MetaBrand, Schnell Part Ways

metabrand_logo_1Food and beverage incubator and consultancy MetaBrand and its founder and CEO, Eric Schnell, have parted ways after five years.

Responsibility for the firm will now lie with Debbie Wildrick and Craig Fortin, currently MetaBrand’s chief strategy officer and President and chief operating officer, respectively.

An announcement from the company circulated early this morning noting that Schnell “is no longer a manager or officer of MetaBrand LLC and I AM Products, LLC.”

Eric Schnell

Eric Schnell

Schnell, who had previously been the co-founder of carbonated tea brand Steaz, had built MetaBrand as loosely-affiliated group of full-time staff and referred consultants along with a centralized food and beverage product development facility. Among the company’s assets was access to an investment vehicle — dubbed MetaFund — that ultimately only made one significant deal, buying a large stake in the guayusa tea brand Runa. Other key clients the brand had worked with included switchel brand CideRoad, FitPro, Tio Gazpacho, and Martha Stewart-affiliated ULIV Java, among others.

I AM is a line of functional liquid supplement shots and body care products that Schnell had started alongside MetaBrand; those companies had the same lead investor.

Schnell had been trying to raise money for MetaBrand over the course of the past year, circulating a business plan, but potential investors ultimately didn’t back his recapitalization proposal.

Confirming his departure in a release and a phone call, Schnell said that he had transitioned out of his role as CEO to focus primarily on two other ventures: a cannabis-related company called MetaCan Medicinals and Leaf of Life, an energy bar company using the botanical ingredient moringa. While he remains a shareholder and titular founder of MetaBrand, he no longer has any operational or board role.

DebbieWildrick-200x200

Debbie Wildrick

“I’m leaving the company in good hands,” Schnell said. “I’m excited to pursue other products right away.”

Those hands include Fortin, an operations expert who was quietly promoted to President at MetaBrand a few months ago, and Wildrick, who had joined MetaBrand after it acquired her own consulting firm in 2013.

Wildrick wouldn’t give details about the reasons behind the change in leadership at the company, but did speak to the task ahead, which includes maintaining and growing MetaBrand’s client base without its founding leadership. Also a concern, she conceded, is maintaining a roster of high-level consultants when many of them had been brought to the organization through their association with Schnell over his time in the industry.

“Eric and I were partners for a couple of years, and good partners, hooked at the hip,” she said. ”I certainly don’t want to dismiss that at all and I don’t want to believe that Craig and I can’t do this. Craig and I are very passionate in continuing what we’ve built so far and adding into the future a little bit more of our own style.”