Why Blue Sky is investing $10 million in gluten-free food venture Thr1ve

Blue Sky

Elaine Stead, head of venture capital at Blue Sky.

Blue Sky Venture Capital is backing the future of farm to table, health-conscious food offerings, after pumping $10 million in to gluten-free food venture Thr1ve.

Founded in 2012 by entrepreneur Josh Sparks, Thr1ve has grown to a chain of gluten-free restaurants in 10 locations along Australia’s east coast, and will use the funds to expand its low-carbohydrate healthy-eating offerings.

This $10 million cash injection will be used to build an e-commerce platform that ties together the company’s physical stores, its existing at-home meal delivery, and a diet and exercising program created by founder and chief Sparks, who has previously held leadership roles at fashion brands sass & bide, Urban Outfitters and Thom Browne New York.

For Blue Sky’s head of venture capital Elaine Stead, it was the company’s “holistic approach” to healthy eating trends that attracted the venture capital fund’s investment.

“One of the sectors that really interests us … is farm to table — we’ve got about six investments in the food space,” Stead tells StartupSmart. 

One of the things we really noticed is the market tailwind behind the shift to food where you know what its nutritional benefit is, [as well as] food that’s sensitive to a person’s dietary requirements,” she adds. 

Stead says Thr1ve was “another expression of that [healthy-eating ethos] on the retail side,” adding that its nutrition-first approach was “one of the cool reasons why we really liked it”. 

Josh who is the entrepreneur and founder is amazing — he’s so dynamic and has such a strong vision for the business, he always wanted to make it more than just a healthy fast food alternative,” Stead says. 

Thr1ve’s in-store food options are currently available through Deliveroo, and next month its re-heatable meal packs will also be available through the delivery service. Stead says, however, that the company’s all-inclusive focus on healthy eating and living elevates it from a food business to a wider lifestyle brand.

Blue Sky previously participated in a $2.5 million funding round for Thr1ve back in 2015.

“What we’ve seen him [Sparks] execute over the years is taking it [Thr1ve] from a ‘food court’ business and converting it to a consumer offering where people know what they’re eating with a more holistic approach,” she says. 

This holistic approach will see the Thr1ve platform incorporate advice on how users can move, sleep, and “do all the things that are going to make you perform at your best,” Stead says, and this will leverage the growing popularity of healthy eating trends.

“I think there’s an increasing awareness that food isn’t this inert thing you put in your body — it has a meaningful impact on your health and your performance,” she says.

“People want to make sure the food they’re putting in their body is good for them and has a benefit beyond just filling their stomach in the immediate term.”

The new funds will also be used to roll out and expand the Thr1ve consumer offerings beyond the east coast to cover Australia, and ensure their offerings are delivered nation-wide “in a timely fashion”.

While Stead says the company “is just focusing on Australia” for the time being, she says expansion into international markets “is definitely an opportunity in the future”.

“One of the things we think is important is to focus [on Australia], but there’s no reason why this can’t be replicated elsewhere,” she says. 

Stead says Blue Sky will continue to keep an eye on companies working in the food and nutrition space.

“We don’t see any of those trends changing — it’s not like people are getting less educated about food and nutrition,” she says.

“Food manufacturers, producers and sellers are getting more accountable about giving users info about what is in their food, and if we see a business doing something differently at a way we think we can scale, then yes we will invest.”

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