News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Laird CEO steps aside, will remain on board

For the second quarter ending June 30, Laird Superfoods (NYSE: LSF) reported net sales increased from $5.6 million for the same period in 2020 to $9.2 million for the most recent quarter. The jump in sales did not translate to profit as the largest employer in Sisters is reporting an operational loss of $6.3 million.

Paul Hodge, cofounder, president, and CEO, who has been with the fast-growing company since its inception, will be stepping down as soon as a successor can be found. The board has already launched a global search for his replacement, rather than looking inside its ranks. The ideal candidate attributes will include large consumer package goods experience, Hodge said, as part of a lengthy press release dated August 11.

Hodge will remain on the board and “will begin transitioning to a nonexecutive role,” the company’s statement reads. He is a major shareholder, holding 6.5 percent of the shares. Shares have nosedived since the announcement. On August 8, they traded at $23.91 per share but have since hit a low of $17.38, settling the week ending August 20 at $18.84 an hour before markets closed. Its 52-week high was $60.80, for a 69 percent decline.

In the last quarter, Hodge and other insiders sold 6,956 shares of company stock valued at $208,743. Insiders control 35.94 percent of the shares. A number of equities analysts have issued reports on the stock generally remaining bullish on the company. Canaccord Genuity cut their target price on shares of Laird Superfood from $70 to $40 and set a “buy” rating for the company in a research report on Thursday, August 19.

Roth Capital downgraded shares of Laird Superfood from a “buy” rating to a “neutral” rating and lowered their target price for the company from $43 to $23 in a report on Thursday, August 19. Craig Hallum lowered their target price on shares of Laird Superfood from $60 to $40 and set a “buy” rating for the company in a report on the same date. Finally, Zacks Investment Research raised shares of Laird Superfood from a “sell” rating to a “hold” rating in a research report on Thursday, July 15.

With such a large footprint in Sisters, both physically and in employment, there is natural concern for the reported results and Hodge’s departure. The news raised questions in the community about possible effects on the Sisters Woodlands project, the 35-acre housing development located in the heart of Sisters being developed by Hodge and Paul Schneider.

Kevin Eckert of BUILD LLC, who is designing Sisters Woodlands, told The Nugget last week that he does not anticipate any impact on the project from Hodge’s departure from the CEO role. He noted that Hodge continues to have a stake in Laird Superfood and its future, and in the future of Sisters.

“According to Paul, it does not change his commitment to the project,” Eckert said.

Hodge has long decried the lack of affordable workforce housing in Sisters, which, among broader implications for the City, was an impediment to Laird’s growth.

The Woodlands site was first purchased from the U.S. Forest Service, then rezoned from Public Facility and Urban Area Reserve, to a mix of multifamily residential, downtown commercial, North Sisters Business Park (light industrial), and open space (public amenity). The project masterplan and subdivision are in the final phase of approval by City of Sisters staff.

The primary goal of the project is to make Sisters more welcoming and sustainable for young families and light-industrial businesses. The project objectives include creating affordable workforce housing opportunities for the growing population; five new, mixed-use, light-industrial building sites; an interactive commercial marketplace; 10 integrated park areas; and a significant three-acre public amenity for the community, including enhanced pedestrian connections into and out of town. (See related story.)

At press time Hodge had not returned calls from The Nugget seeking further comment. In his press statement he said, “I thank you all for your support. The next chapter of growth for Laird Superfood is underway, it’s going to be an exciting journey.”

Board Chairman Geoffrey Barker added, “We are grateful for Paul’s vision in inventing and building the Laird Superfood brand from the ground up, and his leadership throughout a period of rapid growth.”

Editor in Chief Jim Cornelius contributed to this story.

 

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