Schmidt’s Naturals Creator Jaime Schmidt Pivots From CPG Entrepreneur To Investor With New Firm Color
Husband and wife Chris Cantino and Jaime Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt’s Naturals, have formed investment firm Color to fund companies led by women, minorities and other societally-disadvantaged groups, and backed nut butter startup Wild Friends Foods.
Color joined Cambridge SPG, Katjesgreenfood, CircleUp, Echo Capital and Portland Seed Fund to participate in Wild Friends’ $3.5 million seed round. In the brand, Cantino, who served as Schmidt’s marketing and communications director, and Schmidt detect a business model and trajectory closely resembling those of Schmidt’s, the aluminum-free deodorant powerhouse acquired by Unilever last year.
“Wild Friends is set on raising expectations in a category at an accessible price point, similar to Schmidt’s, and their product is delicious, delivering above and beyond your average nut butter with innovative ingredients like collagen and flavors like vanilla espresso,” says Schmidt. Cantino notes, “Wild Friends is at the same intersection Schmidt’s was at two years ago, just breaking into mass retail and poised for huge growth, with all the puzzle pieces in play.”
Wild Friends’ distribution network has reached roughly 8,000 retail doors, including Whole Foods, Sprouts, Target, Kroger and Wegmans. The brand sells four flavors of Nut Butter & Oats breakfast options retailing for $2.99 and 13 Nut Butter flavors retailing from $4.99 to $14.99. Its Classic Creamy Peanut Butter is a bestseller, but Wild Friends has extended beyond the classic staple with Collagen Nut Butter infused with collagen from Vital Proteins.
Cantino and Schmidt are leveraging relationships they forged at Schmidt’s to assist Wild Friends and lending a hand with digital marketing strategies. Cantino oversaw the execution of more 75 million ad impressions monthly during his Schmidt’s tenure. He remains an innovation consultant for Unilever.
“Jaime and I are looking for companies where we can ‘plug in’ and make an immediate difference, bringing value beyond the capital.”
“Jaime and I are looking for companies where we can ‘plug in’ and make an immediate difference, bringing value beyond the capital,” says Cantino, adding about Wild Friends, “We were excited to see the strategic hires they were making, building out their team with vets from General Mills and Annie’s, and love that their product roadmap is a clear reflection of their values that addresses unique needs for their audience.”
Keeley Tillotson and Erika Welsh started Wild Friends in their college apartment in 2011. Its recipes don’t contain genetically-modified organisms or palm oil, an ingredient that’s come under scrutiny due to its links to deforestation, animal endangerment and indigenous rights abuses. The brand recently brought on board vice president of sales Beth Hanson, formerly senior development manager for 301 INC at General Mills, and marketing director Christina McCalla, previously marketing manager for Annie’s.
Tillotson describes Schmidt as an inspiration. She says, “It takes hard work, guts and passion to build what she built at Schmidt’s. Jaime has great instincts for what consumers want to see from lifestyle brands, and she has experience building a brand in both e-commerce and retail.”
Speaking broadly about Wild Friends’ seed round, Tillotson elaborates, “We are committed to expansion and growth of our sales, and we have accepted investor dollars to do so. We are also a B Corp, which means that growth should always be consistent with our mission and our principles. Being a B Corp gives us the freedom to our triple bottom line of people, purpose and profits equally. We feel lucky to have found partners who care about the purpose and passion behind the brand just as much as the short-term growth.”
“It takes hard work, guts and passion to build what she built at Schmidt’s. Jaime has great instincts for what consumers want to see from lifestyle brands, and she has experience building a brand in both e-commerce and retail.”
After Unilever purchased Schmidt’s, Schmidt and Cantino explored the entrepreneurial scene in Portland, their hometown and the city where Wild Friends is based, to determine businesses that might be good fits for Color investment. “There’s an enormous maker and CPG community here – far bigger than in much larger cities, Chicago, for instance – and we discovered a wealth of talent, while also identifying several out of town opportunities,” says Schmidt. In the ensuing months, she details she and Cantino traveled extensively to check out investment possibilities and listen to innumerable pitches.
Color is focusing on the food, beverage and beauty categories, and will cross direct-to-consumer and retail brands. Schmidt and Cantino didn’t disclose the amount of funding Color is injecting into brands. They disclosed Color will make private equity investments, be involved in series A and B rounds, evaluate angel funding prospects, and partner with venture capital firms. Further investments will be announced next year, when Schmidt and Cantino are expected to reveal a project giving back to underserved communities as well.
Discussing Color and its funding of CPG brands, Schmidt says, “I’m eager to talk about leadership in this space because, one, there are so few investors in this industry who can relate to the struggle business owners experience growing a business from humble origins and, two, it’s an opportunity to take things full circle to my own early days as a maker, hustling to grow my business — and, now, I’m in the position to help other brands grow through investment.”
At Color, Schmidt and Cantino are decidedly not passive investors. Prior to investments, they have a goal-setting session with company founders to zero in on the areas they can be assets and, once deals are closed, they delve into those areas without, Cantino emphasizes, “doing all the work for them.”
“Chris and I genuinely are enthralled by the success of these entrepreneurs because they remind us so much of ourselves, so we’re able to connect immediately over those experiences and put them at ease, working more effortlessly and passionately.”
“One trend we’ve noticed is that founders of emerging consumer goods companies excel at product development and have a strong affinity for their brand, but struggle with logistics, finance and executing on their marketing,” says Schmidt. “They’re often highly skeptical of funds and investors—once the suits start knocking, their antennas shoot up. Chris and I genuinely are enthralled by the success of these entrepreneurs because they remind us so much of ourselves, so we’re able to connect immediately over those experiences and put them at ease, working more effortlessly and passionately.”
Schmidt maintains a role at Unilever spreading Schmidt’s message as she and Cantino expand Color. “I see a new natural deodorant company popping up every day. Schmidt’s generated a high level of interest in the category, and it’s more competitive than ever,” she says. “To stay on top, Schmidt’s and Unilever will continue to anticipate trends and innovate at a rapid pace, while working to introduce the brand to global markets. Expect to see me supporting the brand’s international expansion and new product launches in 2019.”