Biena raises $3.75m to fuel chickpea snacks empire; unveils plan to 'reinvent what a chocolate snack can be'

Biena's chocolate covered roasted chickpeas have 130-140 calories, 4g of protein and 4g of fiber per 28g serving

Boston-based Biena has raised $3.75m to expand its chickpea-fueled snacking empire from a series of high profile investors as it prepares to roll out its first major line extension: chocolate coated roasted chickpeas, new territory for pulse-based snacks, says founder Poorvi Patodia.

The latest funding round includes ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell,  Spanx founder Sara Blakely, Jesse Itzler (co-founder of private jet sharing company Marquis Jet), Blueberry Ventures, Centerman Capital and New Ground Ventures, said Patodia, who has to date financed the rapidly-growing business (launched in 2012) through her own money and a friends and family round two years ago.

Darren had been thinking about getting into the food space for a while. We met at the Fancy Food Show last year and he kind of fell in love with the brand,” she told FoodNavigator-USA. “He travels a lot for work and saw us in the airports and he has got to know our team. He and his partners created a fund called Tastemaker Capital and Biena is the first investment. 

“He then reached out to people in his network from athletes to business people and brought them to the table, so it’s been really really exciting as they have such a wide range of expertise from social media and marketing to growing a successful brand.”

The cash injection will help Biena fund larger scale marketing efforts, hire additional staff, and support distribution growth in natural and conventional channels (Biena recently did a deal with Weight Watchers adding 6,000 locations to its 9,000 grocery stores, and has just secured shelf space in Kroger, Safeway and Wegmans that will add an additional 2,000 locations by the end of the year).

We’re reinventing what a chocolate snack can be

Typically we go in the healthy snacks set, and if retailers don’t have one, we can go in produce or even the nuts section," added Patodia, who said the brand was growing at 200% year-on-year. 

New single-serve 1.2oz snack packs launched earlier this year are performing well, while new chocolate covered roasted chickpeas (milk chocolate, dark chocolate, salted caramel) - unveiled for the first time at Expo West in March - will be launching at Wegmans this summer, she said.

“We thought the single serve packs would be ideal for foodservice accounts where you might grab a snack pack with your sandwich, but what we’ve found is that a lot of retailers are also interested in sticking them at the checkout as a lot of them are swapping out candy for healthier snacks there.”

As for the new chocolate covered line, she said: “I think this is going to be a real game changer. I haven’t been as excited about a product line since we launched our original line. We’ve seen a huge consumer need that’s not been met. We’re basically reinventing what a chocolate snack can be.

"It’s a real indulgent chocolate snack experience - people tell us that the milk chocolate ones remind them of eating a Twix - but you’re getting half the calories and half the fat.”

When Poorvi Patodia first started pitching roasted chickpeas to retail buyers in 2012, not everyone was convinced they could be a mainstream hit. Today, they are gracing shelves in 9,000+ stores from Sprouts to Stop & Shop and 6,000 Weight Watchers locations, while pulses of all kinds (beans, peas, lentils) are now in every self-respecting snack formulator’s toolkit. 

Like many food entrepreneurs, Patodia was in part motivated by frustration when she created Biena in 2011; in her case at the lack of healthy, but satisfying, savory snack options when she was pregnant and craving a crunchy, salty fix, but didn’t want to pig out on potato chips and feel guilty afterwards.

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