Ones to Watch | Fall 2023
By Andrew Barone
Andrew Barone (@AndrewBarone) is Senior Vice President and Director of Business Development for Rosenthal & Rosenthal’s Pipeline division, helping d2c and e-commerce brands grow their businesses.
Ones to Watch spotlights the future front-runners in the fashion, retail, & consumer industries. These high-potential direct-to-consumer brands are breaking away from the pack and showing great promise, plus the foundations to make a significant impact on the industry. Andrew Barone of Rosenthal & Rosenthal highlights the latest Ones to Watch brands that attracting attention from consumers and investors alike.
Josh Belinsky and Manny Lubin launched Slate, a healthy high-protein chocolate milk and latte company, in 2019. Slate launched with 3 flavors after a successful Kickstarter campaign, an appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank, and hundreds of iterations on testing.
Slate has now expanded into new flavors and product lines, all of which contain 20 grams of protein, have zero grams of added sugar, are lactose free and are 100% plastic neutral. Slate’s milkshakes and lattes use ultrafiltered milk (as opposed to protein powder) which is how they are able to get 20 grams protein with only a gram of natural sugar, zero chalky taste and no artificial flavors or sweeteners.
Slate’s revenue has grown over 100% year over year since inception. Their items are sold online and are now in more than 10,000 stores across the country, including Walmart, ALBSCO, Kroger, Publix, Whole Foods and Wegmans. In 2022, Slate was the number one fastest growing emerging brand on Instacart, outpacing big players like Liquid Death and Poppi. Fueling all this momentum is Slate’s social media presence, which has grown dramatically, currently amassing over 20 million impressions per month through Tiktok and Instagram. And now that the brand is an official sponsor of the UFC, with Dana White joining their team, Slate will be displayed in front of an additional 200 million new viewers and potential customers.
Belinsky says the road wasn’t always smooth as the pandemic lockdown started within the first few months of Slate selling their products. When they were just getting started, ingredients were much harder to get, especially the one ingredient they needed that was sourced from overseas. Milk prices, aluminum prices and manufacturing prices skyrocketed due to labor shortages, and supply chain issues were piling up. In those early days of the pandemic, distributors were also largely only delivering essential items to their retail partners, and chocolate milk was not considered to be essential. Despite these headwinds, Belinsky and Lubin managed their way through this difficult period. They managed to retain all their team members, pivoted their strategy to rely more heavily on e-commerce and hit their overall sales goals that year.
To date, Slate has raised over $20 million from notable investors including Rob Smith and Brian Knez (Co-Founders Castenea Partners, Board Yasso & Essentia Water), Peter Rahal (Founder RXBar), Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic), Doug Bouton (Co-Founder Halo Top), Nick Rellas (Co-Founder Drizly), Jake Kassan (Co-Founder MVMT), Liz Eswein (Influencer @newyorkcity), Drew Harrington and Amanda Klane (Co-Founders Yasso), Brian Mazza (Fitness Icon & Entrepreneur), Josh Dixon (Former Olympian Gymnast), Duncan Robinson and Terance Mann (NBA), Paul Liberman (Co-Founder DraftKings), Riverpark Ventures (VC NYC), Skyview Capital (PE firm LA) and Zeke Capital Advisors (Family Office PA). Belinsky says Slate is busy planning for the future and that new flavors and potentially new product lines are coming down the pike.
Though he grew up fishing with his family in Northern Wisconsin, Omnia Fishing Co-Founder and CEO Matt Johnson jokes that he “accidentally” spent the last 13 years of his career in the fishing industry. In 2010, he founded a company called Contour Innovations that utilized sonar technology to create lake maps for biologists to monitor lake habitats. When Lowrance, the leading marine electronics brand, asked Johnson and his partners to create a version of their cloud-based maps for anglers, they rose to the challenge and the business was ultimately acquired by Lowrance. Through this unconventional introduction to the business side of fishing, Johnson learned a lot of about the industry. He was realized that almost 90% of tackle and gear transactions were still happening in brick-and-mortar stores and saw a unique opportunity.
In 2018, Omnia Fishing was established as the first e-commerce store that allows anglers to find, buy and organize their fishing gear based on the specific bodies of water they fish. Johnson calls it their “shop-by-lake” approach. Omnia taps into their expansive knowledge base—specific lake conditions, a powerful data schema and a trained recommendation model that provides anglers with a unique shopping experience for any lake. Anglers are served refined recommendations for tackle based on the species, style, lake characteristics, season, patterns and fishing reports. Omnia’s goal is to send anglers off on their adventures on the water with confidence and with gear that has been proven to work based on data and recommendations reported by others.
The company has been growing quickly year over year. With about 50 million anglers in the U.S. alone—and more than double internationally—Johnson sees incredible potential for continuing to grow Omnia’s reach across the industry. While they’ve remained focused on domestic sales because the company’s e-commerce logistics center is U.S.-based, Johnson said that international expansion in the near term is on the table. The company recently launched a subscription service with innovative mapping layers to enhance the e-commerce experience and help to foster relationships with customers outside of just the times when they’re ready to buy gear. Future plans also include expansion into other “species” beyond bass, with new products and platform and content additions.
To date, Omnia has raised venture capital in the 8-figure range from venture funds including Founder Collection, Dundee Ventures, Bread and Butter Ventures, Liquid2 Ventures, Great North Ventures and GAN Ventures, as well as local angels and a group called Gopher Angels in Minneapolis.
Ones to Watch is produced in partnership with Rosenthal & Rosenthal — a proud supporter of growing brands through factoring, asset-based lending, production financing, and d2c and e-commerce inventory financing. Click here to learn more about Rosenthal’s newest division, Pipeline™, offering growth capital solutions exclusively for high-growth DTC and e-commerce businesses.