Specialty food company Stonewall Kitchen this morning announced an agreement to purchase the Vermont Village brand, a producer of organic applesauce and raw apple cider vinegars, from parent company Village Cannery of Vermont. Terms of the deal, which is expected to close in September, were not disclosed.
“We’re very excited to find a permanent home for our brand with Stonewall Kitchen,” said Joseph Sheperd, owner of Village Cannery of Vermont, in a press release. “Since the start of Vermont Village, our mission has always been to produce healthy, accessible food while spreading the spirit of New England. We can’t imagine a better company to partner with to continue growing that mission.”
Speaking with BevNET by phone this afternoon, Shepherd said that he began discussing a potential deal with Stonewall CEO John Stiker last year. The acquisition includes the Vermont Village trademark, as well as production equipment owned by Village Cannery of Vermont. Over a six to nine month transition period, during which Shepherd will stay on as a consultant, Stonewall will determine whether to continue manufacturing Vermont Village products at the existing Barre, Vermont, facility or shift operations to its home base in York, Maine.
According to Shepherd, Stonewall will help provide Vermont Village resources in several key areas — including promotion and new product development — whose financial demands had previously created obstacles for growth.
“Overall, we’re super excited to have somebody that can promote our brand,” he said. “Being a small company, it was very difficult for us to spend the money on marketing that we needed to in launching new products, and Stonewall has that financial capability to help people find out about all of our great products.”
Shepherd noted that several innovations from Vermont Village that had been relegated to the back burner — including a lightly carbonated drinking vinegar in aluminum cans — could potentially be revived by Stonewall in the future.
The two New England-based companies share a mutual history in the organic, specialty food market. Since launching in 1991 at a local farmers market, Stonewall has expanded from jams and jellies into a variety of product offerings including baking mixes, cooking oils, condiments and pasta, among others. According to the release, it currently has over 8,500 wholesale accounts throughout the world, as well as nine retail stores and a cooking school.
In recent years, M&A activity at Stonewall has picked up speed as the company has sought to diversify across specialty food categories. Tillen Farms, a gourmet pickled vegetable and garnish maker, marked Stonewall’s first brand acquisition in January 2018, which was followed 10 months later by the purchase of Spruce Naturals, the parent company of both Napa Valley Naturals and pasta brand Montebello. In between those deals, Stonewall picked up licensing rights for the CPG arm of restaurant chain Legal Sea Foods in May 2018.
In Vermont Village, Stonewall has picked up an established brand with products that complement its existing assortment. Organic applesauce has long been Vermont Village’s flagship product, but a pivot in recent years toward raw apple cider vinegar — a versatile base liquid with purported health benefits — has allowed the brand to enter new categories, including shots, concentrates (dubbed “sipping vinegars) and ready-to-drink vinegars in a variety of flavors.
The acquisition of the Barre, Vermont-based company comes weeks after Stonewall Kitchen was itself acquired by Boston private equity firm Audax for an undisclosed amount.
“Our goal is to establish a leading premium branded specialty food platform, and we believe that Vermont Village will be a critical part of realizing that vision,” said Stiker in the release. “By leveraging our sales and marketing expertise, product development capabilities and other corporate support functions, we will drive exceptional growth of both brands while maintaining our commitment to superior quality products. We look forward to working alongside Vermont Village to accelerate our mutual growth.”