Paul Smucker Wagstaff spreads his wings with Eagle Foods

Newly free of his corporate trappings, he and his chief administrative officer, Boyle, pitched early investors — private equity firms, family offices, other groups — on the idea that it was a very good time in the food industry to create a business because a lot of the big CPG firms were looking to right-size their portfolios.

“Our thought process, and kind of our pitch at the time, was I’d be able to gather enough senior-level food talent that we could be in a position to catch some of these food businesses that are these carve-outs that are coming out of the big food manufacturers and/or the family companies that are going through transition.”

Early on, they made a play for the Green Giant brand, which at the time was being shed by General Mills. Eagle Foods lost that bid, but found its next opportunity shortly after when the condensed milk assets became available from Smucker’s Co.

The deal included Eagle Brand, Magnolia, PET, Milnot and private label canned milk products, as well as two manufacturing facilities, 170 manufacturing employees and 14 corporate and sales employees.

“Of course, I knew that brand. I used to run it. So that was a very smooth and simple, roughly speaking, business to bring in because of my knowledge base of the people,” Wagstaff says.

A short time after, Eagle Foods acquired Cornfields Inc., maker of G.H. Cretors popcorn and Hi I’m Skinny veggie snacks. A little later, Eagle Foods picked up Popcorn, Indiana, maker of its eponymous brand.

In choosing its acquisition targets, Wagstaff says he wants brands valued at $15 million or above that ideally have their own manufacturing process that can be improved by the company’s in-house expertise — staffers with pedigree from the likes of Cargill and Nestlé, as well as other CPG companies — and the deal would create scale to help grow the business.

The company’s focus now is on the snack and baking categories, with a lean toward Hispanic consumers. Its product mix is 60 percent branded, 40 percent private label, a mix Wagstaff says he doesn’t imagine will change much.

“In our current mix, as we go and look for other businesses, we’re primarily looking for branded businesses. If we grow and that ratio changes, it’s more likely to change due to acquisitions,” he says.

Boyle says having a balance helps the company because many buyers only want branded or only want private label. The current mix gives Eagle Foods a wider sales net to cast.