Native American Natural Foods Closes on Multi-Million-Dollar Equity Capital Investment

The Candide Group led Native American Natural Foods’ capital raise on behalf of the Libra Social Investment Fund. The capital infusion will drive NANF’s mission to create wealth and ownership for Native communities and ranchers, while building a Native-led brand committed to traditional values and regenerative agriculture.

A multi-million-dollar equity capital investment will empower the growth of the Native American-owned and -operated company that produces the popular TANKA Bar, based on traditional wasna and pemmican, and help to restore the buffalo economy on Native lands. 

The investment, of an undisclosed amount, will support Native American Natural Foods (NANF) as it seeks to reclaim its position as the original maker of the award-winning bison and berry snack bar that replicates a time-honored recipe of their Lakota ancestors — in a market that has been dominated by large industry conglomerates that have imitated their products. 

READ MORE: Tanka Fund Supports the Buffalo Economy 

“I welcome our investors who have the courage and innovation to break the economic isolation of the reservation and move with us into a new economic future,” said Dawn Sherman, CEO of NANF. “We celebrate the vision that will return the bison to the lands, lives and economies of Native communities.”

Based on traditional wasna and pemmican, the Tanka Bar combines high-protein, prairie-fed buffalo and tart-sweet cranberries. The lean meat has provided fuel to Lakota warriors for centuries. “Our runners used buffalo and berries when they would go out on hunts; they’d pack it in a buffalo horn,” Karlene Hunter, co-founder of Native American Natural Foods, told Native Business.

Strategically investing in businesses in communities of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) is part of the financial activism currently being advocated nationwide. The Candide Group led NANF’s capital raise on behalf of the Libra Social Investment Fund. Candide Group’s mission is to direct capital away from an extractive global economy towards investments dedicated to social justice and sustainability.

“We saw in NANF a business that has all the ingredients needed to be successful: superior products with a loyal customer base, and a community of employees, suppliers and partners for whom failure is simply not an option,” said Aner Ben-Ami, Founding Partner of the Candide Group. “We were excited to partner with the NANF team, and structure an investment that will help the company realize its potential while supporting its mission of creating wealth and ownership for Native communities and ranchers, and building a Native-led brand committed to traditional values and regenerative agriculture.”

READ MORE: Leveraging Social Media: An Inside Look at the Strategy to Keep Tanka Bar Competitive 

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for investors to make a big difference in the lives of others by attacking the root cause of generational poverty,” said Sherman. “For our Native Communities to see how the business and the mission can regain its original role as the leader in the meat snacking category while we continue to attract like-minded partners and investors is exciting.”

Karlene Hunter, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and her business partner Mark Tilsen founded Native American Natural Foods on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation more than 10 years ago.

Clearinghouse CDFI has been investing in TANKA since 2011. “Being involved with Native American Natural Foods has been a privilege and a humbling honor,” said Douglas Bystry, President and CEO of Clearinghouse CDFI. “The DNA of our capital pairs well with the DNA of NANF’s enterprise. The founders, leaders and partners of NANF, at the core, have blended a proud and resilient heritage with a disciplined business culture that is intentional about achieving sustainable profits and mission goals. Wealth building in Indian Country is far reaching and we want to be there with NANF each step of the way. We are proud to be part of a group of committed lenders, investors, partners, suppliers and customers who have come together because of NANF’s people, purpose and, of course, its awesome products.”

READ MORE: Meet Karlene Hunter, the Lakota Visionary Behind the Tanka Bar & a Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneur

NANF’s TANKA meat and fruit products come in three smoky-sweet varieties including: Slow Smoked Original, Spicy Pepper and Apple Orange Peel, that retail for under $5. The centuries-old traditional recipe is unique to Native Americans and is often referred to as wasna or pemmican. It is made with prairie-fed bison, tart-sweet cranberries and Native American grown wild rice. The products offer seven grams of protein, are minimally processed, with no nitrites or nitrates, antibiotics or added hormones. The bars, bites and sticks are free of gluten, MSG, nuts, trans fats, soy and lactose and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.

To expand NANF’s customer base and geography, Niman Ranch, the nation’s leading sustainable meat brand with over 750 independent farmers and ranchers, has joined NANF’s growth strategy as a technical advisor and partner with a hands-on approach that includes senior staff working directly with NANF. 

READ MORE: Tanka and Niman Ranch Partner to Assist Economic Revitalization on Pine Ridge 

“The financial independence of the Native owned and operated TANKA goes to the heart of our mission to support sustainable agriculture and resilient rural communities,” said Chris Oliviero, General Manager, Niman Ranch. “By providing operating, marketing, communication and financial support, we will help ensure added value for this important mission and purpose driven business.”

Bob Dineen, CEO of Rocky Mountain Natural Meats, a supporter of the company since its inception, also commented on the investment, noting that it’s “been a long time coming.” He underlined his company’s enthusiasm to advance NANF’s vision while “helping introduce TANKA to more consumers nationwide.”

Meanwhile, Ann Whittemore, Highland’s Associate’s Director of Impact Investments, called NANF a “quintessential” company “whose success benefits the larger community.”

“NANF’s commitments to Native ownership, to the land and restoration of traditional bison, to healthy foods and sustainable practices, as well as to their Native cultural values, makes NANF an important leader in a resilient, regenerative economy,” Whittemore said. 

Within the last two years, Highlands directly, through its DAF (3:23 Fund) and in partnership with its sister organizations, has consciously directed its efforts to Indigenous, Black, and other under-funded communities of color, resulting in investments in over 30 Black and Native-owned and/or led businesses, CDFIs, equity funds, and non-profits. “They’ve put in the work, weathered some storms, and have come out with strong partnerships and leadership, an in-demand product, and more financial viability than ever before. Highlands’ 3:23 Fund is proud to partner with NANF and looks forward to the future growth and success of this company,” Whittemore added. 

Ultimately, NANF, through its traditional snacks, aims to return buffalo to the land, lives and economies to the Native people. “We created the TANKA Bar and now other products, with a vision of building a reservation-based brand capable of helping to build a new economic future for the Lakota people,” said Mark Tilsen, co-founder of NANF. “This new structure with our investors and partners will help make this shared vision a reality.”