Cooking Up Success
Invested Banker to the Consumer Industry
Description
TARGET: Stonewall Kitchen
COUNTERPARTY: Centre Partners
SEGMENT: Food & Beverage
TRANSACTION VALUE: Undisclosed
CLOSING DATE: October 24, 2014
ROLE: Exclusive Financial Advisor

Founded in 1991 and based in York, Maine, Stonewall Kitchen, LLC (the “Company” or “Stonewall Kitchen”) is an award-winning and highly celebrated family of premium foods and related products with an authentic American heritage. The Company’s iconic product lines made with unique ingredients has garnered it both praise across the food industry as well as a growing base of devoted fans. With its flagship store in York, Maine as its foundation, the family owned and managed business successfully expanded distribution through specialty foods and grocery stores while continuing to reach consumers directly through its store locations in New England, the stonewallkitchen.com website, as well as its popular catalogs.

The Stonewall Kitchen Story:
Stonewall Kitchen was started by Jonathan King and Jim Stott in a modest farmers’ market stand following a friend’s suggestion that they sell their homemade jams to the public. As avid gardeners and chefs, Jim and Jonathan began to expand their product assortments and incorporated additional ingredients and unique flavor combinations. Stonewall Kitchen made its first appearance at the New York Fancy Food Show in 1995, where it won the “Outstanding Product Line” award and their Roasted Garlic Onion Jam won the “Outstanding Preserve” award. The following years brought many additional awards and recognition. In 1999 Stonewall Kitchen built its landmark headquarters, manufacturing plant, and company store in York, Maine in response to strong growth in consumer demand. The York campus has become one of Maine’s principal tourist destinations.

To this day, Stonewall Kitchen continues to adhere to its core values of great taste and creativity, using only the finest ingredients, and striving for excellence with every new product. Its signature packaging and “handwritten” labels speak to absolute quality and a special experience. Building on its history as a purveyor of fine taste, Stonewall Kitchen’s Company Stores and on-line presentations bring to life the beautiful lifestyle that the Stonewall Kitchen brand represents, giving guests the ability to see, feel, smell, taste and experience the brand.

Stonewall Kitchen was an early pioneer in the development and marketing of premium authentic foods made with minimally processed and higher quality ingredients. The market for such products has grown significantly as the surge in food driven media has informed more consumers of the importance of provenance and quality in food choices; the proliferation of experience-driven food retailers such as The Fresh Market and Whole Foods have greatly increased their availability. Leading research organizations such as Nielsen and Hartman have substantiated the continued growth and favorable outlook for premium authentic foods across many categories.

Stonewall Kitchen continues to be a leader in this market, growing quickly and consistently, selling through thousands of stores throughout the country and internationally, and also reaching millions of consumers through its company stores and catalogs. By the end of 2013, the Company had more than 300 employees, 11 company stores, and was selling more than 4,000 products.

Stonewall Kitchen’s success also brought a number of challenges. The variety of selling channels and product lines increased complexity and the need for significant investments in people and management tools. The outlook for continued growth required additional capacity across its operating functions. Encouragingly, the Company’s brand studies validated extraordinary consumer satisfaction and advocacy, though awareness remained relatively low and the limited availability of products in stores was the top complaint from consumers. The opportunity was substantial, but so were the additional resources needed pursue it. Stonewall Kitchen’s success had already been attracting significant attention from the investment community, and it seemed that the time was right to explore a partnership with a group that would contribute to realizing the brand’s potential.

Sawaya Partners and Stonewall Kitchen had maintained and nurtured a productive dialogue during the last few years. The leadership team at Stonewall Kitchen was impressed by Sawaya Partners’ successful track record advising leading food and beverage companies and brands, and they felt that Sawaya Partners had the best expertise and thoughtfulness to convey the Stonewall Kitchen story and opportunity to potential investors. The owners of Stonewall Kitchen were particularly focused on discretion, cultural fit, and the resources and capabilities which could be provided by an investor, as well as obtaining the best possible terms.

“We were delighted to have worked with the Sawaya Partners team. The prospect of pursuing a major transaction was daunting to us, yet their diligence and professionalism quickly assured us we were in the right hands. We doubt anyone else would have been as dedicated to ensuring that both our personal goals and those of the company would be accomplished. Sawaya Partners’s expertise in the food industry, their insights on business strategy, and their good judgment in marketing and negotiation ensured we found the right partners at the best terms. They also took care of everything with finesse and good humor. We would work with them again without question.”

JONATHAN KING AND JIM STOTT FOUNDERS & OWNERS, STONEWALL KITCHEN

Sawaya Partners worked closely with Stonewall Kitchen’s management to clarify the Company’s market opportunity and growth strategy. Sawaya Partners was instrumental in simplifying the principal aspects of a complex business so that potential partners could quickly understand it and get behind the numerous opportunities for improvements and growth. Sawaya Partners employed its proprietary iCIM technology to drive engagement; iCIM is a multi-media platform for outside parties to experience a business and brand on a number of different levels. This multi-media platform helped to build excitement around the opportunity. In conjunction with a well-articulated story, Sawaya Partners ran a collaborative and transparent process with clear and methodical guidelines that minimized risks to the transaction. The owners and leadership team were very pleased with the quality of the potential partners as well as the variety and clarity of options before them so they could reach the optimal outcome based on their priorities.

Centre Partners established themselves as the preferred partner for Stonewall Kitchen due to their extensive and successful history of partnering with founders of businesses, cultural fit, strong background in the branded food industry and network of Operating Partners and other resources which could be applied to accelerate the Company’s growth. Centre Partners’ flexible approach and unique resources enabled the founders to achieve each of their objectives for the process. Operating Partner John Stiker was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Company upon closing, positioning Stonewall Kitchen for continued success in the future.
Centre Partners values Stonewall Kitchen’s heritage and focus on consumer experience and will apply its resources to continue to grow the Company’s distribution and recognition as a premium specialty food brand.

“We were delighted to have worked with the Sawaya Partners team. The prospect of pursuing a major transaction was daunting to us, yet their diligence and professionalism quickly assured us we were in the right hands. We doubt anyone else would have been as dedicated to ensuring that both our personal goals and those of the company would be accomplished. Sawaya Partners’s expertise in the food industry, their insights on business strategy, and their good judgment in marketing and negotiation ensured we found the right partners at the best terms. They also took care of everything with finesse and good humor. We would work with them again without question.”

JONATHAN KING AND JIM STOTT FOUNDERS & OWNERS, STONEWALL KITCHEN

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