Founder exits LoveTheWild as company assesses future
LoveTheWild has exited the U.S. retail market, and founder and CEO Jaqueline Claudia has left the sustainable seafood meal kit supplier.
Consultants and former board members are now trying to decide whether and how LoveTheWild will continue into the future, Amy Novogratz, co-founder and manager of Aqua-Spark – a key investor – told SeafoodSource.
“Where we thought we could take this company in this interim phase, wasn’t the right fit for her,” Novogratz said. “Its her decision.”
LoveTheWild completely exited the U.S. retail market in late 2019.
Claudia has since joined the team at Smarter Sorting, she wrote on LinkedIn, where “we are harnessing data and the power of AI and machine learning to speed our advancement towards a zero-waste future.”
Claudia cannot legally discuss any aspect of LoveTheWild, she told SeafoodSource.
“I’m proud of the impact LoveTheWild has made on the sustainable seafood community, our collective move towards better foodsystems, and the opportunity to help other ocean entrepreneurs to drive even bigger change,” Claudia wrote on her LinkedIn page. “Looking ahead, the imperative to be better environmental stewards operating in a circular economy is more important than ever.”
Now, former board members and two unnamed consultants who could potentially lead LoveTheWild are re-assessing to determine whether LoveTheWild will continue and “what the next phases will be," Novogratz said.
Aqua-Spark invested USD 2.5 million (EUR 2.1 million) in LoveTheWild in 2016 and retains a minority share,
“We found two other people who were already doing the marketing story of fish and the moving of product who were working with our group of experts,” Novogratz said. “We are exploring where do we go from here, to see if it actually does make sense to move forward. It still is in the discovery phase.”
LoveTheWild consultants are exploring a variety of avenues, such as selling products via business-to-business, rather than consumer, channels, Novogratz said.
“LoveTheWild will be back in retail at some point, if they move forward, but they need stronger legs to stand on and more resources to stand on.”
Novogratz is optimistic for a decision sometime this fall, and then Aqua-Spark will take the revamped business plan to its investors to request funding – if the supplier pushes ahead.
Soon after it was founded, LoveTheWild scored big wins with distribution deals for its sustainable aquaculture meal kits with Whole Foods Market, Wegmans, and major U.S. grocery chains. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio also made a significant investment in the supplier and serves on its advisory board.
However, operational and retail challenges took a toll on the company. The U.S. retail market is not set up well for small food businesses and sustainable aquaculture products – “especially on the scale LoveTheWild was doing,” Novogratz said.
“When you are dealing with retail and costs associated with retail, it is hard to get the product price [reasonable]," Novogratz said. “You would need huge amounts of capital to keep it going with the model as it was.”
Operational challenges such as finding a co-packer and the expense of getting seafood prepared and transported was “not set up for a small business in retail for them to succeed right now,” Novogratz said.
“Did the company have other shortfalls? Maybe. But they didn’t have a system set up for them to succeed. If a company like that can’t succeed in the retail market, it shows you there are some broken [systems],” Novogratz said.
COVID-19 has exposed some of the operational and supply chain challenges associated with the retail market in the U.S., Novogratz said.
“You are able to see where the holes are in reaching retail markets,” she said.
Aqua-Spark’s companies that have suffered most during the pandemic are the aquaculture farms that sell primary to foodservice. However, they have been able to access retail channels and “find creative channels, so they have been OK,” Novogratz said.
As far as LoveTheWild is concerned, Novogratz is optimistic about the future.
“Sustainable fish needs to improve in the U.S., and we all think we can get to that,” she said.