New capital fuels Purely Elizabeth’s next natural food phase

It’s been a 12-year journey for Purely Elizabeth founder Elizabeth Stein, and based on her plans for the company’s next phase, she is just getting started.

Stein, who began her career as a holistic nutrition counselor, started the company in 2009 after going back to school and learning about superfood ingredients and food as medicine, a concept that wasn’t as popular then as it is now.

“It felt like an opportunity in the market for products to help people,” she told TechCrunch. “What we put in our mouths is one of the most important things we can do.”

As Stein, CEO, worked with clients, she saw the need for specialized foods, like gluten-free, and what started as a side project — a blueberry muffin mix — was the catalyst for Purely Elizabeth and became her first product before moving into granola, which is what the company is known for today.

Fast-forward to today, and Purely Elizabeth, which has since added pancake/waffle mix and oatmeal, is one of the top brands in the breakfast category. Products are non-GMO and include ingredients like ancient grains, coconut sugar, probiotics and MCT oil.

The company is going after an increasingly crowded global health and wellness food market that was valued at $733.1 billion in 2020 and is poised to reach $1 trillion by 2026. Consumer interest for this space is also attracting capital. Last week, I reported on smoothie company Kencko raising a $10 million Series A, and Athletic Greens, which created a daily nutrition beverage, announcing $115 million on a $1.2 billion valuation.

Stein says the market has changed a lot since Purely Elizabeth launched. She recalls going to her first trade show in 2010 and having to educate retailers on ingredients like chia seeds, coconut sugar and coconut oil. Today, these ingredients are readily available on grocery shelves thanks in part to consumers being more educated on better-for-you foods and demanding they taste good also.

Over the last five years, Stein has led the company’s growth to a 55% compound annual growth rate and into 15,000 retailer doors at the end of 2021, up from 8,000 in 2018, she said.

The company raised its first round of funding, a $3 million round, in 2016, and has now closed on $50 million in Series B co-led by the new SEMCAP Food & Nutrition division (this investment marks its launch), and joined by co-investors Swander Pace Capital and SEMCAP’s partner, Fresh Del Monte. This gives the company $53 million in total funding.

Stein plans to use the capital to expand the company’s team of 30 to be around 40 by the end of 2022. Purely Elizabeth will also be investing in new product innovation and will also be launching into a new category later this year with its oatmeal, and debuting a brand refresh in coming months as it leans into digital marketing to build brand awareness.

“We are at a super exciting point where we had incredible growth and now we are at an inflection point and looking at the next phase of growth,” Stein said. “We wanted to bring in the capital and partners to accelerate that and take the brand to the next level by further evolving the brand to add more fun elements to bring it to life.

John Haugen, formerly with General Mills, joined Purely Elizabeth’s board while as founder and managing director of General Mills’ venture arm, 301 Inc., which led Purely Elizabeth’s initial investment. He is now the SEMCAP Food & Nutrition managing partner.

He agrees with Stein that consumers are looking for their food to work harder, but are no longer willing to make the trade-off of better ingredients over taste.

“Elizabeth is showing what can be done to introduce trend-forward ingredients to consumers while also making products that taste better than anything on the market,” Haugen added.