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Hippeas picks former Annie’s and PopCorners head as new CEO

Dive Brief:

  • Paul Nardone is the new CEO of chickpea snack brand Hippeas, the company said in a statementNardone has more than 30 years of experience in a variety of food, beverage and consumer packaged goods companies, including CEO roles at Annie’s and PopCorners owner BFY Brands. 
  • The CPG veteran will focus on growing Hippeas’ portfolio, expanding production and opening new channels of distribution. Founder Livio Bisterzo has transitioned into the executive chairman role where he will focus on strategic initiatives.
  • The naming of a new CEO continues what has been an active year for the snack maker. In January, Hippeas raised $50 million in an investment round from The Craftory Limited, and named Greg Buscher, who has 25 years of C-suite experience and a background in operations and manufacturing, as CFO.

Dive Insight:

Hippeas has grown into a $100 million brand since it was founded five years ago, and its newest executive appointment provides fresh evidence that it’s banking on industry experience to help further its expansion. Bisterzo has previously said the company, which began selling puffed chickpeas, wants to evolve into a snacking platform with a presence across multiple categories.

A big part of its early success comes from the fact that its healthy snack products offer many of the qualities consumers are looking for, including organic, gluten free, non-GMO and vegan. But meeting these needs isn’t enough to guarantee success in today’s marketplace. Young companies need a leader who can not only help them navigate and compete with smaller competitors and deep-pocketed CPGs but also assist them in marketing their offerings, deal with changing consumer habits and work with retailers, both online and in the store. 

Nardone appears to have the experience Hippeas will need following his prior experience at Annie’s Homegrown, Stirrings, Immaculate Baking and PopCorners. During his time at Immaculate Baking, he grew the company into the top-selling natural brand in the $2 billion refrigerated dough category before it was acquired by General Mills. At PopCorners, which was purchased as part of BFY Brands by PepsiCo in 2019, he prioritized leading and growing innovative food and beverage brands, with a focus on sales, marketing and brand building. 

One thread that binds much of his prior food experience at these companies together is healthy food and beverages. Hippeas’s presence in the better-for-you snacking category will undoubtedly benefit from Nardone’s knowledge in fostering these brands. 

The pace of acquisitions has been particularly active in food with CPGs bulking up their presence in healthier eating. In the past several months, Mondelez International purchased Hu Master Holdings, a maker of premium snacks and chocolates made from simple ingredients; Nestlé acquired Freshly, a provider of fresh-prepared meal delivery services in the U.S.; Danone added to the mix plant-based pioneer Follow Your Heart; and Mars purchased bar maker Kind. 

Hippeas has long been rumored as an acquisition target, but so far has managed to remain a standalone company. It’s possible Nardone is being brought in to the on-trend Hippeas to further boost revenue that would drive up the price tag a potential acquirer would be willing to pay. At least two companies he has ties to in the past were ultimately gobbled up by big CPGs while he was CEO.

Hippeas’ value is no doubt on the rise as consumers look to eat healthier and snack more, a pair of trends that have gained momentum during the pandemic. With a fresh round of cash in hand, as well as new leadership in a CEO and CFO, the future for Hippeas appears promising, either as a standalone business of as part of a larger company.