Dec 14, 2021 - Economy

Exclusive: Food52 triples valuation with new investment from TCG

Share of e-commerce in total revenue of Food52 and Schoolhouse
Data: Food52; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

TCG, the investment arm of The Chernin Group, is pouring roughly $80 million into Food52, a cooking and home goods brand, including $48 million to cover Food52's acquisition of the home decor company Schoolhouse.

Why it matters: The deal values Food52 three times higher than its approximate valuation of $100 million when TCG purchased an $83 million majority stake in the company in September 2019.

  • "The relationship has been phenomenal," said Mike Kerns, President of Digital at TCG. "The company is performing extremely well — way ahead of where we had anticipated."
  • Food52 CEO and founder Amanda Hesser said TCG has been "an incredible partner," in large part because its leadership has helped the company with hiring and acquisitions.

Catch up quick: Food52 was founded in 2009 by former New York Times journalists Hesser and Merrill Stubbs.

  • Prior to its deal with TCG, it raised $13 million from venture and strategic investors. Stubbs exited the company's leadership team in 2020 but remains on the board. Food52 hired Claire Chambers, who now serves as president, from Walmart's ecommerce division in 2020.
  • TCG has focused most of its media investments to-date on companies with strong subscription and commerce brands, like MeatEater and Surfline.

Details: The new capital is intended to help support Food52's organic growth, as well as its acquisition of Schoolhouse. "Schoolhouse will continue to run independently," Hesser said.

  • Schoolhouse launched in 2003 and is based in Portland, Oregon. The company makes lighting, hardware and other home products.

Between the lines: The deal will help fuel Food52's commerce ambitions, including physical retail.

  • The company has come to an agreement for its first flagship retail location in New York. It will also be creating a pantry brand that it's building and designing internally.
  • The expansion will "more than triple" the size of Food52's production arm, Kerns said, in addition to adding new studios and filming environments.
  • The new space will include a live test kitchen, as well as a cafe where people can connect and build community.
  • "We want to create a physical location because food is inherently social and creating a gathering place – a place that’s much more than a store – is something we feel uniquely suited to do," Hesser added.

By the numbers: Food52's revenue, including revenue from Schoolhouse, is expected to hit $120 million for 2021, with about 88% of that revenue coming from commerce. That's up from $32 million in 2019.

  • The deal will significantly increase Food52's head count from 173 to 316.
  • Beyond commerce, the company makes money from advertising, working with big brands to create custom content via the company's branded content studio.

Between the lines: The expansion into home goods helped Food52 withstand some of the pandemic-driven challenges for digital media companies.

  • In 2020 it launched a home vertical called Home52.
  • In March it acquired Dansk, the nearly 70-year-old Scandinavian home goods company. That acquisition was funded from the company's balance sheet, per Kerns.
  • Food52 produces its own products that it ships from its own warehouses. It was able to avoid supply chain issues faced by other media companies via their affiliate partnerships with companies like Walmart and Amazon. 

The big picture: Food52's valuation makes it one of the largest standalone food media companies. Other food and home goods websites are owned by larger media conglomerates like Dotdash, which recently acquired Meredith, and Hearst.

  • While many modern companies are looking to consolidate or go public, Food52 has taken a different approach, staying private and growing quietly with TCG's investment.

What's next: Food52 is still eyeing more acquisitions and expansion opportunities into other verticals, like travel and experiences.

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