Gardens vitamin maker Garden of Life center of $2.3 billion Nestle buy

4:04 p.m Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 Business
Garden of Life’s headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens.

After an improbable journey that began in the founder’s Palm Beach Gardens garage, nutritional supplements company Garden of Life has grown to hundreds of millions in annual sales.

The latest step came this week, when Swiss giant Nestle SA said it would pay $2.3 billion for the parent of Garden of Life.

While Garden of Life has been part of Canadian food company Atrium Innovations since 2009, its headquarters remained in Palm Beach Gardens. Garden of Life is the largest of Atrium’s brands, leading to the conclusion that Nestle assigned much of the $2.3 billion price tag to the fast-growing company that makes vitamins, fish oil, protein supplements and other organic products.

While Nestle brands have stagnated in recent years, Garden of Life offers outsized growth. Company officials said they expect business as usual after the deal closes.

“They have no plans to change us — what we do, what we stand for or what we believe,” Garden of Life Chief Executive Brian Ray said in a statement on the company’s website.

In 2009, when Garden of Life sold to Atrium Innovations, the company had $52 million in sales and was valued at $35 million.

Since then, Garden of Life’s sales and product offering have exploded. Its supplements are sold on Amazon and at Whole Foods Market and Vitamin Shoppe. Garden of Life products also are available at independent retailers. The company no longer discloses revenue, but it says it’s the biggest piece of Atrium’s $700 million a year in sales.

Garden of Life started in 2000, the brainchild of founder Jordan Rubin. Battling Crohn’s disease, Rubin’s weight plummeted from 180 pounds to 104 pounds, and doctors offered little help.

Desperate, Rubin embraced a diet of foods available only during biblical times. That meant no processed fare, no fast food, no bread, no rice and no alcohol, and plenty of sunflower seeds, almonds, berries and cherries. Rubin believed the diet saved his life.

His timing couldn’t have been better. The rise of Rubin’s company coincided with the soaring popularity of gluten-free eating and the paleo diet.

Garden of Life and Nestle are a strange-bedfellows marriage. Nestle is the purveyor of such brands as Lean Cuisine, Stouffers and Tombstone frozen pizzas, none of which fit Rubin’s style of eating. He also eschewed sweets, meaning such Nestle treats as Smarties, Butterfinger, KitKat and Crunch bars are off limits.

While Rubin no longer is involved with the company, Garden of Life has thrived. The company is in the midst of expanding its 29,000-square-foot headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens.

Employees can use the in-office gym any time, and one hallway features photos of professional athletes who serve as brand ambassadors, including St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder Dexter Fowler, former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Branden Albert, big-wave surfer Garrett McNamara and UFC lightweight Dustin Poirier.

Nestle, for its part, has been diversifying into new brands. The deal for Atrium follows Nestle’s September purchase of Blue Bottle Coffee and vegetarian-burrito maker Sweet Earth.

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