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Interview with Andrew Hollingsworth of Naturally Gerber Finance and Jennifer Palmer, CEO of Gerber Finance
By Michele Ocejo
Pictured: Andrew Hollingsworth, senior vice president, Gerber Finance and Jennifer Palmer, CEO, Gerber Finance
You were the CFO of a natural products company before joining Gerber. Can you tell us a bit about your career trajectory?
Andrew Hollingsworth: I started my career in public accounting working with a range of clients from different industries including CPG, manufacturing, technology and financial services. I also spent several years in international banking before a stint as an entrepreneur and, finally, landing in the natural products space. Attracted by a love for food, concerns about aging and health, and a desire for a more sustainable future, natural products was a “natural” fit with both my passions and skill set. I came on board Numi Organic Tea just as we were selecting a new lender. Gerber’s commitment to client service, partnership approach, transparency and flexibility when the business needed it were strong selling points and values with which I strongly identified. Fast forward many years, joining Gerber has permitted me to have an even greater impact in facilitating the growth of the natural products space by being able to work with lots of great companies and identify with and address client needs. And Numi remains a client, so it doesn’t get better than that.
What factors brought about the decision to create a division dedicated to natural products and why you chose Andrew to lead the division?
Jennifer Palmer: We already had a considerable portfolio in the natural product industry that evolved over the years through word of mouth. So, when I was planning my first 100 days as CEO and I crafted a long-term plan for Gerber Finance it was clear I wanted the growth to come from the natural product category. For starters, the natural products business is experiencing tremendous growth. Also, our team has both a passion and great deal of experience in natural products. We understand the trends and the nuances of this industry, so it allows us to be a better partner for our clients.
Choosing Andrew to lead Naturally Gerber Finance was an easy decision. Andrew is an industry veteran, who knows firsthand the challenges and opportunities of fast-growing natural product companies. His experience allows him to act as a true finance partner helping guide brands through growth and providing advice on how to support both retail and foodservice customers. He also understands how to manage the direct to consumer side of the business. I had worked with Andrew when he was the CFO of our client Numi Organic Tea, so I knew his personality and his skillset would not only be a great addition to our existing team, but it would be an asset to our clients.
What is it about ABL that makes it a good fit for this industry?
Hollingsworth: There are several factors that make ABL a good fit for companies in the natural products industry. First of all, the need to finance high growth makes it an excellent fit. Secondly, natural products companies tend to have assets such as accounts receivable and inventory which can collateralized. On the lender’s side, there is a strong need to understand the industry dynamics of dilution both on collateral as well as on the economics of the business. The advent of e-commerce is changing the equation somewhat in terms of how we look at collateral and we look forward to leading change in this area.
What are your short- and long-term goals for Naturally Gerber Finance?
Hollingsworth: I am fortunate to have a solid foundation to begin with, so it is really about continuing to build it out in terms nurturing the relationships we have and the ones we would like to have. Short-term, we are focused on helping our clients navigate the current health and economic crisis while continuing to lay the groundwork for our expansion. Having boots on the ground in the Western US is a big plus; we expect that with our strong commitment to the space, our partnership style and our flexible approach, we can significantly expand and deepen our presence in natural products.
What sort of pandemic effects are you seeing on the natural products sector? How can Gerber help their clients through this unprecedented time?
Hollingsworth: It’s a big question because the effects are likely profound - both short and long-term. Initially, there was the COVID surge in the spring as consumers stocked up on staples and adjusted to the new reality. Just as sales were growing in grocery and e-commerce, they were falling off in food service and other channels. And there was a need to react quickly to protect an organization’s people. The impact therefore varied somewhat based on the product category and unique mix of channels, distribution and supply chain issues at each company. Humans can be quite adept at adjusting and adapting in adverse circumstances and we have been very impressed at the success companies have had in refashioning themselves through this crisis. Of course, e-commerce accelerated dramatically in the food space and we expect that trend to continue. Emphasis on good-for-you products with functional benefits is also a trend which got a boost. But, uncertainty still exists, and we all need to remain vigilant and nimble in moving forward.
From Gerber’s perspective, we immediately established closer contact with our clients through weekly calls, as we believe that the more we understand, the more flexible and responsive we are able to be in developing solutions. We encouraged all of our clients to initiate rolling forecasts with an emphasis on how best- and worst-case scenarios would impact their businesses. This has enabled us to continue funding clients’ needs without hesitation or curtailment throughout. Now as we are many months into the pandemic, the focus is on the fourth quarter and 2021 planning. We are finding clients approaching this with a great deal of optimistic pragmatism and we look forward to continuing to support them.
Andrew Hollingsworth, SVP, Gerber Finance
Gerber Finance found the ideal candidate in Andrew Hollingsworth to develop its Natural Products Group and set up a west coast operation to serve its clients' growing portfolio. Andrew possesses a keen understanding of the mindset and needs of natural product companies, having served as CFO for Numi Organic Tea, and brings a deep background in banking, accounting, and finance. Andrew manages Gerber Finance's growing portfolio of natural products clients who value the consultative, relationship that is the hallmark of the Gerber formula. Natural Products Group clients include baby food and products, mushroom mycelium powders, protein powders, sustainable and reusable food storage bags, organic tea, and Asian bone broths and noodles.
As the former CFO of Numi Organic Tea, Andrew was first a client of Gerber Finance, supporting the growth of the business and the brand's expansion. In his role, Andrew garnered an in-depth knowledge of supply chains, business seasonality, and cycles, supporting the need for investment in innovation and the expansion into new markets, leading strategic planning and analysis, debt financing, and investment rounds. Working in a privately held company provided insight into the importance of seeking a strategic partner to support growth, versus "just a lender."
An explorer by nature, Andrew's intellectual curiosity and passions have led him to a fascinating career path that includes leading financial institutions around the globe, authoring a book on design, and working in the art world. He spent over a decade at PwC, working in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and at UBS in various senior financial capacities at the corporate and divisional levels. He has followed his passion for the arts working and volunteering for arts institutions and galleries, including the Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art.
Like the natural products industry, he is so invested in, Andrew has a passion for exercise and healthy food. He is deeply engrossed in where the natural product market is headed and the evolving needs of its consumers, retailers, and distributors.
Jenn Palmer is CEO of Gerber Finance. She began her career as an attorney, having joined Gerber Finance in 2006 in the marketing department. She quickly moved into the position of Vice President of Marketing, and was then promoted to Senior Vice President, thanks to her signature work ethic and appetite for learning. In 2013, after having led the company through multiple years of growth and record wins, she was appointed President, and effective January 1, 2020 she became CEO of the company. Jennifer holds a JD from Fordham Law and a BA from Marist College. She is active in the industry and serves on various committees, which include the Board of Directors of the Secured Finance Network.