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Thanasi Founder Talks Conagra Acquisition

Carol Ortenberg

The competition in the snack set will see some sibling rivalry with today’s announcement that Conagra Brands, producer of DAVID seeds and Slim Jim, has entered into an agreement to acquire Thanasi Foods, maker of BIGS seeds and Duke’s meat snacks.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Thanasi founder Justin “Duke” Havlick, along with his 64 employees, will remain on with Boulder, Colo.-based company.

Havlick founded the company 13 years ago with investment from friends and family. His inspiration was to bring unique flavors and a specialty, craft focus to two categories (seeds and smoked meat snacks) that were, at the time, somewhat less differentiated. BIGS in particular found success after embracing a licensing strategy, working with brands such as Tapatio hot sauce, Stubb’s barbeque sauce, Old Bay seasoning and Heinz vinegar on branded seed flavors.

In 2015 Thanasi brought on Encore Capital as an investor. “Encore came in as minority partner that really assisted some of our earlier members on a transition out,” Havlick told NOSH. “We proudly have grown and driven the growth of our business through organic growth and utilization of that profitability year over year to drive our capitalization. From a balance sheet standpoint, we’re proud to say that we never really went back for additional rounds of funding to support growth after day one.”

Havlick noted that an exit for Thanasi was not on any specific “time clock,” but after meeting with Conagra he was impressed by the passion of both the company and it’s CEO, Sean Connolly. Both Havlick and the Thanasi team felt Conagra not only would embrace the BIGS and Duke’s brands, but continue to help them grow.

“[Conagra has a] desire to really support them but in a way that doesn’t compromise the great ingredients and craft, love and passion that we’ve poured into our brands,” Havlick said.

Conagra Brands was formed in fall 2016 when Conagra Foods separated its two businesses, consumer brands and frozen potatoes, into the Conagra Brands and Lamb Weston companies, respectively.

Conagra’s last acquisition of a natural products company was last September, when it picked up Frontera Foods and Red Fork. According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Conagra acquired the companies for $108.9 million in cash, net of assumed liabilities, and subject to working capital adjustments.

Havlick told NOSH that he’s excited to join the Conagra family both personally and professionally.

But there’s much that Thanasi can bring to Conagra as well. Havlick believes Thanasi’s Boulder headquarters, which will continue on, will bring inspiration to the food giant and give it access to another entrepreneurial food scene.

While this segment of his Thanasi journey may be complete, Havlick is excited for what the future will bring. “Honestly for me, just being fortunate enough to be in this position to lead such a great team for 13 years has been a remarkable journey and I feel this is a shoutout to all the entrepreneurs in our lives to say ‘you can do anything that you put your mind to,’” Havlick said. “There’s great people out there with great companies that are watching all of us and admire what the entrepreneurial community is doing with food.”

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