Identity of major MOOMilk investor revealed

Dairy cows enjoy the sunshine at Tide Mill Farms in Edmunds, one of 12 Maine dairy farms that sustains MOOMilk.

On May 22, I reported that MOOMilk, an organic milk producer based in Augusta, had just received a $3 million equity investment, the largest single investment in the company’s history.

The investor, however, had wanted to remain anonymous, Bill Eldridge, MOOMilk’s CEO, told me last week.

Until now…

The aforementioned anonymous investor’s name was revealed in a press release the company distributed on Tuesday.

Turns out, it’s not Gary Hirshberg, former CEO and current chairman of organic yogurt powerhouse Stonyfield, as many people first surmised.

Nope, the aforementioned anonymous investor is actually Norman Cloutier, co-founder and former CEO of United Natural Foods Inc., according to the release.

The Providence, R.I.-based company claims the title of largest publicly traded wholesale distributor of natural and organic foods in the United States and Canada. It’s traded on the NASDAQ as UNFI and posted $5.24 billion in revenue in its 2012 fiscal year.

Cloutier retired as CEO of UNFI in 1999 after 24 years with the company, but he didn’t stop working in the organic industry. Instead, he founded Faifield Farm Kitchens in Brockton, Mass., where he produced frozen and refrigerated vegetarian entrees under the Moosewood label and beef, chicken and seafood entres under the Organic Classics label. He sold Fairfield in 2007.

Today, Cloutier and his wife operate Schoolhouse Farm in Tamworth, N.H., where they raise registered Icelandic sheep and produce organic alfalfa hay, according to the MOOMilk release.

“I am very pleased and excited to be part of such an important undertaking,” Cloutier said in a statement. “Maine’s Own Organic Milk Company represents the values and commitment to sustainable agriculture that are critical to maintaining viable family dairy farms in Maine and throughout the region. As a long time consumer, marketer and advocate of organic foods I recognize the critical need for a business model that compensates its farmers at a fair price and without putting the interests of short-term profits ahead of long-term farmer security. I have been deeply impressed by the commitment and determination of not only our farmer members, but also the early investors who have been so patient and supportive of this unlikely success story.”

Cloutier is offering more than just his financial support. He’s bringing his industry experience, as well.

He will join MOOMilk’s board as an outside director (joining Steve Ruchefsky, a representative of Donald Sussman, an early investor in the company, and Ron Phillips, CEO of Coastal Enterprises Inc.) and the company’s executive committee, where he’ll oversee the development of marketing, production and distribution programs to support MOOMilk’s introduction of new products and expansion into new markets, according to the release.

Sussman, a hedge fund manager and husband to Rep. Chellie Pingree, issued the following statement: “I invested in MOO because I believe in Maine farmers and the healthy food, community pride , and economic growth that comes from all their hard work. Norman’s significant investment as well as his decades of experience in sustainable agriculture means MOOMilk and Maine’s organic family farms have a bright and healthy future ahead, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

Now that the identity of the MOOMilk investor has been revealed, it’ll be interesting to see if Cloutier’s experience will help grow the company as he helped grow past companies in which he’s held leadership positions.

Whit Richardson

About Whit Richardson

Whit Richardson is Business Editor at the Bangor Daily News. He blogs about Maine business, entrepreneurs and the economy.