Over the past two months, investment group and incubator Sonoma Brands has seen changes to its operating team including the addition of two managing directors. Founder Jon Sebastiani told NOSH the additions are reflective of how the firm has evolved since its inception, adding both to its portfolio of investments and owned properties: marshmallow brand Smashmallow, egg brand Peckish and drinkable chilled soup brand Zupa Noma.
Recently, Kevin Murphy joined the firm as a managing director. Murphy spent 13 years at Encore Capital, as one of the earliest employees of the firm. Murphy, a friend of Sebastiani’s since his Krave days, told NOSH that after departing Encore last summer, he was drawn to the operator-focused investment thesis that Sonoma offered brands.
“I saw true investment capability with a building track record, but coming from different perspectives than what we normally see with a traditionally structured investment firm,” Murphy said.
Joining Murphy as managing director is Brian Nicholson, who joined Sonoma as a principle in January 2018. Nicholson brought with him a focus on ecommerce, digital media and direct-to-consumer businesses, having spent five years with Stripes Group, leading the firm’s investments in Refinery29, Reformation and The Black Tux.
Those digital skills will benefit not only Sonoma’s investments, which include direct-to-consumer kids meal plan Yumble, but also Sonoma’s own brands. Zupa Noma, for example, went from being sold in brick and mortar stores to an ecommerce focus. Sebastiani cited a struggle to connect and educate consumers on retail shelves as the cause for the change.
Peckish has also focused on digital, as it has taken a more measured approach to its launch. The brand first entered California’s Erewhon in January before rolling out in Equinox locations in the Northeast, Whole Foods’ 365 stores and direct-to-consumer via its website.
“With Peckish we’re building a different value proposition, so [we’re going] much slower,” Sebastiani said. “Peckish was a brand that we’re going to slowly bleed out into the marketplace into very influential accounts.”
Peckish’s rollout comes as the brand has also undergone staffing changes. In December, Peckish CEO and Sonoma Brands Chief Brand officer Chelsea Bialla departed the company. Sebastiani told NOSH that Bialla had departed for “personal reasons” but her “fingerprints are all over our brands.” To fill the vacancy, Lauren Egan has been promoted to VP of Brand and the Sonoma Brands team is assisting with operations and the day-to-day management of the business. It’s a testament, Sebastiani said, to the Sonoma team.
“Having a tremendously complimentary, collaborative group of people that are accretive in their backgrounds and talents to each other is just sensationally important,” Sebastiani said.