8 Things You Might Not Know About Annie's Homegrown
By Suzanne Raga
Founded in 1989, Annie's Homegrown makes natural and organic macaroni and cheese in the shape of rabbits and shells. Although the company's mac and cheese is super successful—only Kraft sells more of the cheesy comfort food—Annie's also produces other foods, like yogurt, crackers, pretzels, cookies, frozen pizza, condiments, and fruit snacks.
1. Annie is a real person, and Annie's Homegrown is her second major success story.
Annie Withey founded Smartfood popcorn in 1984 with her then-husband Andrew Martin, and after its sale five years later to Frito-Lay for $15 million, she got to thinking about the white cheddar cheese she'd created to coat that product. Instead of retiring young (Withey was 21 when she first concocted the powdered cheddar with no artificial preservatives or coloring), she experimented with putting that cheese on pasta instead of popcorn. It worked.
2. Withey and Martin sold Annie's Mac and Cheese at New England food co-ops and markets.
Withey and Martin loved the taste of the cheesy pasta, so they co-founded Annie's Homegrown in 1989. Hoping to give families healthy, organic foods, they sold their macaroni and cheese, free of preservatives and artificial colors, at food co-ops and grocery stores around New England.
3. A rabbit named Bernie is Annie's official mascot.
A cartoon version of Bernie, Withey's pet rabbit, appears on boxes of Annie's products. Bernie the Bunny gives Annie's products his "Rabbit of Approval" seal, indicating that the food is healthy, nutritious, and environmentally friendly. Sadly, the real-life Bernie died in the early '90s.
4. Withey sold her company in 1999, but still serves as Annie's "Inspirational President."
In 1999, a natural foods entrepreneur named John Foraker invested in Annie's and then bought Withey and Martin's stake in the company. Until 2017, Foraker served as Annie's CEO and president, with Withey taking the title of "Inspirational President," a figurehead role that allows the company to follow her philosophy on organic food and sustainable agriculture.
5. Annie's Homegrown bought a natural food line started by, coincidentally, another Annie.
In 2005, Annie's acquired a smaller company called Annie's Naturals, a Vermont-based company which produced bottles of organic salad dressing, pasta sauce, barbecue sauce, and condiments. Started by husband-and-wife team Peter Backman and Annie Christopher, Annie's Naturals made GMO-free dressings with flavors like Shiitake & Sesame and Garlic Parmesan Tofu. Annie's Homegrown incorporated some of Annie's Naturals dressings and condiments into their own product line after the acquisition.
6. Consumers debate whether Annie's is really healthy or not.
Although Annie's products are organic and free of GMOs, trans fats, and added sugar, some critics argue that Annie's is not as healthy as it purports to be. These critics point out that a serving of Annie's mac and cheese has a similar amount of calories, sodium, and saturated fat as Kraft mac and cheese, and Annie's uses refined flour as opposed to whole grain flour. In response, Annie's has reiterated that its goal is to make cleaner, more natural versions of convenience foods.
7. General Mills purchased Annie's Homegrown for almost a billion dollars.
In 2014, General Mills bought Annie's for $820 million. Some customers expressed concern that Annie's was "selling out" and would add artificial ingredients to their food to cut costs, but Foraker, Annie's CEO, reassured customers that Annie's would remain committed to GMO-free products and stressed that the acquisition would help Annie's get into the homes of more people. Annie's was incorporated into GM's Small Planet Foods, the company's organic/natural foods branch.
8. Annie's once had a line of pasta shaped like Arthur, the aardvark.
Offering more than just bunny shaped pasta, Annie's once had a line of pasta shaped like Arthur, the aardvark from the children's books. And through Bernie's Book Club, which offers reading suggestions for babies up to adults, Annie's joined forces with the PBS show Arthur to help promote reading.