Rise Baking Co. came into being — and is thriving — thanks  to its discovery of what you might call the baked goods version of a “Goldilocks zone.”

Minneapolis-based Rise, which supplies grocery instore bakeries with cookies, edible cookie doughs, bars and artisan breads, found a “just right” niche in the market at a point somewhere between small, independent bakers and large baking companies, says Kristen Rieser, the company’s vice president of administration.

“The thought process was, there’s a gap in the marketplace where the very large baking companies have lost the appropriate level of customer focus, and the small regional players haven’t got the reach or resources to serve national accounts,” Rieser says. “There’s an opportunity right in the middle where if you can create an organization with a national scale that can remain nimble and customer-focused, you’re going to win in the marketplace.”

With that goal in mind, Rise, which also supplies foodservice and c-store customers, was created by Chicago-based specialized private equity firm Arbor Private Investment Co. through a series of five strategic acquisitions, Rieser says:

  • New French Bakery, 2013;
  • Best Maid Cookie Co., 2014;
  • Hudson Baking, 2015;
  • South Coast Baking, 2016; and
  • Choice Foods, 2017.

A sixth acquisition, Bakestone Brothers, was added in 2018. Once customers began to see the benefits of Rise’s national-but-nimble business philosophy, Rieser says, momentum led to further expansion.  

“We’ve been fortunate with additional opportunities for growth as we have proven to our customers that we can effectively help them grow their business by providing a range of quality products and delivering first-rate customer service,” she says. “Much of Rise Baking’s management team have had working relationships in the past and have committed to stay and continue to steer the ship forward.”

The prospects for future company growth were strengthened considerably in August, when Rise was purchased by Olympus Partners, a private equity firm that invests in late-stage growth companies and middle-market management buyouts.

The purchase by Olympus, Rieser says, means that as new opportunities for growth present themselves, Rise has a strong strategic partner to help support the vision of the team. 

“We’re already invested in several capital expansion/improvement projects and are seeking more opportunities each day,” she says.

One of those projects currently underway was launched to capitalize on an opportunity Rise saw in the cookie market, says Courtney Wilman, Rise’s marketing manager.

The company is in the final stages of installing cutting-edge equipment in one of its cookie facilities. “We identified an opportunity gap in the market for a high-quality filled cookie that we knew we could provide to our retailers,” Wilman says. “We made the decision to invest in the manufacturing equipment and resources that allowed us to enter this segment.”

Expect to see the new Rise filled-cookie products on retail shelves in the coming months, Wilman says.

Finished to the fore

About half of the product Rise ships to grocery instore bakeries is finished, about half bake-off, Wilman says. But that’s changing, with finished product claiming a bigger piece of the pie.

Recently it’s begun to shift towards 60/40 as the trends in the market recently have been to offer retail-ready, fresh bakery products to our retailers so they can reduce stales, minimize labor and provide an opportunity to adapt to the market changes quickly in order to remain competitive,” Wilman says.

With substantial increases in labor costs in recent years, Rise has seen a shift in the mix of products retailers are interested in offering their customers, Wilman says. In turn, their need to increase labor savings and provide ready-to-sell options has shifted what they require from their manufacturers. 

“As a result, at Rise we’ve made significant investments and changes in how we do business,” she says. “We’ve shifted our manufacturing footprint to include more retail-ready offerings and provide retailers with solutions to decrease labor at store level.”

In terms of individual product categories, Rise has recently enjoyed strong sales of its crispy bars and retail-ready cookies, Wilman says. That growth has prompted Rise to expand its facilities to accommodate the need for those products in the market, she says.

One of the most recent additions to the company’s bar product line is its Crispy Brown Butter Sea Salt Crispy Bite — the fifth in the Crispy Bite line.

The product ships in sheets to instore bakeries, where it’s cut and packaged. Rise had previously produced a brown butter cookie, and based on its success, decided to add a Crispy Bite version. When cooked, the brown butter caramelizes, adding a unique flavor and texture.

Another new product at Rise is a single-serving, grab ‘n go cookie dough product. The product comes in c-store (3.5 oz) and retail (12 oz) versions, is available in four flavors and ships in both branded and private-label formats. After focusing on foodservice and c-store business initially, Rise is now ramping up distribution to grocery retailers, Wilman says.

Wilman cited the rise of cookie dough as a treat option at places like New York-based D?, which provides a variety of doughs and toppings customers can choose from.

When it comes to trends, convenience continues to be one that Rise is keeping a close eye on. “As consumers search for easier ways to bring dinner to the tables, i.e. meal kits and ready-to-eat products, we’ve seen a shift in the mix amongst the products that the retailers are interested in offering to their customers,” Wilman says. “They’re repositioning their selections to include pre-portioned, fresh, high-quality offerings that are ready to eat or cook up with minimal effort by their consumers.”

The flexibility in Rise’s manufacturing footprint has allowed the company to be nimble and reactive to the needs of its customers and to deliver the solutions they need, when they need them, Wilman says.

Artisan ascending

The artisan bread category is booming, and Wilman says Rise is perfectly situated to take advantage of it.

The company created an innovative method to maximize the freshly-baked bread experience with minimal effort and waste, she says. All Rise products are individually pre-packaged, pre-labeled and ready for customers to take and bake at home in 15 minutes or less. Rise’s artisan line includes 15 different loaves, eight kinds of rolls and six baguettes.

“Rise has been fortunate to have an amazing, innovative R&D team with a passion for artisan breads and most importantly the ability to listen to our customers’ needs,” Wilman says. “They’ve been able to deliver quality artisan bread offerings that are not only on-trend but are what our retailers need for their customers.”

Rise was one of the first companies to market artisan breads that offered so much convenience to consumers, exemplifying the company’s commitment to innovation, Wilman says. “Our constant drive and never settling for ‘good enough’ mentalities have allowed us to become the best in the industry and won’t let ‘It can’t be done’ stand in our way.”  

Having a talented team is vital, Wilman says. But the most important key to Rise’s success is the close attention the company pays to its customers. “They’re on the front line watching what consumers purchase, listening to their requests. They can often lead you to best-selling products quicker than any R&D team could.”

Another market Rise has been a pioneer in is panning systems for cookies, Wilman says. The company’s patented Fast Pan system for cookie dough delivers up to 70 percent labor savings for some of the largest baking operations in the U.S. And given the increasing importance of labor costs for the nation’s grocers, Wilman says Fast Pan and other similar Rise initiatives focused on efficiency can look forward to big successes going forward.

“With the increase in labor costs and quickly changing landscape of what we call grocery today, we anticipate that there will be strong desire by retailers to have the flexibility to react to market trends and needs,” Wilman says. “At Rise we are constantly re-envisioning our methods and product offerings to provide new solutions for our retailers to continue to remain successful and nimble in the market.”

It's those commitments to innovation and to customer service that have enabled Rise to stand out in a competitive marketplace, says Rieser.

“Rise’s point of differentiation is the ability of its dedicated and passionate team to place its customer’s success above all else,” she says. “Through strategic acquisitions, we acquired customer-focused regional companies that offered exceptional products and service to its customers.  We’ve successfully built on these legacy foundations by expanding their resources in areas including innovation, technology, quality and food safety programs.  This combination allows us to bring a level of service and dedication to each of our customers that is unmatched.”