Brynwood Partners, new owners of Lightlife Foods in Turners Falls, hope to grow business

Last modified: Tuesday, October 01, 2013

TURNERS FALLS — Lightlife Foods’ new owners plan to operate the locally based natural food maker “as it is currently configured” and hope to grow the business.

Brynwood Partners Senior Managing Partner Hendrik “Henk” Hartong III said, “We plan to put an executive team in the Boston area that will support the business. That’s really the only change.”

In the meantime, the former owners, ConAgra Foods, will continue to manage corporate functions, Hartong said.

Plans for expansion of the product line are not yet concrete, but Hartong described room for improvement as a benefit of the purchase from a larger corporation.

ConAgra Foods, based in Omaha, Neb., owns brands including Chef Boyardee, Healthy Choice, Hebrew National, Hunt’s, Slim Jim and other highly recognizable names.

Based in Greenwich, Conn., Brynwood owns several lesser-known candy and granola companies, including the candy brands Turtles and Pearsons Salted Nut Roll, a chain of upscale pet hotels and shampoo and hair products including Alberto VO5.

“That’s one of the opportunities we saw with this investment. Like any of the other small businesses within a larger organization, it may not necessarily receive the prioritization given the greater priorities of the seller,” Hartong said. “As a dedicated owner, I think we have a different lens for looking at new product opportunities.”

He added, “Our hope is we can come up with some innovation and new product activity that will help grow the sales for this business, which obviously will be a very positive thing for the business.”

The factory manufactures Lightlife’s line of bean- and grain-based meat alternatives for vegans and vegetarians, including faux hot dogs and hamburgers, meat crumbles, sausages and sliced deli meats.

The brand was born in Franklin County, founded in Greenfield in 1979 by Patricia “Chia” Collins and Michael Cohen. The couple grew the business and moved it to the Airport Industrial Park in Turners Falls in 1998, before selling it to ConAgra in 2000.

At one time, the factory employed as many as 150 people. At the time of the sale last week, the factory employed about 90 people, according to a ConAgra spokesman. Employees transferred with the sale.

Hartong said as a traditional private equity firm Brynwood ultimately sells every business it owns, but not immediately.

“We hope to make some positive investments, which takes time,” he said.

The Massachusetts Registry of Deeds records the sale of the land and factory at 153 Industrial Boulevard for $4,110,000.

Hartong declined to disclose the full sale price of the company.


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