Caulipower’s founder and CEO Gail Becker quit her job in 2016 to start a frozen food company specializing in gluten-free crusts. Now at 57, she’s worth $245 million.
by Chloe Sorvino
Gail Becker originally took to the kitchen to make gluten-free versions of her kids’ favorite foods after they were diagnosed with celiac disease. But Becker didn’t realize, when she decided to commercialize her recipe five years ago, that she would soon pioneer a cauliflower pizza crust craze.
“I was disenchanted with corporate America and decided to quit my job and start a company,” Becker told Forbes Women editor Maggie McGrath during a live interview on Forbes’ Instagram in 2020. “I did it at the very kitchen table where I’m sitting and I made my two sons watch because I wanted them to see it’s never too late to bet on yourself.”
A broadcast journalist in the late 80s, who had eventually worked her way into a job as a communications strategist at Warner Bros, she quit her public relations job in 2016 and started her food business, Caulipower, at age 52. Becker’s Los Angeles-based Caulipower had estimated revenue of $100 million last year. The company’s products are in the freezer department in 25,000 stores, including Target and Kroger, and it has a more than 50% share of the still tiny cauliflower pizza crust category in U.S. grocery stores.
It’s all enough to land Becker, now 57, a spot on Forbes’ seventh annual ranking of America’s Richest Self-Made Women with a net worth of $245 million, thanks to her estimated majority stake in her second act; Forbes values that company at $500 million. Becker, who declined to be interviewed for this story, would not comment on the valuation.
AMERICA’S SELF-MADE WOMEN IN FOOD
Becker, a first-generation American born to Holocaust survivors, found a food manufacturer willing to follow her recipe and make her frozen pizza crusts for a fee. She used her savings to pay for those first production runs, until finally after a few months they together perfected the mass production of those crusts.
Caulipower launched first in 30 Whole Foods locations in February 2017 and became a success rather quickly, especially as mainstream retailers like Walmart began to carry her brand.
But with revenue of $5 million in its first year, Caulipower needed more capital to support bigger ingredient orders and larger-scale manufacturing runs. By the fall of 2017, Becker decided to take a minority investment from venture capital firm Boulder Food Group. But unlike other startup food brands that have gotten locked into endless cycles of raising money, that was the only time Becker raised outside money. She has turned down other investors ever since.
The brand has long since expanded beyond its signature pizza crusts, adding frozen chicken nuggets coated in gluten-free, cauliflower-based crusts and frozen pastas, also made of cauliflower.
Ironically, it’s not so much the cauliflower but the frozen pizza niche that is driving such blistering demand. Frozen foods in general were one of the biggest areas of sales growth for grocers last year. Conventional frozen pizza brands like Red Baron and DiGiorno were among the biggest gainers in 2020, posting double digit growth. Caulipower, which sells both crusts and premade pizzas, was able to ride that wave, providing a healthy alternative. But it faces increasing competition from DiGiorno’s and Red Baron’s gluten-free offerings, as well as slower growth overall. In fact, sales of frozen gluten-free pizza crusts, on the whole, actually declined 5% in 2020, according to Nielsen IQ, which tracks grocery industry sales.
Becker hasn’t said what she envisions for Caulipower’s future. Going public or an acquisition by a conglomerate like Nestlé or Unilever are both possibilities. For now, she’ll continue to keep her ears and eyes open. As for her success, she insists anyone can do what she’s done with Caulipower.
“It wasn’t because I was a gifted entrepreneur. The industry was lacking. It made better-for-you food harder to get than it should have been. All we did was listen,” Becker has said. “That was my white space.”