Back in 2015, Michael Guanella caught the episode of “Shark Tank” that featured the husband and wife founders of Portland’s Brazi Bites, Junea Rocha and Cameron MacMullin.
Intrigued by the couple’s pitch for their frozen Brazilian cheese bread, Guanella and his family bought some at the store — and it’s been a staple in their kitchen ever since.
Now, three years later — and just about three months after Brazi Bites sold a majority stake — Guanella is the company’s CEO.
“It’s a great brand and a tremendous product. When people try it, they want more of it,” said Guanella, formerly the president of the Justin’s nut butter company, which was acquired by Hormel Foods. “It’s just the classic story of a successful organization that starts to scale so fast.”
Brazi Bites officially announced the new CEO today. Guanella, who had also been a senior brand manager at Hormel, takes the reins from Rocha, who will now step into the role of Chief Marketing Officer. MacMullin will remain in his role as Chief Operating Officer.
“We’ve grown so crazy over the past three years,” Rocha said. “We are continuing to grow and need to build a team, and as part of that vision, Mike was a big piece.”
The move comes just three months after Rocha and MacMullin, who founded the company in 2010, sold a majority stake to San Francisco Equity Partners. That investment helped Brazi Bites expand distribution and shore up the financial infrastructure and systems the company needs to sustain its growth.
According to Rocha, Brazi Bites are now available in 7,000 stores across the country. In 2017, the company, through a co-packer in Tualatin, was producing more than 400,000 bags of the product each month. In 2017, Brazi Bites was the region’s third-fastest growing private company, with 2016 revenue of $8.6 million and a two-year growth rate of 1,358 percent.
But there are plenty more shelves for Brazi Bites to land on, and that’s where Guanella will come in. Commuting almost weekly to Portland from his home in Boulder, Colorado, Guanella said he’ll seek to maximize the relationships Brazi Bites has with its third-party partners, including distributors, brokers and others, all in an effort to get more product in more stores.
“You have to get the most out of that network to deliver a great product,” he said.
Brazi Bites is also planning to expand its product offerings, with a new, as-yet-unnamed one on its way in March. Introducing that and the company’s existing products to new consumers will continue to be the uphill part of Brazi Bites’ road ahead, Guanella said.
“Getting more people to try it, that’s the biggest challenge,” he said. “But the team’s been very successful at that already.”
There may be some additional new hires in the near future, as well. Adding Guanella brings Brazi Bites up to eight people, and Rocha said the company could add to its sales and marketing teams in the coming year.
“Having Mike on board is a very exciting addition to the team,” Rocha said. “We are happy to have him.”