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Co-founder & Chief Planner

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James has more than 30 years of experience in partnering directly with food & beverage clients to develop new products and businesses in branded consumer packaged goods, with a special emphasis on the natural, organic, functional and specialty food trades. Prior to working across direct clients, James held positions in multiple segments of the specialty food trade, including retail grocery and natural food store management and ownership, specialty distributor sales management, national sales and marketing management, and brand and channel development and management.
James maintains a broad network of contacts in the food manufacturer, retailer, distributor and broker communities, and is actively engaged with the largest key distributors and retailers in the natural foods, grocery and specialty food trades on a daily basis. James has comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of the food business, from processing and production to wholesale and retail distribution to forecasting/budgeting, promotion management, retail sales analysis (IRI, A.C. Nielsen, SPINS) and trade marketing. This comprehensive knowledge, experience, and expertise to add significant value to his clients at stages from start-up through high growth distribution and key channel placement.
James’ areas of core focus & expertise include: sales strategy, including brand, channel and customer development, sales forecasting/budgeting, syndicated data analysis and strategic response to market conditions revealed, large customer development (Target, Kroger etc.), broker selection & management by channel.
When not growing food brands, James is focused on his love of original Americana music, as a published songwriter with 3 albums under his belt and performing in the Chicago area with his band, James Curley & Earnest & Troubled.


Expert Trailblazer

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Brian is the newest Upgrade Partner and he's a seasoned entrepreneur, working within (his own or others') successful startups since 1990. Balance Bar, allGoode Organics, Stirrings and Powell & Mahoney all grew from a great idea to $5M, $10M, $20M and $100M companies that encountered every machination of challenge & success and Brian is eager to bring his skill and his passion to the next generation of startups that Upgrade Partners chooses to work with.
Brian’s areas of core focus & expertise include: Eastern regional sales management, broker and distributor management and business development. 



Co-founder & Chief Navigator

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Todd spent 11 years at leading supernatural retailer Whole Foods Market. Performing roles in the Mid Atlantic, Northern California/Pacific Northwest, Southwest, & Rocky Mountain regions, Todd joined the Global Purchasing team in Austin as Senior Global Grocery Buyer. In this role, Todd helped scale Whole Foods’ Global category review and promotions programs, generating some of the most successful growth periods the chain had ever seen. Partnering with more than 300 vendors & manufacturers, Todd was instrumental in developing brand launch and support strategies for national and regional placements across the 11 purchasing divisions at WFM, spanning 80+ categories throughout grocery, dairy, frozen, and bulk areas of the store, and partnering with regional and national distributor and brokerage partners.
Todd is also an accomplished Creative Director, including brand and packaging design, and has developed, launched and executed original packaging and branding from conception through execution for more than 200 products introduced into retail. Since relocating to his new hometown of Chicago in 2011, Todd has partnered with a wide range of companies in the natural & organic foods space, helping them establish and grow their business by helping with projects ranging from category review / data analysis and insights, to packaging design, trade dress & marketing support.
Todd’s areas of core focus & expertise include: product development and packaging design, marketing, promotional strategy planning, data and category review preparation, and category insights.


Pacific Trailblazer

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Steve rounds out the team, taking on Western regional sales management roles from his Northern California office. With a career in building food brands over the past 30 years for companies such as Coconut Secret, Wildwood, Lightlife and Fantastic Foods, Steve has already made his impact felt amongst Upgrade's vendor partners.
Steve’s areas of core focus & expertise include: sales management, supply chain development, including broker and distributor management.  


National Sales Manager

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Julie is an accomplished, motivated sales & business leader with over 30 years in CPG/Natural, Organic & Specialty products industry. Her background includes retail, distributor, brokerage & consulting with extensive sales & management experience. Skilled in: .
Julie’s areas of core focus & expertise include: Sales, Marketing Management, Emerging Brands, Operations, Remote Team Leadership, Customer Relationship Management, HQ work, Category Management, Product launch, re-branding & downstream management.  

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