The San Francisco Chronicle ran a great piece this week on my friend, John Roulac, who as CEO and Founder of Nutiva, has turned hemp seeds into a $70 million/year business. I excerpt a few of my favorite passages from the interview, which you can find here in full:
Q: Why do you think you’re one of the fastest-growing companies? Is it the popularity of your products? Is there no competition? Or is it a particular way you’re running your company? Because $70 million for hemp and chia seeds, really?
A: We’ve been fortunate that the categories we’re in – organics – are fast growing. We have a lot of competition. But the fact that we were pioneers gives us an advantage. I’ve also been good at predicting the next big super food.
Our distributors thought we were crazy when we started doing coconut oil in 2003, given concerns about saturated fat. But now we’re the No. 1 seller of organic virgin coconut oil. We also have strong brand loyalty. And I think the fact that we’re focused on only four items helps. Focus is important.
Q: Let’s talk about hemp and chia seeds and coconut and red palm oils. Why do you think they’ve become popular with consumers?
A: The American people have been subjected to a science experiment, fed on a steady diet of genetically modified industrial foods grown with huge amounts of pesticides and made with preservatives and chemicals. That diet produces diabetes, cancer, heart disease, hormonal disruption and allergies. Even our dogs have issues. In the 1960s and 1970s our dogs ate food and ran around happy. Now they have all kinds of problems.
Q: Are you sure it’s the dogs and not their owners?
A: Maybe so, but people know something is wrong. They’re in search of an answer. Turning to a diet based on ancient principles is a good place to start. They’re returning to a time when people in other parts of the world ate a lot of coconuts, ate a lot of chia seeds. People are still going to eat pasta and salads, but they know if they make 10 to 15 percent of their daily calories nutrient-dense foods they’re going to be healthier.
Q: Who are these customers?
A: Our prime customers are women between 25 and 60.
Q: Is there concern that these are trendy foods right now that could eventually go out of style? For instance, does anyone buy acacia any more? Or carob? What ever happened to carob?
A: (Laughs) Are almonds trendy? I don’t think so. But I see your point. The trick is knowing what people want to eat a few years before they do – or before Dr. Oz. I have been able to make those predictions. Then the biggest challenge is supply.
Q: Are you constantly looking for the newest super foods to stay relevant?
A: I search the world over. I’m pretty sure we’ve identified two new ones.
Q: Really? What are they?
A: Well, we’re not quite as secretive as Apple, but we’re still in the research phase and not ready to make any announcements. Keep checking our Facebook page.
Q: What’s the end goal for Nutiva?
A: To see Monsanto bankrupt. We would like to create an organic, non-GMO world, even if customers go elsewhere to buy it. If they want to buy it from us, that’s great, too. But we have plenty of business. The important thing is to change the supply chain and make it more organic and more healthful.