Matthew von Teichman credits his wife’s first pregnancy with inspiring his entry into the food industry 16 years ago. With a new reason to eat well, she started bringing home more organic products and was making an effort to have healthier food in the house. “I realized at the time that there weren’t as many healthy processed or value-added foods as she would like, and that was my catalyst to get into the food business,” says von Teichman, now president and CEO of Toronto-based GreenSpace Brands. He had previously enjoyed dotcom success with JobShark, an online job board he sold in 2001, and he was seeking his next venture. “I started doing some research and saw that the natural food industry would be a high-growth sector for a long time.”
Von Teichman began with the launch of Life Choices Natural Foods in 2002. The company started off as an organic frozen food business selling organic pizzas, frozen dinners, burritos and perogies. “Some did relatively well, but they never really captured consumers’ imagination,” he says. Everything changed, however, in 2008 when he launched a natural chicken nugget made with whole cuts of meat, with sprouted grains and flax as a coating and that was baked rather than fried. “It was a really healthy chicken nugget,” he says, noting that the nugget’s popularity changed the trajectory of Life Choices. “It was the first big change: realizing there was a real appetite among consumers for healthy, value-added meats.”
Von Teichman quickly set about transforming the business, now focusing on healthier, value-added meat items such as hamburgers, sausages and fish sticks (in addition to the chicken nuggets) made with cleaner ingredients. Over the next five years the company enjoyed slow but steady growth. “We had a nice base of business in Canada, but I always wanted to have a bigger company; my previous company had grown quite large, and Life Choices was still stuck under $5 million in revenue,” he says.
So, in 2013 von Teichman embarked on a massive growth strategy with the ambitious goal of creating a house of brands. As part of the plan, he launched a number of new brands and acquired some existing ones—all of which fit within the category of clean, healthy, sustainable and trusted food.
To say the company has experienced rapid growth would be an understatement. Now called GreenSpace Brands, von Teichman’s company has either launched or acquired 10 new brands (two of which were recently delisted in an effort to focus on the higher performers).
GreenSpace Brands’ current lineup includes von Teichman’s original brand, Life Choices, now focused on responsibly raised, value-added meat products; Rolling Meadow Dairy, specializing in grass-fed dairy products, launched in 2014; Kiwi Pure, a butter brand using milk from grass-fed New Zealand cows (part of Rolling Meadow Dairy); Love Child Organics, an organic baby food brand acquired in 2015; Central Roast, a clean snacking brand acquired in 2016; Kiju, a shelf-stable organic juice company acquired in 2017; Cedar, a Canadian leader in cold-pressed juices acquired in 2017; Go Veggie, a U.S. plant-based dairy brand acquired in 2018; and Meatbar, a premium meat snack brand that was launched earlier this year.
“Most of our brands are growing over 20% a year currently. All are doing really well, but the three that are Central Roast, Love Child and Cedar. Those three are just like runaway trains,” says von Teichman, adding that the company plans to continue expanding through innovation as well as acquisition. The purchase of U.S.-based Go Veggie in January is also expected to open the door to more U.S. business, he says.
The growing consumer desire for clean, sustainable foods that they can trust implicitly gives GreenSpace a real advantage over the established food giants, says von Teichman. “Today’s consumer is no longer interested in a nameless, faceless brand,” he says. “There needs to be a story behind the brand that they can get behind.”
Photo by Mike Ford
This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’s June 2018 issue.