Jim Breen, the entrepreneur who moved his Way Better line of healthy snacks from New York to Minneapolis in 2013, has acquired the Canadian supplier that grows his sprouts.
The acquisition comes amid a growth spurt that will double employment to 30 and drive sales to near $25 million this year, Breen said.
The premium-priced chips, which feature a variety of vegetable seeds, have been well received by shoppers and are now sold at Whole Foods, Lunds, Kowalski's and 20,000 other stores across North America.
Breen, 48, said his company, Live Better Brands, acquired Canada-based BioEssential Botanicals, owned by a husband-wife team, and that he will pay about $3 million over five years. BioEssential, which will be renamed Live Better Sprouting Innovation, will continue to operate near Toronto.
Live Better had grown to be BioEssential's biggest customer.
"We are growing, and we need to protect our supply and distinguish ourselves from the competition and create the next generation of great products," said Breen, a food industry veteran.
Live Better is tapping into a trend among consumers who want to eat healthier snacks but aren't content to nibble solely on apple slices and carrots. They also are willing to pay more than the cost of mass-market chips, at prices that range to $3.50 for a 5½-ounce bag.
Breen attended high school and college in the Twin Cities and once worked here for Creamette. He worked for Hain Celestial Group in New York but left during a reorganization a few years ago.
"The experience I had working at Hain Celestial, where they participated in so many categories, was terrific in helping me understand natural foods and launching a brand of gluten-free, non-genetically-modified, whole-grain chips with no preservatives," Breen said.
The food bloggers and thousands of stores, from co-ops to upscale chains, have been signing on for the likes of Live Better's Sunny Multi-Grain, Simply Sweet Potato and Simply Beyond Black Bean.
Financed by savings, his family and a few friends, Breen started Way Better in 2011, offering several lines of tortilla chips that feature "sprouted ingredients like flaxseed, chia seeds, quinoa, black beans and broccoli seeds" for the growing legions of health-conscious snackers.
In 2013, he decided to relocate Way Better Snacks from Long Island to the century-old Tractor Works Building at 800 Washington Av. N. in the hip, born-again North Loop neighborhood.
Way Better is premised on products that consumers "can feel good about eating,'' Breen said. This is done by sourcing high-quality seeds, grains and beans and germinating [sprouting] as many of them as possible, he said.
"When launching Way Better Snacks, we determined that BioEssential Botanicals was a leader in their level of understanding for the sprouting process and appreciation for ingredient quality," Breen said. "I'm excited to grow the sprouted foods category to new heights through Live Better Sprouting Innovation."
Breen predicts sales of $40 million in 2015.