Thanks to These Angels, Healthier Chicken Nuggets Could Be Coming Your Way

An investment group committed to supporting women-owned businesses helped Hip Chick Farms bring sustainable products to the supermarket.

Serafina Palandech, Jennifer Johnson, and their daughter. (Photo: Courtesy Hip Chick Farms)

Jan 26, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Sarah McColl has written for Yahoo Food, Bon Appétit, and other publications. She's based in Brooklyn, New York.

It’s a late-morning investors meeting. People are peckish; energy flags. Then the chicken nuggets arrive. Everybody eats, and one business moves a step closer to sealing an angel investment deal.

At least that’s what happened to Hip Chick Farms, a family business run out of Sebastapol, California, that makes chicken tenders, meatballs, and other convenience chicken products from vegetarian-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken. Cofounded and co-owned by Serafina Palandech and Jennifer Johnson, these chicken treats have a pedigree; Johnson got her start at Chez Panisse. In December, Hip Chick Farms became the latest company to receive backing from the Pipeline Fellowship, an angel investing “bootcamp” founded in 2011 by Natalia Oberti Noguera that connects female investors with women-owned socially minded businesses.

Hip Chick Farms' Chicken Meatballs. (Photo: Courtesy
Hip Chick Farms)

On tasting the products, “I knew in an instant,” said Kelly Keenan Trumpbour, Pipeline’s lead investor in Hip Chick Farms, ”I am your customer.”

As a grocery shopper with “the palette of a six-year-old,” Keenan Trumpbour was certain she’d be willing to pay a premium for the Hip Chick Farms products. “I don’t like to eat chicken nuggets with hormones or weird antibiotics because my mom had breast cancer. I like to stay the hell away from anything that might screw with my body chemistry.”

That’s one of the unusual things about Pipeline—deciding to invest in a given project is based on more than reading a P&L sheet showing exponential project revenue. As a woman investor, I call on my consumer expertise all the time,” she said. “We know what we’re going to buy, we know when something’s hype, we know when something’s quality, and we’re willing to put our money behind things for certain reasons.”

(Photo: Maximum Design Impact/Facebook)

On a grand scale, one of the “certain reasons” Pipeline considers when making investments—its reason for being, really—is diversity. Pipeline wants to diversify the mostly white, male face of angel investment and create capital for female entrepreneurs. In 2013, nineteen percent of U.S. angel investors were women and only 4 percent were minorities, according to the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire. For most Pipeline Fellows the capital they receive is their first angel investment. "Others spend years in work experience or grad school to meet mentors of this caliber and gain this much knowledge," fellowship alumna Jenn Viane Riese said.

Beyond providing capital, Pipeline also connects investors and business that have a common philosophy, fostering relationships where both sides value sustainable growth and returns that are not solely remunerative, Hip Chick Farms co-owner Palandech said.

“In the venture capital and angel investment worlds, which are largely male-dominated, the anticipation is a very high return in a very short amount of time. In the tech industry, the returns are ten times, fifteen times, twenty times,” she said. “It’s not the same in the natural foods industry or in the sustainable foods industry. The anticipated return is three to five times. And there’s more to the fiscal return. Kelly would buy our product, but she also understood her investment was more than just a fiscal return— how we raise animals, how we farm, the health of our children. She understood that all implicitly.”

Hip Chick is the latest food investment for Pipeline, which has had a hand in sweetriot and Kuli Kuli, two companies that emphasize fair practices when sourcing their ingredients—cacao and moringa, respectively—from producers in developing countries.

With additional funds from Pipeline and others investors, Hip Chick Farms continues to expand. The products are carried in Whole Foods stores on the West Coast and in Texas and in March will be available in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. Co-owner Palandech hopes to also look at distribution opportunities in schools and hospitals and on corporate campuses.

Keenan Trumpbour, who now sits on Hip Chick’s board, wants to see the company succeed—but she also considers her investments a way to shake up the status quo of the business world. It's a bit like Field of Dreams, but for capital investment instead of a baseball field: “If we want to see more women out in the market as leaders, changing how business is done, you’ve got to fund them,” she said.

“Do you want to have workweeks that are about 60 to 80 hours a week? Is not having child care at business locations OK with everybody?" she continued. "Is maternity leave the way we’ve got it; is that what we like? Do we like the culture of the American workplace? If we don’t, then we need people who look like us representing us in the places of leadership, and the people who do that are CEOs. You’ve got to fund them.”