Greg O'Neal, left, is vice president of marketing, and Justin Havlick is founder and chief executive of Thanasi Foods, creator of Duke's meat snacks and BIGS seeds.

Thanasi Foods to be acquired by Conagra Brands

BOULDER — Conagra Brands Inc. (NYSE: CAG) has agreed to acquire Thanasi Foods LLC, maker of Duke’s meat snacks, and BIGS LLC, maker of BIGS seeds.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The transaction, subject to regulatory approval, is expected to close this summer.

The decision to be acquired stemmed from the high growth that Thanasi has seen in both of its brands, said Greg O’Neal, vice president of marketing for Thanasi.

“From the beginning of the business, we’ve had two hyper-growth brands in two categories, meat and seed,” O’Neal told BizWest in a phone interview. “Over the years, we’ve fielded different levels of interest from different folks. We started talking to Conagra leadership several months ago. As we got to know Conagra, including CEO Sean Connolly, we learned a lot about how much energy they’re putting into shaping their portfolio to be more modern. It’s very clear they respected the value and integrity and philosophy we have into taking no shortcuts in making meat and seed snacks.”

Conagra, of Chicago, manages Slim Jim and the DAVID seed brand, as well as Hunt’s, Marie Callender’s and Healthy Choice. O’Neal added Conagra’s recent acquisition of Frontera, a Chicago gourmet Mexican food brand from Chef Rick Bayless, shows Conagra’s commitment to premium food. 

The Duke’s meat snack brand includes Duke’s Smoked Shorty Sausages and Duke’s Steak & Brisket Strips. The products are made in small batches, O’Neal said, with fresh ingredients including meat that is never frozen and thawed. The company pairs the hardwood it uses to smoke with each specific recipe, O’Neal said. He added that there are no plans to change the recipes when the company joins Conagra. 

BIGS produces in-shell sunflower seeds, sunflower seed kernels and roasted pumpkin seeds. Both are based in Boulder and are expected to continue operating in Boulder after the transaction.

“What started 13 years ago as a simple passion for fire roasting seeds and slow smoking meats, has grown into two terrific brands that are recognized in households across the U.S.,” Justin “Duke” Havlick, Duke’s and BIGS founder and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “This is an incredibly exciting time for our brands and our team, and we are looking forward to working with the Conagra Brands team on the next chapter in our journey to take Duke’s and BIGS to another level.”

Havlick added that he felt the Conagra Brands team values his company’s beliefs and is committed to the continued use of quality ingredients.

Looking ahead, O’Neal said he is excited with the growth that can come with being part of a major public company.

“There is so much knowledge and capacity that sits inside an organization like Conagra,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated March 17 to include comments from a company spokesman.