- Califia Farms said Dave Ritterbush is taking over as its CEO. Greg Steltenpohl, the company’s founder is retiring as CEO, but he will remain on the board as an executive director.
- Ritterbush is a veteran in the CPG industry. He most recently served as CEO of Quest Nutrition before it was purchased in 2019 by Atkins-owner Simply Good Foods. He also previously served as CEO of Popchips and was vice president and general manager of Red Bull North America. He started his career at Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream.
- Steltenpohl, who founded Califia 10 years ago, said in a release that Ritterbush’s experience in CPG and nutrition makes him “the ideal person to continue taking the company forward.”
After a decade at the helm of the company he started, Steltenpohl is handing over the reins. The seasoned CPG leader is known for starting companies and building them before taking a step back. Before Califia, he co-founded Odwalla Juice Company in 1980, which Coca-Cola bought 21 years later for $181 million.
After substantial growth in recent years with big funding rounds and product launches, Steltenpohl said it is the “perfect time in the company’s evolution for this next step.” Similar to Steltenpohl, Ritterbush also is known for guiding smaller companies to bigger growth opportunities.
Ritterbush served as CEO of the popular Popchips company before private equity firm VMG Partners acquired the brand in 2019. Most recently, he led Quest Nutrition, which sells protein bars, powders and chips, to a $1 billion acquisition by Simply Good Foods last year. Given Ritterbush’s experience and Califia’s growth trajectory, the company could be an acquisition target for a big CPG giant in the future.
Even as the pandemic has ravaged many parts of the food industry, Califia has had a standout year. The company launched new products and raised big money through a funding round.
In May, Califia unveiled its new vegan butter line at Whole Foods in the midst of the pandemic. The launch came right after Califia announced it raised $225 million in a massive funding round to expand the brand globally.
Steltenpohl said in an interview that its good relationship with retailers has helped the brand launch new products during this time. He also said Califia is applying some of the new funding to capital projects that will help it compete against Big Food.
“Califia is just on the cusp of being a fly on the back of the elephant — at least we’re in a place that they can’t quite swat us off at this point,” Steltenpohl said earlier this year. “I’m very proud of the fact that we earned that.”
That trust by retailers was built through product launches and its now wide-ranging plant-based portfolio of milks, creamers, yogurts and cold brew coffees. Last year, Califia expanded its plant-based milk portfolio by launching protein-enriched oat drinks. In 2018, Califia raised $50 million to commercialize innovations, such as non-dairy creamers, cold-brew coffees and its lineup of probiotic dairy-free yogurt drinks.
The coronavirus has accelerated demand for plant-based foods and beverages, pushing companies to keep shelves stocked with these alternatives and prepare for what they will launch next. By picking a new CEO with extensive CPG experience while keeping its founder in a director role, Califia is building a deep bench of executive experience to help the company navigate through a fast-growing but increasingly competitive space.