The longtime leader of well-known organic food brand Annie’s, now owned by General Mills, is stepping down as president to pursue a new food venture.
John Foraker has led Annie’s for 17 years, first as chief executive and later — following the 2014 acquisition by Golden Valley-based General Mills — as president of the business. Foraker said Thursday in a blog post announcing his departure that he’s leaving for two reasons, neither one relating to the recent financial challenges its parent company has faced.
“Many people inside and outside General Mills will speculate about why I am leaving,” Foraker wrote. “My decision has absolutely nothing to do with the company’s recent struggles as it works to position itself for another 150 years. … I’ve come to love General Mills, its people and its values.”
He said the integration of Annie’s into General Mills is now fully complete and he is an “entrepreneur at heart” in need of a new challenge.
When General Mills bought Annie’s for $820 million, Foraker agreed to stay for one year. That turned into three. At the time of the deal, Annie’s leadership was heavily criticized within the natural and organic food industry for selling out to Big Food — often viewed as the enemy of organic.
“I knew that I’d never willingly leave until I felt that the business and culture of Annie’s were strong enough post-acquisition that they could self-sustain for the long-term inside General Mills,” Foraker said. “The track record of big [consumer packaged goods companies] in this area has been spotty, yet the Annie’s acquisition has been wildly successful.”
Since the acquisition, General Mills has helped nearly double the size of Annie’s and has expanded its reach from 8 million to 20 million U.S. households. Through it all, Foraker said, “we never compromised our values, and we significantly scaled our social and environmental impact. I am so proud of that.”
Foraker said he’s not cut out for corporate life in the long run and is ready to re-engage in the start-up community by working with a new food company located in the Bay Area, which he says he intends “to grow big and fast into a highly disruptive force in the organic food space.”
He will maintain a role at General Mills, acting as an adviser to Annie’s and the North American leadership team.
“John has made a significant impact to General Mills and we wish him well in his new venture and look forward to continuing our strong partnership with him,” said General Mills spokeswoman Bridget Christenson in an e-mail.
Carla Vernon, currently vice president of natural and organic growth acceleration at General Mills, will succeed Foraker as president of Annie’s. She has been with General Mills for nearly 20 years, working on various product lines, ranging from cereal to yogurt and snacks. She has an MBA from the University of Texas and a bachelor’s degree in ecology from Princeton University. Before joining General Mills, Vernon worked for the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group that often partners with General Mills on land-use initiatives.
“Carla has a tremendous track record of driving strong business results and has a deep understanding of the corporate social responsibility work that is at the heart of both Annie’s and General Mills,” Christenson said.
Vernon and her family will move from the Twin Cities to Berkeley, Calif., where Annie’s is headquartered. She retweeted Foraker’s post Thursday calling him “one of the greats” and a “legend.”
You can read more about Foraker’s decision on his LinkedIn profile.