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John Green, currently the executive chairman at Founders Brewing Co., will become the permanent CEO of Revolution Farms later this month after serving in that role since June in an interim capacity. John Green, currently the executive chairman at Founders Brewing Co., will become the permanent CEO of Revolution Farms later this month after serving in that role since June in an interim capacity. COURTESY PHOTO

Founders Brewing chair to lead ‘disruptive’ startup hydroponics farm

BY Sunday, September 15, 2019 07:15pm

GRAND RAPIDS — A deepening partnership with a Spain-based minority shareholder provided Founders Brewing Co. Executive Chairman John Green the perfect timing to jump back into an early-stage growth company.

Green, who joined Founders in 2006 and helped professionalize and grow the company into the 14th largest brewery in the country as of 2018, will take over this month as CEO of Caledonia-based indoor hydroponics grower Revolution Farms LLC after holding the position in an interim capacity for three months. 

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Revolution Farms LLC grows lettuce and salad greens with hydroponics at an 85,000-square-foot indoor farm at 2901 76th St. SE in Caledonia. The company, which can produce more than 500,000 pounds of greens annually, currently sells through SpartanNash Co. stores in Michigan and the Doorganics LLC delivery service. It also makes the greens available to restaurants via VanEerden Foodservice. In the long term, Revolution Farms plans to grow its model beyond Michigan and the Midwest, expanding geographically as it picks up new accounts, said John Green, who takes over as CEO later this month. 

“I thrive in an environment of rapid growth and early stage growth. I had reached a point in my career where I wanted to change and do something different,” Green told MiBiz. “I felt strongly that Founders was in good hands with the Mahou partnership and the leadership of Mike and Dave. 

“If I had any doubt about Founders, I would have elected to stay involved.”

The announcement of Green’s new role came two weeks after Founders Brewing detailed plans to sell a majority stake in the company to an affiliate of Madrid-based Mahou-San Miguel Group. Under the deal, which MiBiz was first to report, Founders Brewing will be 90-percent owned by Spain’s Best Beer Inc. 

The Spanish brewer currently holds a 30-percent stake in the company. 

Founders Brewing co-founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers each will retain a 5-percent stake in the brewery, according to state filings. The deal is expected to close in January 2020. 

Green expects to stay on through the transition in ownership and then evaluate his next steps with Founders.

The investment from Mahou allows Founders to buy out the more than two-dozen minority shareholders it accumulated over the years, including executives and their family members, local business people and other investors, according to Michigan Liquor Control Commission documents. 

Those investors “gave us a commitment when they probably shouldn’t have given us a commitment,” Stevens told MiBiz. “To see the kind of return on the dollar that they’re able to enjoy, it really is very satisfying and rewarding, coming from a place of just a couple homebrewers — and quite frankly, I was the opposite of wealth. It is the American Dream.”

Green, who personally owned an 8-percent stake in Founders, plans to channel the return on his investment into the new venture. 

“People don’t talk about that, and it’s not just John Green,” he said of reinvesting proceeds from the deal back into the community. “Founders had a lot of investors in the Grand Rapids area, and we all have a passion for this community and want to reinvest in this community. You can do that in two ways: You can invest in businesses and give money to nonprofits, or you can invest your experience and knowledge and learning and help build new companies.”

That desire to reinvest locally led Green to take a deeper involvement in Revolution Farms, in which he was a founding investor. When founding CEO Tripp Frey “left the company to pursue other ventures” earlier this year, Green saw “an opportunity for me to step in and grow this business.”

“It checked a lot of boxes. It’s a local investment. It will employ people in our community and it demonstrates something new … something that’s a bit more progressive and looks at an issue through a different lens,” he said. 

Revolution Farms operates an 85,000-square-foot indoor hydroponic farm at 2901 76th St. SE that can produce more than 500,000 pounds of fresh lettuce and salad greens for Michigan and the Midwest region every year. The company’s lettuce is currently available in Michigan at more than 100 SpartanNash Co. stores, via the Doorganics LLC delivery service, and from VanEerden Foodservice at restaurants.

Green touts the environmental advantages of growing food locally using hydroponics, citing the reduced water, land and transportation needed to get it to market. 

As well, Revolution Farms is coming to market during a time of strong expansion in the burgeoning global industry, which is projected to reach a compound annual growth rate of 6.5 percent and a market valuation of $12.1 billion at the end of 2025, according to a report from Valley Cottage, N.Y.-based research firm Future Market Insights.

The growth potential leads Green to draw parallels to his early days at Founders. 

“Indoor farming is going to grow in popularity. It’s just good for everyone. Plus, I get excited about working with disruptive businesses. I love the impact it has on the community,” Green said. “I’m all in, I’m hands on, I’m serving as chair and CEO of the company, and I’m looking to grow this business.” 

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