Stonewall Kitchen has gotten an infusion of cash and a new CEO to help it grow.

The York-based specialty foods maker, which has 233 of its 300 employees in Maine, announced Monday that a New York-based private equity firm has invested an undisclosed sum in the company and that one of its partners will take over as chief executive officer.

Operating out of its 60,000-square-foot headquarters, Stonewall Kitchen makes more than 225 products, including jams, pesto, chocolate sauces, dips and dressings. They are sold at its 11 retail stores, including three in Maine, and from Whole Foods markets and specialty retailers nationwide.

Stonewall Kitchen does not plan to cut any jobs or move the company out of Maine, said Director of Marketing Janine Somers. In fact, it plans to expand the wholesale sector of the business, which accounts for about 60 percent of revenues.

“We are expecting new positions and an increase in hiring activity with the anticipated growth,” she said. “We are absolutely anticipating that our company will expand significantly, with a focus on our wholesale business. Our goal is to become more accessible to consumers both nationally and internationally.”

The company was started in 1991 by Jonathan King and Jim Stott. In a 2011 interview with the Portland Press Herald, King said annual revenues topped $50 million. At the time, King estimated that by 2014, the company would be worth between $85 million and $100 million. On Monday, the company would not disclose its current sales.

The company’s new chief executive will be Maine native John Stiker, an operating partner at private equity firm Centre Partners who has held leadership positions in other food companies such as Bumble Bee Seafoods and Distant Lands Coffee. King will remain with the company as chief creative officer. Stott, who has been semi-retired in recent years, will now fully retire, Somers said. King’s sister, Natalie King, will remain executive vice president, and the chief operating officer, his sister-in-law Lori King, will add president to her title.

Stiker, who graduated from Falmouth High School, will relocate to Maine to run the company.

“This is a brand that I have personally loved for many years,” Stiker said in a written statement. “I look forward to working with its strong team of dedicated employees to grow Stonewall Kitchen’s business, which has a very exciting future.”

Centre Partners invests in companies with $50 million to $500 million in annual revenues. The firm has invested more than $2 billion in 70 transactions since it opened in 1986.

Bob O’Brien, senior writer for thedeal.com, a New York-based digital news service covering venture capital, private equity and investment banking businesses, believes the private equity firm sees an opportunity to grow Stonewall. “They want to expand the manufacturing capacity and product lineups,” O’Brien said.

With transactions like this, he said, private equity firms typically invest in a company for five to seven years, then look for an exit strategy, which may mean selling the company, taking it public through an initial public offering, or exiting by some other means.

Stephen Burns, town manager of York, where Stonewall Kitchen is one of the biggest employers, hopes the changes announced Monday bode well for the company.

Stonewall draws about 500,000 visitors each year to its York facility, which includes a factory, retail store and cafe. In addition to the 233 year-round jobs in Maine, Stonewall adds 150 seasonal jobs companywide between September and December.

“It’s a great fit for what we have and a nice year-round facility,” Burns said. “They’ve been a wonderful corporate citizen here in York and supportive of so many programs and a wonderful icon for the town. We want what is best for the company. Hopefully things will continue.”

Stonewall Kitchen is considered one of the leaders in a specialty foods market sector that has experienced double-digit growth in recent years. U.S. sales of specialty food and beverages reached $88.3 billion in 2013, a record for the fourth year in a row and a jump of 18.4 percent since 2011, according to the Specialty Food Association, which is based in New York. About 25 percent of American food dollars are currently spent on specialty foods, up from 20 percent in 2013. Sales at specialty food stores have jumped by 42.4 percent since 2011.

The industry seems to weather economic swings. During recessionary times, “people may not be buying big-ticket items, but they’ll treat themselves to a $9 cooking sauce,” said Denise Purcell, senior director of content development with the Specialty Food Association. “They’re not going out as much and they’re cooking at home more.

“Stonewall Kitchen has done a great job of getting bigger but not losing that homemade, farm-stand quality and the look and feel to the brand,” Purcell said. Buyers of specialty foods tend to have household incomes above $75,000, the association says.

“They are appealing to a higher-income consumer who generally fares well during the recession,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based consulting and research firm for the food service industry. “These products are aspirational and high-priced, and have a lot of cachet, but they don’t break the bank.”

Companies like Stonewall are at an advantage.

“They’re not relying on traditional grocery stores for their volumes. They’re in specialty food stores and have a good direct-to-consumer business,” Goldin said. “And those channels tend to be growing, as opposed to general retail stores.”

That said, even as consumer appetites for specialty foods have remained robust, the sector has gotten increasingly crowded with new entrants, including makers of natural and organic foods, and lines introduced by celebrity chefs.

Bringing in a private equity investor “gives the owners an opportunity to slow down, bring in talent and provide some intellectual capital and financial resources … to get to the next level,” Goldin said.

Jennifer Van Allen can be contacted at 791-6313 or at:

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