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Food Inc.: Entrepreneurs Take Recipes to Market

The food business fills its plate as it fills ours.

Food makers of various kinds have sprouted locally—from a two-woman shop producing gourmet salad dressing to two guys who put Aussie vegetable pies on local grocery store shelves.

Many hope for a big score.

Consider:

• In May, Yakult U.S.A. Inc. opened a 77,000-square-foot plant in Fountain Valley to make 400,000 bottles of its probiotic drink a day.

• In June, South Coast Baking Co. got $10 million in credit to upgrade its plant in Irvine and open one in Arkansas. The company sells cookie dough to Mrs. Fields and Sam’s Club and said it expects $100 million in revenue this year.

• Nature’s Best sold to KeHE Distributors LLC in Naperville, Ill, in July. The Brea-based natural food product distributor’s sales were up 28% in 2013 to about $700 million.

• In October, Avanzar Sales and Distribution LLC in Brea sold a 30% stake for $500,000 to Minerco Resources Inc. in Houston. It distributes to 3,200 retailers, including Whole Foods and Albertsons, with 2013 sales at $2.6 million.

Nuovoterra Products in Monarch Beach builds its gourmet salad dressing from the vine up.

Founder Lesley Roberts said she gets all ingredients from California producers, including wine vinegars from the Sonoma Valley and cold-pressed olive oil from Northern California.

She founded the business in 2012 with her mother, Beatriz Roberts. The company produces six varieties of vinaigrettes, and the duo makes them in a 1,200-square-foot, state-certified kitchen in Fallbrook in San Diego County.

Bottles sell for about $10 each, with the partners hitting food trade shows and four farmers markets a week and starting to get into some local stores, including Hansen’s Market in San Clemente and an Argentine deli in Laguna Hills.

“Farmers markets pays the bills and gets you exposure,” she said. “People have to taste it.”

Roberts calls the product “the Italian Tapatio.”

Australian native Jai Snowdon and business partner Ryan Lopiccolo founded a Costa Mesa bakery called Pie-Not in May 2013.

A Kickstarter campaign to expand the business was unsuccessful—in one sense.

Snowdon said they didn’t raise the $50,000 they sought but that, “Someone from Whole Foods (Market) was interested.”

In August, they landed a spot at the Whole Foods in Tustin. Other OC stores in the chain followed in October, and a Los Angeles and San Diego expansion is planned for the spring.

Whole Foods has regional product-spotters called local foragers. Dwight Detter, one of three foragers in Southern California, said he “got a note” from someone who’d tried Pie-Not.

On a visit to the Pie-Not bakery, “I asked a staffer, ‘What makes it Aussie?’ and this accent came out of the back to answer me.”

Pie-Not has five pie types in the Tustin store—vegetable, vegetable and cheese, vegan, and two dessert options.

Snowdon said the company will pursue wholesale distribution to restaurants and stores instead of opening more bakeries.

Exotic Food

Local food can also get a little exotic.

Sandra Lim imports birds’ nests from Asia and sells them as a cooking ingredient and as a premade drink.

“The nest is made by nature,” she said. “We import it, cook it and process it.”

The product is said to have medicinal benefits, and Yorba Linda-based Menara Pesarda Abadi Inc. sell its Blessing Birdnest products online and to about 50 specialty stores in California, Texas, Colorado and Minnesota. Production is in New Jersey.

She said a six-pack of drinks can sell for $100 and that she sells several hundred 12-unit cases a month.

The material can be made into soup, and some buyers bake it into pastries, she said, adding that the company plans to offer more ready-to-eat offerings.

Garry Green bought Seawind International LLC last December and moved it from Carlsbad to San Clemente in January.

It produces and distributes dehydrated fruits, vegetables and spices under the name Seawind Foods. Most of Green’s ingredients don’t go directly onto the shelves but into hundreds of products that do. They’re in soup mixes, sauces, snack bars, spices, pet food, and in dried fruit bins at stores.

“Our customers have the brands, and we support them,” he said. “Even meat products can contain fruit.”

Made in L.A.

Product comes from California and several continents, is processed here and in Asia, then warehoused in Los Angeles near the Port of Long Beach, Green said.

He ran a technology company prior to buying Seawind.

“I enjoyed what I did, but I started thinking more about purpose.”

He hit upon food and bought Seawind with backing from San Diego private equity firm Tide Rock Ventures.

Orange County is also home to publicly traded food companies.

True Drinks Holdings Inc. in Irvine hit No. 3 on this year’s Business Journal’s list of the fastest-growing small public companies, with 250% revenue growth to $2.7 million. About 90% of sales are from its AquaBall water product for kids, and it recently landed national and international distribution partners, according to Chief Executive Lance Leonard.

Newport Beach-based Snack Healthy Inc.’s market cap of about $6 million didn’t crack our list, but in November the company said it would begin to ship its all-natural antioxidant beverage to retail stores early next year.

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