It was New Year’s Day 2012 when Dave Marson made a confession to his wife, Jan, about the healthy snacks company he started with their son, Sam, a year earlier in Carson City.
“I remember he turned to me and said, it’s a 50-50 chance we make it,” Jan Marson recalled.
Nearly nine years later, it’s safe to say the Marson family’s business venture, Nature’s Bakery, has made it and then some.
Growing its sales past $100 million in its first five years, Nature’s Bakery has transformed from a small family-owned business into an international baked goods brand, selling its plant-based, nut-free and dairy-free products across the U.S. and 10 other countries.
Now, the Northern Nevada company is prepared to raise the bar yet again.
In early December, Nature’s Bakery, most known for its fig bars, announced it entered an agreement to be acquired by healthy snack maker KIND.
The sale closed Wednesday. While terms were not disclosed, KIND paid roughly $400 million to acquire Nature’s Bakery, according to a New York Times report.
“It’s totally the American dream story,” Jan Marson, president of Nature’s Bakery, said of the company’s growth and recent sale to KIND during a phone interview prior to the sale closing. “From the Marson side, we’re just really thankful to the people in the community that got us to where we are.”
The deal comes weeks after KIND agreed to be acquired by Mars — the maker of M&M’s, Snickers, Skittles and more — for a reported $5 billion, according to the Times. KIND will reportedly operate independently within Mars.
The sale to KIND, Jan Marson said, will help Nature’s Bakery become a “foremost health brand, globally.”
“They’ve got the ability to take sales to the next level,” she continued. “And our products complement each other.”
KIND founder Daniel Lubetzky agreed.
“If you look at pantries across the country, odds are you will find KIND and Nature’s Bakery products sitting side-by-side,” Lubetzky said in a press release announcing the acquisition. “Both brands have created loyal followings by being true to their unique value propositions. It comes as no surprise that, along with KIND, they remain one of the growth leaders within the snack bar category.
“We are excited to welcome them to the KIND family and support the team’s next chapter as part of our growing health and wellness platform.”
Marson said Nature’s Bakery began looking into selling in early 2020 before discussions were stalled by the coronavirus pandemic.
When conversations with suitors eventually picked back up, KIND proved to the company that most aligned with the Carson City-based snack maker. Plus, she noted that KIND plans a hands-off management approach with Nature’s Bakery.
“The company has the same values,” Marson said. “And you listen to their founder, Daniel Lubetzky, he talked about caring about the world and caring about people, and it was believable to me. And they really liked our culture. Sometimes when companies take over, they do whatever they’re going to do.
“KIND is not going to do that, because they want what we have, and they want that maintained.”
After all, Nature’s Bakery, whose products are sold by retailers like Costco and Target, is having its strongest year of sales since it was launched by the father-and-son duo of Dave and Sam Marson in 2011.
This year, Jan Marson said, the company pumped out more than 4 million bars a day between its two factories in Carson City at 5150 Convair Drive and St. Louis, where the healthy snack maker expanded to in 2014.
Marson said the rush of sales started in April and hasn’t slowed.
“I think some of it was pandemic pantry loading,” Marson said. “But, interestingly enough, sales did not drop off. I have a theory that despite people pantry loading, I think we got some new customers.”
When asked, Marson did not provide revenue totals for the year, but said the company experienced “double-digit growth,” adding, “and we’ve consistently done that year after year.”
In the process of building its brand, Nature’s Bakery has built a workforce of 564 employees, with 142 people based in Nevada and 422 in Missouri, Marson said.
She noted that diversity is especially important to Nature’s Bakery, which hired its first female CEO (Chris Lansing) in 2017. The company says it has also elevated numerous women and diverse candidates into management positions.
“I think driving opportunity is really important,” she added.
It’s a position — creating a diverse workforce, building an international brand, selling to a larger likeminded company like KIND — that Marson did not expect to be in nearly nine years after she was told odds of the company surviving was the equivalent of a coin flip.
She recalled when it struck her that Nature’s Bakery chances of sustained success had flipped in their favor. It was back in 2014, when the leadership team was invited to a meeting in San Francisco with Bank of America.
“There were 12 professional bankers in the room, some that had flown in from New York, and they pitched a deck to us,” recalled Marson, noting the company had failed early on to get a loan or line of credit from any bank. “And I looked at my husband and our CFO and I was like, yeah, we've got something here.”
Per the acquisition, Lansing will continue as CEO of Nature's Bakery, reporting into Juan Martin, Global President for KIND.
Advisers BofA Securities served as KIND's financial adviser in the transaction, while Goodwin Procter LLP acted as KIND's legal adviser. William Blair & Company served as Nature's Bakery's financial adviser, while Cooley LLP acted as Nature's Bakery's legal adviser.