Industry Stars Speak on Lessons Learned & The Future of the Industry
All-Star speakers from established and up-and-coming brands inspire action through topics your business can apply now, like: lessons in growth, branding and marketing, how to raise and use capital, navigating the ever-changing state of retail, harvesting and harnessing customer insights and using data to make decisions. Industry experts drop knowledge on innovation, the investment climate and the future of the industry.
You’re running a business. Our on-stage content is curated for co-founders, CEOs, CMOs, COOS, revenue leaders and decision makers from across your organization.
Winter 2019 Mainstage Speakers
Vice President of Grocery, Whole Foods Market
Dan Epley is the Vice President for Whole Foods Market’s Grocery Team, based at the company’s headquarters in Austin, Texas. He leads the merchant teams for Dairy, Beverage, Frozen, Snacks, Candy, Meals, Baking, Essentials, and Breakfast. He’s a key leader for the merchandising evolution where Whole Foods Market has been moving from a decentralized, regionally based structure to a more centralized, hybrid model that is focused on customer-centric data-rich category management capabilities and improved execution. Previous to WFM he spent 26 years in Merchandising at Target Stores where he had leadership roles in Grocery, Domestics, Electronics, Home Improvement, and Sporting Goods. He’s known for brand development, innovative merchandising, strategic negotiations, marketing, process improvement, and sourcing. While not at work he enjoys going on adventures around the world, fishing remote Canadian lakes, and spending time with his family.
Founder & CEO, RightRice
Proven entrepreneur and innovator, Keith Belling is the founder and CEO of RightRice, the breakthrough vegetable rice grain that launched nationally in February 2019 with Whole Foods Markets and on Amazon and is now available in all Kroger banners nationwide and other leading retailers. Keith is also the founder and former CEO of popchips, the innovative popped-snack company that launched in 2007 and was named one of “America’s Hottest Brands” by Advertising Age. Keith is on the Board of Directors of Restoration Hardware and has launched and led a variety of businesses including AllBusiness.com and has been an advisor, providing strategic counsel and/or an investor in a variety of innovative consumer and technology companies ranging from AllBusiness.com, Olly and Modern Meadow to JUST Foods and Ripple. Like popchips, which Keith led to almost $100 million in revenues in just over five years, RightRice redefines another household favorite. RightRice is a complete, plant-based protein that’s made from vegetables and has more than double the protein, five times the fiber and almost 40% fewer net carbs than a bowl of white rice, and comes in Original and four already seasoned flavors (Lemon Pepper, Spanish, Garlic Herb and Thai Curry). RightRice is quickly gaining awards and acclaim, including being named “Best Plant-Based Food” by PEOPLE magazine in 2019. Keith, based in San Francisco, is a graduate of the University of California at Davis and holds a J.D.from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Head of Innovation at SnackFutures, Mondelez
Brigette Wolf is the Head of Innovation for SnackFutures, Mondelez’s new innovation hub that will play a critical role in the company’s aggressive global growth agenda. In this role, Brigette is a key architect in the building of a multi-functional ecosystem consisting of internal experts around the world and cutting edge external partners to drive innovation in a new and different way. In the SnackFutures model of Invent, Reinvent and Venture, Brigette’s focus is driving the development of new brands and businesses in the Well Being and Premium Space. Brigette has been with Mondelez for 6 1/2 half years, and in that time served as the senior director of Global Platform Innovation for Gum, Candy and Biscuits as well the brand manager for Belvita. Brigette was with the company when it was Kraft Foods, and for 10 years under that umbrella served as the Global Innovation Manager for Oreo and also worked across several of the pizza and meal brands. Prior to being part of the food industry, Brigette worked for Credit Suisse in financial advising. Brigette received her undergraduate degrees from The University of Pennsylvania and The Wharton School and her MBA from Northwestern Kellogg School of Management.
Head of Brand Management, BuzzFeed
Talia Halperin is the Head of Brand Management at BuzzFeed, where she oversees all brand and commerce activity. Talia has transformed Tasty, the world’s largest social food network, from a digital media juggernaut into a fully diversified food brand by launching Tasty-branded CPG products, a kitchenware line with Walmart, a set of bestselling cookbooks, and the Tasty One Top, which was recognized in TIME Magazine’s annual list of “Best Inventions” and named AdAge’s “Product of the Year.” Talia is based in New York.
Founding Partner/CIO, Legacy Knight Multi Family Office, Former Managing Director, Mark Cuban Companies
Abe manages the portfolio of early stage investments at Mark Cuban Companies with a focus on technology, logistics, and consumer product goods. Abe is also actively engaged as an advisor and board member with a number of companies leveraging his expertise in strategy, operations, and capital allocation to help accelerate their growth. Additionally Abe is a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Texas Family Office Association (TFOA), advisory board member at Institute of Excellence in Corporate Governance (IECG), and global advisory board member at Earth Day Network.
Director of Ventures, Mondelez
Mel Gaceta is the Director of Ventures at Mondelez. He oversees and executes early stage investments as part of their innovation hub, SnackFutures. Previously, Mel helped establish and was Managing Director for Synchrony Ventures, the venture arm of GE Capital’s former retail finance business. Mel started his career in corporate venture in 2000 as part of the founding team at Motorola Ventures.
Senior Director, IDEO
Design is Meija's not-so-secret weapon for creating a better food future. As Senior Director leading IDEO Design for Food, Meija brings a background in clinical psychology to design brands, products and experiences—from a fast casual restaurant and retail line designed to create a modern experience of Indian food, to f&b products that inspire healthy behavior change, to a wellness media network, and a collaboration with the UAE government to transform their nation’s relationship with food. Meija also serves on the board of Eat Real, a non-profit tackling diet-related disease by teaching kids to learn to love real food. Prior to IDEO, Meija was a director of brand strategy at Team One, where she helped create award-winning advertising for brands like Lexus and launched the world’s first luxury hybrid vehicle. Meija holds an MA in Clinical Psychology and earned her BA in Psychology from Mount Holyoke College.
President & CEO, ONE Brands
A seasoned food veteran with a knack for accelerating sales, Peter Burns joined the ONE team in 2017 as a next step in his impressive career in the food and beverage industry. Most recently, Burns led Justin’s Nut Butter as President and CEO. Working hand-in-hand with founder and namesake Justin Gold, Burns developed and executed a successful 2-year plan culminating in a $286 million acquisition by Hormel. Prior to this, Burns left a trail of success in positions such as President of Celestial Seasonings and CSO of Hain Celestial USA, where he performed CEO-like responsibilities and focused on sales growth and volume forecasting in dominant retailers across the US, leading to 20 consecutive quarters of top and bottom line growth. Burns was tapped as a leader for ONE by renowned venture capital fund CAVU, founded by CPG veterans Rohan Oza, Clayton Christopher, and Brett Thomas. His 20+ years of experience is anchored in sales, most notably as President of Sales and Marketing at Jones Soda Co, and before that as the Vice President of Sales at IZZE Beverage Company. At IZZE, Burns developed a long-term strategic plan that achieved $20 million in sales in less than two years. He also held senior executive positions at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation and The Hershey Company. Burns is a graduate of Randolph Macon College and currently resides in Boulder, Colorado.
Managing Director, Piper Jaffray
Janica Lane is a managing director at Piper Jaffray focused on providing investment banking and M&A advisory services to consumer companies in healthy, active and sustainable living industries, with a focus on food and beverage, as well as nutritional supplements. Prior to joining Piper Jaffray, Lane was a partner at Partnership Capital Growth, a boutique investment bank providing M&A and private placement services to health and wellness-oriented businesses. Prior to investment banking, Lane was a researcher at Stanford University’s Center for Environmental Science and Policy (CESP) and an equity research associate on Prudential Securities’ energy team. Lane has a Master of Business Administration degree from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She received dual bachelor's degrees (international relations and Spanish) with Phi Beta Kappa honors from Stanford University. She spent six months living in Santiago, Chile, as part of her undergraduate education and is fluent in Spanish.
CEO, Good Eggs
Bentley is a driven entrepreneur who loves helping emerging, mission-driven consumer brands scale. He is the CEO of Good Eggs, an online grocery delivery service that’s pioneering a new way for customers to feed their families, without settling. After spending time with Johnson & Johnson and Clif Bar, Bentley joined the early executive team at Plum Organics. In less than 7 years, Plum grew to become the largest organic baby & kids food co. in the US, and was acquired by the Campbell Soup Co in 2012. Originally from just north of Boston, he now lives in Marin, California and spends his free time exercising outdoors, eating tasty food and laughing with his two young sons.
Founder & CEO, Perfect Snacks
You could say Perfect Snacks CEO and Co-Founder Bill Keith was born a leader. After all, he’s the eldest of 13 siblings known for producing Perfect Bar: The Original Refrigerated Protein Bar. Bill’s quest to create Perfect Bar began in college, when he submitted a business plan for a class project, outlining his concept for a first-of-its-kind refrigerated protein bar made with whole food ingredients — a concept hatched from a childhood recipe, created by his father. Over the next 13 years, Bill and his younger siblings worked tirelessly to turn the crowded, $6-billion protein bar industry upside down, leading consumers away from the highly-processed, non-perishable snack aisles, to the fresh and functional snack and beverage coolers where Perfect Snacks products continue to carve out desirable, high-velocity fridge real estate in more than 27,000 stores nationwide, including Costco, Target, Kroger, Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks and 7-Eleven.
SVP of Commercial Development, BDS Analytics
Jessica leads the Sales and Consumer Insights Divisions at BDS Analytics, the premiere market research firm serving the global cannabinoid market. Together with her team, she works with brands, retailers, and investors to deliver unmatched insights and analytics. Prior to joining BDS Analytics and the wild world of cannabis data, Jessica Lukas spent over 10 years working with and for top global CPG and beverage alcohol companies.
CEO, Farmhouse Culture
Scott Lerner is a consumer products veteran with over 19 years’ experience in the consumer-packaged goods industry, having previously worked for PepsiCo, ConAgra Foods, and Kimberly-Clark. Lerner is recognized for delivering outstanding business results for these Fortune 100 companies. His brand management experience includes managing such leading iconic brands as Scott Tissue, Parkay Margarine, Quaker Oats and Naked Juice. In 2008, he created his own beverage brand called Solixir. For over 5 years Scott navigated the competitive beverage category for a successful exit in 2014. Following the sale of Solixir, Scott partnered with the private equity group VMG partners to become the Chief Executive Officer for Kernel Season’s. After restructuring the business and increasing profitability by 30%, he successfully sold the business in December 2018. Currently, Scott is the Chief Executive Officer for the growing Farmhouse Culture brand. Farmhouse Culture is a leading organic food and beverage brand sold in 5,000 stores nationally. With some amazing products like Kraut, and Gut Shot, the business is poised for similar success with Scott at the helm. As a former United States Marine Corps Officer and successful entrepreneur, Scott likes to take on challenges and will continue to apply his craft growing innovative brands in the future. Lerner received his undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland and his MBA at Case Western University.
Co-founder and CMO, Brazi Bites
Junea Rocha is the Co-founder and CMO of Brazi Bites. She moved to the US in 2005 after graduating from college in Civil Engineering and took a job in construction management in Portland, Oregon. She rose through the ranks quickly and hit a career-high, yet she felt unfulfilled. It would have been easy for Junea to lean into the success she found in engineering, but when she imagined her future she knew she would rather take a risk on a career she was passionate about than look back with regret. Although she did not have experience in the food industry, Junea’s love and passion for her homeland ignited an idea. In 2010, she and her husband started Brazi Bites with the hopes that Americans would love Brazilian Cheese Bread (“Pão de queijo”) as much as they did. In a few short years, they grew into a nationally distributed brand with a cult-like following after appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2015, and were then included twice in the Inc.5000 list of “America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies". She remains just as passionate and more excited than ever to continue Brazi Bites growth as a better-for-you Latin Foods platform, and making their products a staple in North America.
Co-Founder & Partner, Prelude Growth Partners
Neda Daneshzadeh is a Co-Founder & Partner at Prelude Growth Partners, a growth investor focused on providing capital and value-added operating support to fast-growing, high potential consumer brands with a passionate consumer base. Prelude Growth focuses on building iconic consumer powerhouse brands through its world-class set of value-add strategic and operating resources and industry-specific network. Prelude invests across branded consumer categories including food & beverage, health & wellness, personal care & beauty, and other consumer categories. Notable recent investments include 8Greens, Banza, and Sol de Janeiro, among others. Neda has been an investor, senior operator, and strategic consultant in the consumer sector for the last 20 years. Prior to founding Prelude Growth Partners, Neda spent 12 years at L Catterton, a global consumer-focused private equity firm, where she was a Partner and a member of the Investment Committee. Her growth investing experience spans the consumer landscape. Prior to that, she was an executive at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Neda began her career at McKinsey & Company and Morgan Stanley. Neda received a Masters in Economics from Cambridge University, England and she earned her MBA from Harvard Business School. She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.
Founder and CEO, Purely Elizabeth
Elizabeth Stein is the founder and CEO of Purely Elizabeth, an all natural and organic food company based in Boulder, Colorado. Stein launched the company in October 2009, with a goal to create foods you obsess over, made with innovate, nutrient-rich ingredients. Elizabeth is a certified holistic nutritionist with a background in business marketing from Boston University. She is passionate about building a company that is dedicated to helping consumers thrive on their wellness journey.
Co-Manager, Food & Agribusiness Fund, Advantage Capital Partners
Tyler Mayoras has over 20 years of private equity investing experience and is currently the Co-Manager of the $155 million Advantage Capital Food & Ag Fund. Mr. Mayoras invests in and helps scale growing food and agriculture companies. He has been an investor or board member in a number of high growth companies including Shenandoah Growers, Farmhouse Culture, Fishpeople, Simple Mills, Tiesta Tea and Boca Burger.
Co-Founder & Co-CEO, mindbodygreen
Colleen Wachob is Co-Founder and Co-CEO at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Stanford University with degrees in international relations and Spanish, and spent 10 years working at Fortune 500 companies including Gap, Walmart, and Amazon. Wachob lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, mbg Founder and Co-CEO Jason Wachob and her two daughters, Ellie and Grace.
Global Senior Merchant,Candy and Functional Snacks, Whole Foods Market
I am the global senior merchant over Candy and Functional Snacks at Whole Foods Market. Prior to joining Whole Foods Market in March of 2017, I spent 6 years at Target, Amazon, and General Mills in a variety of merchandising and marketing roles. I am proud alumni of The Ohio State University where I completed my Bachelor’s Degree, and The Monte Ahuja College of Business at Cleveland State University where I completed my MBA.
VP, Category Management & Growth Solutions, KeHE Distributors
Katie is currently Vice President, Category Management & Growth Solutions at KeHE Distributors, where she develops supplier and retailer category management solutions based on analytics, consumer insights, and category trends. Katie has been serving at KeHE for ten years and has held positions in Analytics, Pricing, Integration, Category Management, and Smart Growth Solutions. Katie received her Bachelor of Business Administration in Food & Consumer Packaged Goods Marketing from Western Michigan University. In 2015, Katie was named one of Griffin Report’s Food Marketing “40 Under 40” in 2015. She received her EMBA degree in Food Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in June 2017 and is currently applying that knowledge back into the industry.
CEO, Konnect Agency
Sabina Gault is the CEO of Konnect, an award-winning communications and marketing agency with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Austin, TX and Denver, CO. A seasoned and passionate PR and marketing practitioner, Sabina’s approach to client service, strategic communications, and measurable results are apparent in Konnect’s rapid rise from a startup to a mid-size agency with an average annual growth rate of 60 percent. With more than 40 employees across its 4 offices, Sabina leads a team of dedicated staffers who provide a boutique-level personalized service combined with an adept ability to effectively build brands that has resulted in a long list of legacy clients. Since founding the agency in 2009, Konnect has been named the #1 PR Agency on the Inc. 5000 “Fastest Growing U.S. Companies” list – five years in a row- and was included on the Austin, TX and Los Angeles Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” listing among many other accolades. Sabina is a graduate of Berkeley and currently resides in Westwood, California with her husband and two children who keep her grounded and contribute to the motivation that drives her success.
Business Development Manager, National Co+op Grocers
Heidi Traore has been a passionate member of the natural products industry since the late 1980s and currently serves as business development manager for National Co+op Grocers (NCG), a business services and purchasing co-op with $2.1 billion in annual sales serving 145 US retail food co-op members. An established sales and marketing professional, Heidi worked with NCG’s category management team on solidifying a fact based business approach through targeted bi-annual business planning events that have enhanced business relationships and created efficiencies for her organization and its partners. Under her leadership, NCG promotional program revenue grew 69% over a four-year period. Through collaborations within cooperative supply chains, Heidi has been instrumental in bringing exclusive products produced by co-ops or made with cooperatively sourced ingredients to market at retail food co-ops. In her current role, she introduces new and emerging brands to NCG and works to promote the vital role that food co-ops play in the natural products industry. Heidi strives to be an agent of change and is a fervent supporter of inclusivity in society. When she’s not at work, you may find her on the floor of a West African or Latin based dance class, or roller skating with her daughter and grandchildren.
Founder, Sonoma Brands
Jon founded Sonoma Brands in January 2016 to invest in high-growth, emerging consumer brands and selectively incubate new concepts. Jon currently leads all aspects of the Firm’s investment strategy and portfolio company management. Prior to founding Sonoma Brands, Jon was the Founder & CEO of KRAVE Pure Foods (“KRAVE”). Jon has always been an avid runner, and when he was training for the New York City Marathon in 2009, he realized the opportunity to turn a commonly used training food into something truly special. With encouragement from his mentor and business school professor, Steve Blank, Jon founded KRAVE with the intent on making jerky that tastes good without chemicals and additives. KRAVE went on to become one of the fastest growing CPGs in the country, culminating in the acquisition by The Hershey Company in 2015. Prior to KRAVE, Jon was the President of Viansa, a successful destination winery in the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Jon received his B.S. in Economics from Santa Clara University and his dual M.B.A from the Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley and Columbia Business School.
Co-founder & Managing Director, Whipstitch Capital
Nick McCoy is a Co-Founder and Managing Director with Whipstitch Capital. Nick has over 20 years of investment banking experience. Nick co-founded the investment Bank, Silverwood Partners, where he headed up the consumer division with Mike Burgmaier. In 2015 Nick joined forces with Mike Burgmaier to form Whipstitch Capital with the goal of creating the industry’s largest independent investment bank exclusively focused on leading companies in the healthy and innovative consumer market. Previously Nick was in the Investment Banking Group at First Albany (now Jeffries), Director of M&A at Allmerica Financial Corp, and a Senior Associate, Corporate Development at Wheelabrator Technologies. Nick often speaks and is quoted on various investiture and acquisition-related topics. Nick is an avid road cyclist and thinks it’s ok to cross country ski in below-zero temperatures. He’s a health-focused foodie, cooks frequently and has an extensive knowledge of wine and whiskey (just ask him). Nick is a Chartered Financial Analyst and has an MBA from Wake Forest University and an undergraduate degree from the University of New Hampshire.
CEO, Lily's Sweets
Jane Miller has 30-years of executive experience in the food industry. She has worked with both start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. She is also the founder of Janeknows.com, a career advice website geared towards young leaders starting their careers. Jane is the author of Sleep your Way to the Top (and other myths about business success), a sassy business book targeted at Millennials. Jane is currently the CEO of Lily’s Sweets and has held several other CEO roles in the natural and organic industry, including Rudi’s Bakery, ProYo High Protein Ice Cream, and HannahMax Cookie Chips. Over the course of her career Jane was part of an executive team that brought Hostess out of bankruptcy, worked for HJ Heinz as the Chief Growth Officer and then the President of the UK & Ireland Division. She also ran the Western division of Bestfoods Baking. Jane spent the first fourteen years of her career at PepsiCo, where she rose to be the President of the Central division of Frito-Lay. Jane currently serves as a board member at the University of Colorado Leeds Business School and Eldorado Springs Artesian Water. In 2013 the Denver Business Journal named Jane the Lifetime Achievement Award Winner for her work mentoring young professionals and start-ups. Her other honors include the Boulder Chamber of Commerce’s Women Who Light the Community Award in 2015 and the Naturally Boulder Industry Leader Award in 2016. In 2015, Jane established the Jane Knows Scholarship Fund at Leeds supporting students who are the first in their family to go to college. In 2018, Leeds recognized Jane with a non-alumni service award. Jane has a degree in Russian Studies from Knox College in Galesburg, IL, where she received a 2017 Alumni Achievement Award. She earned her MBA degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.
Former CEO, NextFoods, GoodBelly
Alan has worked in the world of nutritional foods and supplements for more than 10 years, before that having spent most of his career with large global companies such as Unilever and Tetra Pak. He has worked in various countries around the world and was CEO for Tetra Pak North America before joining NextFoods, the makers of GoodBelly Probiotic Juice. He was involved at its very inception in 2008, when he helped secure the license of a patented probiotic strain from Sweden and participated in naming the product and raising the initial outside capital. In addition to being the CEO of NextFoods, Alan sits on (or has sat on) boards in the natural foods and packaging industries, working closely with the founders, investors and management teams. He was Chairman of both SunOpta Inc, a billion dollar public company, and the Carton Council, an industry organization established to promote the recycling of beverage cartons, which he founded. Recent public speaking topics include the following: Personalised Nutrition, Communicating Science to Consumers, Women on Boards and Rapid Prototyping to Accelerate Innovation. In his private time, he surfs, plays tennis and golf and skis in Colorado, his current home.
Board Member & Advisor, Barnhorn Growth Advisors
Brad works closely with leading growth-stage food and beverage companies as a Board member, strategic advisor and Investor. His work leverages 25 years of company-building experience as entrepreneur, CEO, board member and investor, cutting across all strategic and operational dimensions of successful company-building in the food and beverage space. He currently serves on the Boards of Flying Embers, Simple Mills, Country Archer, Rhythm Superfoods, Biena, Fishpeople, Red’s All Natural, Gimme Foods and RightRice. He previously served on the Board of Krave Jerky, Kevita, Health Warrior and Chameleon Cold Brew from these companies early stages through their respective exits as category defining brands to Hershey’s, Pepsi and Nestle. Building upon a foundation in management consulting and investment banking, Mr. Barnhorn’s food and beverage journey began twenty years ago as Founder/CEO of the Fantasia Fresh Juice Company which he built into the leading superpremium fresh juice/smoothie company in the Midwestern United States culminating in a merger with Naked Juice to form the leading national brand in the category which was subsequently acquired by Pepsi. He holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Partner, Amin Talati Wasserman
Rakesh works primarily on the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, Federal Trade Commission, and advertising (Ad Law) compliance, and defending against government, competitor and consumer class action challenges, patent and trademark protection and infringement litigation, Proposition 65, false advertising and commercial litigation. Rakesh is a board member of Naturally Chicago. The firm serves as FDA regulatory counsel for The Hemp Roundtable championing The Farm Bill and path for CBD products. The firm works with the Council for Responsible Nutrition on FDA and advertising regulatory issues. The firm is also general counsel for The International Probiotics Association, The Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED-fish oil), The American Botanical Council and NAXA for FDA, Ad Law, trademarks and IP.
R&D Lead, JPG Resources
Amy Usiak is an Executive Product Developer with strategic vision and has spent the last two years as JPG’s R&D lead Product Developer. She has worked with clients in all sections of the Grocery Store, from frozen foods to protein cookies and everything in between. Amy supports her clients by building the best team to ensure the success of their projects. Her strong communication skills and compassion for her clients and team lead to winning solutions to each new endeavor. Amy excels at: ? Client Management ? Breakout Innovation ? Team Building ? New Product Development ? Quality Improvement and Cost Optimization With over 20+ years of industry experience with Fortune 100 companies, Amy is skilled at developing across product platforms. Using her expertise, Amy has lead projects from concept through commercialization in cereals, granolas, and flavor optimization. Amy received her Master’s Degree in Food Science & Nutrition from Cornell University. Before joining the team at JPG, Amy spent time writing for Post Foods and Kraft Foods Group. She spends most of her weekends on the sidelines of various courts and fields cheering on her kids.
Advisory Board Member, Graham Partners and Founder and Managing Director, Schall Consulting Group, Inc.
Mike has over three decades of senior management experience in branded food companies spanning entrepreneurial initiatives to large national brands. As Senior Principal of Business Development at Whole Foods Market, Mike advises the Executive Team on diverse business initiatives including investments, partnerships, new ventures, and operational improvements. He provides leadership and direction in developing brands and business concepts for Whole Foods Market operating teams, as well as oversees the fresh sushi operations. He served as a Director and President of Sales and Marketing of Townsends, a privately held $500M vertically integrated poultry processor. Recruited by lenders to join the Board and then to assume a leadership role, Mike led all sales, marketing, culinary, product development and quality assurance teams. Assisting the CEO in implementing the strategic sale process, Townsends implemented a successful U.S.C. §363 filing during a severely adverse commodities environment culminating in a sale to two strategic buyers, returning substantial value to lenders. Prior to Townsends, he served as Senior Vice President of Monterey Gourmet Foods (NASDAQ: PSTA) since December 2007 until its acquisition by Korea-based Pulmuone USA in February of 2010. He served on PSTA’s Board of Directors on the Audit Committee and the Strategic M&A Committee from 2000 to 2008. Responsibilities included leading strategy development, sales and marketing leadership, business integration and corporate development. Mike served as Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing and DSD of Wise Foods, Inc., a privately held $400 million regional snack food company. He developed and executed core revitalization strategies, structured strategic joint ventures (ConAgra & P&G) and implemented several successful supply chain and new channel initiatives worth more than $150M in revenues. Prior to joining Wise, Mike was President and Chief Executive Officer of The B. Manischewitz Company, LLC, a closely held manufacturer and world’s largest marketer of ethnic and kosher foods. He directed day to day operations and integrated acquisitions for the company, while successfully leading the company to increased revenue and profitability. From 1994 until its acquisition by Manischewitz in November of 2000, Mike was President and Chief Executive Officer of Guiltless Gourmet, Inc., an Austin, Texas based manufacturer and marketer of natural, healthy food products. Guiltless Gourmet’s baked tortilla chips helped pioneer natural snack food brands in the grocery industry. In 1987, Mike founded Strategic Marketing Methods, a consulting firm providing marketing, business development and advisory services to CPG, grocery and foodservice clients. He held management positions with Carnation Company (Nestle S.A.), Lawry's Foods Inc., a division of Unilever U.S., and Prepared Products Co. Mike holds a master’s in business administration in Marketing from The University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business and was graduated from California State University at Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing. He successfully completed Unilever’s North American Executive Management Development Program and Xerox Professional Sales Skills Course. Mike serves as an operating partner adviser for Graham Partners and is an Advocate for Atlanta-based OnBoard, advocating advancement of women in the boardroom and in the C-suite. He is plant-based, an avid runner, and enjoys cooking, reading and studying history. He and Lisa, his wife of 40 years, have two daughters and three granddaughters.
Director, Investment Strategy, Brand Growth Solutions, SPINS
Michelle Fox is a data-fluent professional who works closely with SPINS’ clients to help them translate and unlock the value of data. Drawing on over seven years of relevant experience, Michelle oversees the delivery of strategic analyses, insights, and recommendations for leading companies and investors within the Natural, Organic, and Specialty products industry. She enables clients to achieve sustained, profitable growth by using data to pinpoint opportunities and developing growth strategies to effectively capture them.
Vice President, Echo Capital Group
Benjamin Levy is Vice President of Echo Capital Group, a Los Angeles-based firm focused on investing growth capital, operational expertise, and strategic collaboration in high growth consumer companies. Backed by the family office of the Hot Pockets® co-founder, ECHO combines decades of proven success with the fresh, dynamic insight needed to support emerging companies today. At ECHO Ben leads investments for the firm, and provides guidance in marketing, fundraising, governance, and growth strategy to portfolio companies through board service. He has over 15 years of experience managing small business growth in the consumer branded space. Prior to joining ECHO, Ben served as Private Equity Manger for the international investment firm, Consolidated Investment Group (CIG), where he led origination, diligence, and created growth plans for acquisitions in the food and beverage industry.
Chief Creative Officer, The GRO Agency
Kelly Criswell is Chief Creative Officer at The GRO Agency, a keystone CPG brand strategy and design agency for over 30 years. As the founder of the Los Angeles GRO studio, Kelly has been a perpetual trailblazer, vastly expanding agency capabilities to strategically champion both established and emerging brands for the modern CPG landscape. With a fierce love of food and beverage branding and a 17+ year career in brand development and packaging design, Kelly relentlessly pushes brands from every angle to ensure success on-shelf. Her latest modus operandi is harnessing her extensive experience to help entrepreneurs and start-ups launch their brands.
VP of Strategy, The GRO Agency
Danielle Muller is the VP of Strategy at The GRO Agency, leading the next generation of GRO creative strategists attuned to the modern CPG landscape. With a contagious curiosity and furious-mind, she is passionate about connecting people with the things that move them. Harnessing left-and-right brain synergy, industry insight, and collaborative creativity, she crafts attuned strategy with both authentic and pragmatic perspective. With over 15 years of experience in dynamic brand creation, marketing, and operational strategy, Danielle has worked with everyone from spunky start-ups to Fortune 500 luxury brands. Leveraging her broad cross-industry experience, she draws from the full scope of opportunity to bridge brands and consumers, driving revenue and defining culture.
Vice President, eCommerce, KartSmartr, JOH
Michael Yanez has been a CPG sales, marketing and business development executive for 25 years, growing brands for start-ups to mid-size companies. He currently serves as VP of eCommerce at KartSmartr, a division of privately-held JOH, the third largest CPG broker in the nation, where he manages exclusive programs with Amazon Marketplace (Seller Central), Amazon Fresh, Amazon Private Label and other platforms for CPG companies. From 2014-2018, he created the eCommerce Omni-Channel division of Vendo Commerce, a digital sales platform that helps CPG brands sell direct to consumer via Amazon and custom branded websites. His leadership helped scale one-to-one customer relationships using paid media, social networks, influencers, search engines, and other online traffic sources in order to maximize sales, data, and brand loyalty across all online channels. During his tenure, Michael helped grow its Amazon store into the top 5% of all Amazon sellers. Prior to Vendo Commerce, Michael sold or consulted for CPG brands into big box retailers, and helped his clients navigate the ever-changing Omni-Channel. His clients included Morphe Cosmetics, Maglite flashlights and several of the top ASOTV (As Seen on TV) brands. His hands-on experience in the CPG marketplace spans a broad range of sectors, including food & beverage, beauty, health, natural products, pet supplies, consumer electronics and more. He is an expert in “go to market” strategies, product positioning, packaging, market analysis, distribution and more.? Michael is a graduate of UCLA with a B.A. in history.
CEO, Cali'flour Foods
CEO of Cali’flour Foods. Joined in May, 2019. From 2018-2019 Mike was head of business development at Factory LLC in Bethlehem, PA. and still functions as an advisor for Factory. Mike was a food broker from 1989-2018. From 2002-2018 Mike was a member of the management team that founded and established Natural Specialty Sales, the natural and specialty division of Acosta Sales and Marketing. Mike was president of NS Sales from 2003 until his retirement in 2018. NS Sales assisted many major natural product brands such as Kashi, Silk, Horizon, Annie’s, Stonyfield, Pacific Foods, the Hain Celestial family of products, Cascadian Farms, Applegate, Bragg, Talenti gelato and hundreds of other brands. Member of Sprouts vendor advisory council, FMI emerge, Naturally Boulder, and serves as advisor to several natural product companies. Attended Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas.
Sr Global Grocery Coordinator, Whole Foods Market
David Lafferty was born and raised on a family farm in Ontario, Canada; a 25 year veteran of the grocery business he is known as a passionate advocate for the entrepreneurs of the natural foods industry. In his current role as an Executive Leader at Whole Foods Market, he is responsible for the merchandising, and P&L of the Candy and Snacks Team. He joined Whole Foods Market in 2006 as a Regional Buyer in the newly formed Pacific Northwest Region and was later promoted to Grocery Coordinator in the Southwest, leading the merchandising and operations for the region. In 2012 he was tapped to join the Global Team as the Sr Global Grocery Coordinator where he has been responsible for the operations, marketing, promotions, and finance relationships, as well as the ongoing mentorship of team members, and advising numerous brands. He started his career with the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) Canada in 1987 and served in roles including operations, store leadership, and category management in both Canada and the US. David holds a BA in Economics and an MBA from the University of Guelph. He and his family reside in Austin Tx, where they enjoy the laid back lifestyle and culture of their adopted Texas home.
Founder & CEO, CAULIPOWER and Vegolutionary Foods
Gail Becker is the Founder and CEO of CAULIPOWER and Vegolutionary Foods. Already well known in professional circles, Gail’s career reached the highest levels of media, politics and business - including executive roles at Warner Bros., The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and Edelman. But as a mom of two boys with celiac disease, Gail was not happy with the gluten-free options available to her family. Who wants pizza that’s full of sugar and chemicals, or doesn’t taste anything like pizza, or takes 90 minutes to make? Seeing that the food industry offered no nutritious solutions for busy, foodie families to enjoy together, Gail took matters into her own hands and launched CAULIPOWER in early 2017. CAULIPOWER disrupted one of grocery’s most stagnant categories and is now the #1 gluten-free pizza and #1 fastest growing pizza brand in the U.S., with availability in over 22,000 stores. Earlier this year, CAULIPOWER was honored with Walmart’s “Supplier of the Year, Innovation” award. In 2018, Gail launched a new mother brand, Vegolutionary Foods, as a platform for innovative, approachable and convenient meal-hacking products, including the world’s first superfood toast, Sweet PotaTOASTS. Gail is a passionate advocate for new entrepreneurs, women in business and making vegetable nutrition accessible and delicious to all - especially kids.
Business Development Principal, 301 Inc.
Pete Speranza is native New Yorker and a food veteran of 22 years, who is also one of the founders of 301INC, the venture arm for General Mills. Beyond his role of leading business development for 301INC and helping to bring this capability outside the US, he’s also an industry thought leader and advocate for change in the world’s food system. Pete’s passion for building a stronger worldwide food innovation ecosystem had him found the food division for the largest state-wide innovation competition in the country called the MN cup ,and spearheading a vision of creating a national recognized food innovation hub for the state of Minnesota. A fun fact about Pete is his first career was as a professional ice hockey player which took him around the world.
Carol is the Editor of NOSH, BevNet’s media property focusing on Natural, Healthy, Sustainable and Organic food products. Carol previously worked and consulted for several consumer goods companies, many within the food space. She also was on the marketing team for Whole Foods Market in the North Atlantic region. Prior to focusing on the food industry, Carol worked at several tech companies, including HubSpot, and served as a consumer researcher at AMP Agency. A graduate of Brandeis University in Journalism, Cultural Anthropology and Theater Arts, Carol is passionate about the food, agriculture and beverage industries.
As Editor-in-Chief of BevNET, Jeffrey Klineman oversees the organization's reporting across all of its web sites, as well as BevNET Magazine. Jeffrey is also responsible for developing the content for conferences like BevNET Live and Food and Beverage University (FBU). Jeffrey previously worked as a newspaper reporter for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, the Boston TAB and the Metrowest Daily News, and has freelanced for publications like Slate, Boston Magazine, Self, George, Commonwealth, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Jeffrey is a graduate of Yale University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. A frequently-cited expert on the beverage industry, Jeffrey has also been named in Forbes as one of the 25 Most Influential Kingmakers in Consumer and Retail Companies. He is still trying to live that one down.