You might be hard-pressed to find another company at the intersection of health and wellness like Landec. Specializing in natural, plant-based foods, like ready-to-eat kale salads and avocado spreads, as well as premium-grade, sodium hyaluronate–based biomaterials primarily for use in the medical and veterinary markets, this seemingly unconventional pairing is paying off for Landec.
“We’ve gone from around a $1 million company when I first joined to a $600 million company, and I think that’s mainly because of our culture. We have an entrepreneurial spirit, and we’ve been able to reinvent ourselves numerous times over the twenty-three years that I’ve been here,” says Greg Skinner, chief financial officer at Landec. “We’re not afraid to change our strategic direction when we see a consumer opportunity or gap in the industry that we can successfully innovate for.”
Originally founded as a material science company focused on polymer chemistry with one of its earlier pursuits in the area of medical devices, Landec, as it stands today, consists of two main operating businesses: Curation Foods and Lifecore Biomedical. Together, Skinner says, these two business are focused on innovation to further health and wellness solutions in the natural foods and biomaterial markets in which they operate.
“Our previous CEO, Molly Hemmeter, who was in her role for over three-and-a-half years, was certainly an inspiration for our growth. She developed our original salad line, which five years ago had no revenue and this year will be around $190 million in revenue,” Skinner says. “And from there, Molly came into the CEO role with a vision that Curation Foods would be a mission-forward, plant-based natural foods company that not only creates and sells products that are 100 percent clean with no artificial flavors or preservatives but also champions sustainable growing, production and distribution practices in the natural foods category.
“Everything we do is about providing access to delicious, plant-based foods made from 100 percent clean ingredients to as many people as possible in a way that respects people and preserves our planet,” he continues. “Ninety percent of our packaging is curbside recyclable, and 80 percent of our packaging is made from renewable sources across all brands. In addition, Landec recently invested over $6 million in a water recycling facility that is designed to purify water to specifications exceeding those of drinking water. Landec has set a goal of recycling 50 percent of its water within the next few years.”
Over the past three years, Skinner and the Landec team have set about delivering on its mission of providing access to as many people as possible to life. This involved rebranding the company’s former fresh-cut vegetable and salad entity from Apio to Curation Foods—in order to fully reflect the new vision—and negotiating a few strategic acquisitions, including the award-winning O Olive & Vinegar products and two well-known guacamole brands: Yucatan and Cabo Fresh. Landec also internally developed the Now Planting platform, an elevated and design-savvy line of plant-based soups with plans for expansion into other food categories in the future.
Under the Curation Foods umbrella, the company continues to expand business for its BreatheWay technology, a patented permeable membrane originally unveiled in 1995 that significantly—and naturally—extends the shelf life of packaged vegetables.
“We’ve always tried to look ahead and develop products that will meet the ever-changing future needs and desires of consumers,” Skinner says. “We acquired Apio, which originally was a cooperative of vegetable growers and, at the time, the only user of our BreatheWay technology, because we saw that consumers at the time were headed more toward value-added products like packaged, fresh-cut vegetables and vertically integrating our technology with a forward-looking vegetable processor would accelerate Landec’s growth.”
“Fast-forward, we developed our salad line and our chef-inspired sweet kale salad is still the number-one-selling packaged salad kit in North America today, five years after its original launch,” he continues. “With the acquisition of O Olive & Vinegar and Yucatan Foods and the internal development of Now Planting, we’ve transitioned our packaged fresh vegetable business into a natural foods company and renamed it Curation Foods.”
On the Lifecore side, Skinner and the Landec team sought to expand the company from a hyaluronic acid (HA) developer and provider into a contract development manufacturing organization (CDMO). “Through investments, we encouraged the Lifecore team to look outside of HA and use their expertise in fermentation and aseptic filling of very difficult to handle materials to expand into new market,” Skinner says.
“We’ve always tried to look ahead and develop products that will meet the ever-changing future needs of consumers.”
Lifecore invented the fermentation of HA back in the mid-’80s, a relatively viscous sub-stance for use in ophthalmic and orthopedic applications administered using a syringe that considered to be a medical device by the FDA. The Lifecore team has more recently developed, with one of its partners, its first drug application that is an antinausea treatment for chemotherapy patients.
“After this first drug application was approved, Lifecore became FDA approved for both medical devices and drugs. As a result, we were able to position ourselves as a full-blown CDMO,” Skinner says. “Of course, we quickly saw that 80 percent of drugs are filled in vials. So, a couple of years ago, we gave Lifecore the thumbs-up to construct a dual vial and syringe line, which is now fully operational and should start generating revenue next fiscal year. Lifecore has grown tremendously and still has huge growth potential.”
Now that the bulk of transformation has taken place, Skinner says the near term will see Landec focusing on execution by both growing recent acquisitions and strengthening the businesses they’ve worked hard to develop.
“The main focus of Curation Foods will now be to integrate and grow the recently acquired companies through optimizing operations and our supply chain and from utilizing our sales and marketing teams to sell the recently acquired product lines to existing Curation Foods customers,” he says. “With Lifecore, we’ll be working on advancing products currently in development to commercialization while expanding our product offerings with existing customers. Our goal is to try to have fifteen or so products in development at any given point in time so that we have a constant flow of products moving through the FDA approval process with the ultimate goal of getting every product approved.”
And, as a parent organization, Landec will continue to hone its goals of advancing health and wellness across the board. “We’re, after all, a mission-driven company. That’s the focus of the company. On the food side, we’re going to continue provide access to plant-based 100 percent clean ingredient foods promoting healthy eating and healthy ingredients,” Skinner says. “And on the Lifecore side, we’ll be working to improve the well-being and the quality of peoples’ lives through the treatments we help develop.”
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