught the attention of Powerplant Ventures, an investment firm focused on plant-based investments, and its managing director Mark Rampolla, who today is chairman of the Beanfields board. In 2017, Powerplant led an investment group that acquired a controlling interest in the brand. Ventura joined the company last July after a stint at plant-based dairy products company Califia Farms.
This week, Beanfields announced a Series B funding round that will help finance the company’s first new flavors in two years, Ventura said. The company isn’t disclosing the amount of the latest round.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE
Ventura, whose resume also includes a stint at PepsiCo’s Naked Emerging Brands unit, spoke this week about changes at the company, plans for new products and the lure of working for a plant-based company with a social conscience.
Was it difficult to transition from the beverage business to the snack segment?
Arnulfo Ventura: At the end of the day, I really don’t believe so. First and foremost, we build brands, not companies. The levers you pull are very much the same. Authenticity and taste -- those things transcend food and beverage, and structurally they’re very much the same.
That said, there were challenges. This was a turnaround situation. In terms of addressing the challenges on my end, in getting onboarded, there was a learning curve in understanding the category and the dynamics of the category. It was tough work in the first 30 days. We had to do a mini-reorg. We promoted a few folks and created the best sales team in the country. They just needed the chance to be given the next opportunity above them. They were people ready to take on the next challenge in their careers and we gave them the opportunity and the tools that weren’t there before.
Beanfields CEO Arnulfo Ventura.
Why is it harder to make chips with beans instead of corn and how did Beanfields overcome that?
Ventura: Beans don’t necessarily fluff as easily as a corn chip. Carrier chips are great for carrying guacamole and salsa, so we want to make sure it’s not a breakable chip. It has to be a dense, strong chip and at the same time not be overly bean forward. The science of crunch is complicated and there are different ways we try to address that, with different kinds of beans and paying attention to the base.
We primarily use navy beans and black beans.
What will you do with the new funding?
Ventura: The company has been around since 2010, this is the first time we’re coming out with new products in over two years. As part of the reorg I mentioned before, we have a completely new team and it’s the first time this team has commercialized and launched a product. We’re coming out with 13 new SKUs, in five different flavors. In large part the investment symbolizes a chance for us to support innovation. It’s really about the blocking and tackling, a deepening of our legacy SKUs. Our performance at retail has been there of late and retailers are asking about the next assortment. For most retailers it makes sense to go with an expanded assortment in the current lineup.
Our new flavors are flavor-line extensions. We know how to do chips and we know how to do vegan cheddar chips really well. [Some of the new flavors] show true points of differentiation, for example Himalayan salt and vinegar. Salt and vinegar is the fourth largest flavor profile in potato chips.
I was on vacation in Mexico before coming to the company and I was reinvigorated by the play of acid, heat and citrus. There are some chips on the market that are jalapeno, and some that are lime, but they have that almost aspartame sweetness. My focus in R&D for the new chipotle lime flavor was “close your eyes and imagine squeezing a fresh lime over the chips.”
What is Homeboy Industries and how does Beanfields support it?
Ventura: It’s based here in Los Angeles. It’s a non-profit born out of Father Greg Boyle’s mission to help previously incarcerated young people to go back into society. The folks who go through the program are called homies. We hired a homie who is working downstairs in the fulfillment operation.
It’s important to me to support Homeboy Industries. I was the first in my family to go to college and many of my cousins were homies, so to speak. It’s a big part of what brought me to this opportunity.