Natural Foods Merchandiser

25 Natural Business Builders

Tom Aarts and Grant Ferrier

Co-founders of Nutrition Business Journal in San Diego.

Aarts is executive editor of NBJ and a founding partner of investment banking and consulting firm Health Business Partners. He has advised many companies in the nutrition, food and pharmaceutical industries, including GNC, Rexall, Nestle, Bayer and Cargill.

  • Years in the naturals business: 9
  • Describe your most significant
  • Achievement::
  • ?Founding Nutrition Business Journal and building it into a well-recognized entity. We?ve made it the journal of record for marketing numbers and business statistics for the naturals industry. For example, every time you see the figure quoted that the supplements industry is a $19 billion industry, that all comes from primary NBJ research. Everyone from Tom Brokaw to CNN turns to us when they want to know the size of the market. That?s enabled me to establish myself as an expert in this industry.?
  • What was your biggest
  • Leap of faith:?
  • ?Putting my mortgage into the founding of NBJ. But it turned out very well—we built NBJ from nothing, and we sold it to Penton Media in 2000 for a good return.?
  • What disaster/learning experience has been the most instructive? ?Getting involved in a new entrepreneurial venture in the radio business, with limited capital, in a new business culture that I didn?t understand well enough. It was very expensive tuition to learn how to launch—and how to not launch—new ventures.?
  • What?s your favorite stress reliever? ?I play squash—not the vegetable, the sport—three times per week.?
  • Where do you think the smart money (not necessarily your own) in the naturals industry is going now? ?I?d say it?s going to sustainable, high-protein, low-carbohydrate functional food applications. Also, to science-backed, condition-specific supplements.?

Ferrier is editor-in-chief of NBJ. He began publishing NBJ in 1996 and also produces a series of market research reports and Web seminars under the NBJ banner.

  • Years in the biz: 8
  • Achievement: ?My underlying mission from the start has been to create more compelling business information for the natural products industry, so that the industry can succeed and thereby help Americans to become more healthy. I?d like to believe that through NBJ I?ve had some success in inspiring major companies, entrepreneurs and investors to commit more resources, and to commit them more effectively, to bringing natural and health-promoting products to consumers worldwide.?
  • Leap of faith: ?Launching a high-end business journal [NBJ?s subscription price is $995 per year] in an industry not regarded as particularly prone to value business strategy or business intelligence.?
  • Learning experience: ?Not getting enough sleep or exercise makes an unhappy man. I realize that although I like the game of business and I like to win, my earliest ambitions of saving the world and building a monster corporation have been tempered by my desire for a gentle lifestyle.?
  • Stress reliever: Gardening.
  • Where the smart money is going: ?In relatively undeveloped and undefined categories: natural and organic personal care, natural and organic foodservice, natural and organic fiber products. Incidentally, my own money has gone into developing homes in California and a low-budget historical motion picture about the Second Crusade. Not that I don?t have faith in the industry, but you?ve got to have diverse interests.?

Bob Anderson
Founder and president of Sustainable Strategies—Advisors in Food and Agriculture in Penns Creek, Pa. A leading authority on organic agriculture, processing, marketing and retailing. Chairman of the National Organic Standards Board from 1996-2000. Former president of Walnut Acres Organic Farms.

  • Years in the biz: 35
  • Achievement: In addition to being a father and chairing the NOSB, ?building Walnut Acres Organic Farms into a vertically integrated and major company in the organic and natural food industry.?
  • Leap of faith: ?Leading a business is a series of leaps of faith. Anticipating what is next and leaping into the future is a potent cocktail of fear and doubt driven by excitement, persistence and courage.?
  • Learning experience: ?It is paramount to stay tuned in to what your agriculture, your business, your customers and your instincts are telling you. You need to make time to be quiet enough to be open to the opportunities that the universe is offering.?
  • Stress reliever: ?Nothing?s better than an evening of good foods, straight from our gardens, shared with family and friends. A wilderness sail trip never hurts either!?
  • Where the smart money is going: ?The more important question is related to the growth of the organic food industry. How can this growth be maintained while also assuring that family farmers are flourishing; that food-systems workers are treated with fairness and dignity; and that our rural communities remain vital forces in our local, national and global economies.?

Greg Badishkanian
Vice president at Citigroup Smith Barney in New York. He?s covered natural products, supermarkets and food distributors for Smith Barney since 1997. In October 2002, Badishkanian was cited as a Next Generation analyst by Institutional Investor magazine, which highlights ?best up-and-comer? analysts on Wall Street.

  • Years in the biz: 7
  • Achievement: ?I?d have to say being awarded the Wall Street Journal?s ?Best of the Street? stock picking award in the Food Retail & Wholesale sector three out of four years. I ranked No. 1 last year and No. 2 this year.?
  • Leap of faith: ?I predicted that Wild Oats would switch distributors to United Natural Foods from Tree of Life in October 2003. Given that other Wall Street and industry analysts disagreed with my prediction, it was very controversial at the time. On Oct. 20 I predicted it, and on Oct. 29 they announced it.?
  • Learning experience: ?I think when I downgraded Whole Foods Market?s stock about a year ago. At the time I knew that the company?s prospects were really strong; I just didn?t think investors would give them the credit for it. It taught me not to be so price sensitive with leading companies like Whole Foods that have very strong and favorable growth prospects.?
  • Stress reliever: Yoga.
  • Where the smart money is going: ?Natural food retail and distribution. Our top stock picks are United Natural Foods and Wild Oats.?

Chip Baird
Chairman of North Castle Partners, a private equity firm focused on the ?healthy living and aging? marketplace. Baird spent the last 25 years as an investor and consultant, partnering with chief executive officers to improve their companies? operating performance and shareholder returns.

  • Years in the biz: 8
  • Achievement: ?Founding North Castle Partners in 1997.?
  • Leap of faith: ?Believing we could build a ?values-based? private equity investment firm.?
  • Learning experience: ?Underestimating how much effort it takes to help entrepreneurs take their business to the next level.?
  • Stress reliever: ?1990 Margaux.?
  • Where the smart money is going: ?Branded, science-driven, FDA-friendly companies with highly creative new product engines.?

Marty Baird
Owner of Nutritional Marketing in Phoenix.

  • Years in the biz: 15
  • Achievement: ?Speaking at conferences or events and seeing the light bulb go on in participants? heads when they see what marketing is all about.?
  • Leap of faith: ?Leaving a fat, comfortable weekly paycheck and all the benefits to say that small business not only needed me, but would pay for it.?
  • Disaster: ?Being published in a major, major publication and not getting a single telephone call. I [believed] once that came out, I would not have to look for a client or struggle again. In 90 days, I got one response. And I?m not lying: It was from a person in federal prison.?
  • Stress reliever: ?Two simple, simple things: playing with my two boys—Nat, 2, and Spencer, 11 months—and fly-fishing.?
  • Where the smart money is going: ?Whatever products the baby boomers want, need or are using is where the smart money is going.?

Amy Barr
Co-founder, with Liz Marr, of Marr Barr Communications, based in Longmont, Colo. Former vice president and director of communications at Horizon Organic Dairy. A registered dietitian specializing in food and nutrition, consumer affairs, agriculture and the natural products industry.

  • Years in the biz: 25 plus
  • Achievement: ?Ingraining the ?happy cow? of Horizon Organic into the hearts and minds of consumers via guerrilla marketing/PR.?
  • Leap of faith: Trading in her business suits and mahogany-lined New York City office for T-shirts and jeans, and a card table, at Horizon in Boulder. ?It was the most liberating and jam-packed experience of my life!?
  • Learning experience: ?Being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing surgery and recovery. Without that experience, I?d never have discovered a completely different way of thinking, living and worrying about the future of farming in this country.?
  • Stress reliever: ?There?s nothing like watching 400 elk in your back yard to make you realize that something as simple as clean water and abundant grass is all some creatures need for complete happiness. And a good margarita ? a great antidote to a hard day at work.?
  • Where the smart money is going: Companies that market ?local? are creating their own grassroots followings. ?Armani Ag? businesses, which are yielding ?expensive little artisan cheeses, meats and other foods ? are inspiring a whole new generation of awareness of the foods our grandparents thought were pretty basic, though damn tedious to produce.?

Roy Bingham and Mike Chase
Co-founders and managing directors of Health Business Partners in Warwick, R.I. Since founding the company in 1997, Bingham has completed dozens of mergers, acquisitions and finance transactions valued at more than $100 million, all focused on nutrition and consumer health care.

  • Years in the biz: 6
  • Achievement: ?I?ve been married for 10 years, and now [have] two young, healthy kids.?
  • Leap of faith: ?In 1993, I resigned from my position on the board of a large public company in order to move to the U.S. [from the U.K.] and become a student all over again. I thought there was so much more to life that I wasn?t going to see if I remained a finance geek in London.?
  • Learning experience: ?In 2002, we recognized that although we had a very talented group, the skills and interests of our then five partners were not fully aligned. We struggled on for a while and then bought out two of the partners, and sold our consulting division to a third. As a result, we are a smaller and more focused business that has since achieved far better results for our clients and ourselves.?
  • Stress reliever: ?I do triathlons up to half Ironman distance [very slowly].?
  • Where the smart money is going: ?Developing scientific data and medically supported programs that will be convincing to doctors, who are beginning to recognize that they may be negligent if they don?t incorporate lifestyle and nutritional counseling as a major part of their medical practices.?

Chase has advised clients in the nutrition and consumer healthcare industries in completing more than $190 million in transactions in the sales, acquisition and venture capital arenas.

  • Years in the biz: 8
  • Achievement: ?One of my greatest
  • Achievement:s has to be having enough common sense to marry my wife. I?m also quite proud of co-founding Health Business Partners, which has had some great success.?
  • Leap of faith: ?Personally writing checks for a number of Internet-related companies that were on the startup side, beginning in 1998. From a business perspective, some paid off, and some didn?t.?
  • Learning experience: ?My biggest
  • Leap of faith: is a good segue into my biggest learning experience—where things don?t work, you often get your biggest learning experience. I learned to be more cautious and conscious of the business fundamentals before investing. I think it?s a common feeling among folks who made investment into those Internet companies. The Internet investing that didn?t turn out well was very instructive because it was very painful.?
  • Stress reliever: Running.
  • Where the smart money is going: ?I think still healthy food. I think naturals, organic foods, functional foods, healthy beverages—anything that has specific health benefits. The controlled carbohydrate foods category has a better chance of being longer lasting than no carbs or low carbs.?

Bob Burke
Founder and principal of Natural Products Consulting Institute, based in Andover, Mass. Author and publisher with Rick McKelvey of The Natural Products Field Manual. Former vice president of sales and corporate development at Stonyfield Farm Yogurt. Served on the Equal Exchange board of directors from 1993-2001.

  • Years in the naturals biz: 20
  • Achievement: ?Co-authoring, co-editing and co-publishing The Natural Products Field Manual, a comprehensive resource guide for bringing products to market, which sums up much of my experience.?
  • Leap of faith: ?Taking a job at Stonyfield Farm in 1986. We worked out of a 1792 farmhouse at the end of a dirt road and were hemorrhaging cash. Another
  • Leap of faith: was starting my consulting business in 1998.?
  • Learning experience: ?For all the grand strategies, tactics, great products and brilliant ideas?so much boils down to people and money. If you can get those things right, you?re likely to succeed.?
  • Stress reliever: ?Two hours of full-court basketball every Tuesday night, and coaching sports with my kids.?
  • Where the smart money is going: ?1. Companies with good management in high-growth categories that have the potential for mainstream distribution, 2. Products which target baby boomers, 3. Organics.?

Carole Buyers
Managing director with RBC Capital Markets in Denver, and a national analyst in the Healthy & Active Lifestyles industry. She also worked two years with United Capital Management on the buy side of the industry.

  • Years in the biz: 8
  • Achievement: ?Picking up research coverage on Whole Foods Market with a ?buy? rating in December 1997 at approximately $11 per share.?
  • Leap of faith: ?Recognizing the trend towards natural and organic foods, believing it was absolutely not a fad, and maintaining our thesis during difficult economic times.?
  • Learning experience: ?One of the most instructive learning experiences occurred during the downturn of the dietary supplement industry, which began in August 1998. Prior to that, supplement sales were booming. In the latter part of 1998, supplement companies and related retailers began reporting signs of pricing competition and slower growth. We were slow to react to these clues, and valuations subsequently corrected. The lesson was to never ignore negative signs, especially when valuations are expensive.?
  • Stress reliever: ?Running and playing the piano.?
  • Where the smart money is going: ?While the naturals industry has evolved from peripheral to mainstream acceptance, investors look for nascent trends. These trends include FDA/USDA-approved issues such as foods free of trans fats and foods processed with organic ingredients.?

Cliff Feigenbaum
Founder, managing editor and publisher of GreenMoney Journal and Feigenbaum was inspired to start GreenMoney Journal when he discovered the hospital he worked for in Spokane, Wash., was investing its retirement dollars in mutual funds holding tobacco stocks. Based in Santa Fe, N.M., GreenMoney Journal covers news and issues related to values-based investing.

  • Years in the biz: 12
  • Achievement: ?The 2004 WorldView Award from Wisdom Media for efforts benefiting humanity meant a lot to us. Also, the nominations three years in a row for the Utne Independent Press award for general excellence are very cool too.?
  • Leap of faith: ?Starting GreenMoney Journal in 1992 with no writing, publishing or investing experience at all—just a true, heartfelt sense my mission was to help people and change the way money was being unconsciously invested and spent.?
  • Learning experience: ?First, having a bad business partner, who is now gone. That taught me to pay attention to my intuition. He helped me launch on the Internet when I didn?t even know how to spell it, but we didn?t really get along. Second, my narrow focus on work and
  • Achievement: cost me relationships and friendships. Third, I went for 10 years without taking a vacation that was more than few days here and there. Now I have three work calendars and one vacation calendar. I?m trying to do it differently.?
  • Stress reliever: Watching basketball on TV, going to the gym and vacationing in Hawaii.
  • Where the smart money is going: ?To deepen and widen the availability of organic foods and educate consumers and their families on benefits of organics. Helping people understand that it is important to align their money and values throughout their lives—from shopping for organics to socially responsible investing. Your money should reflect your values. It is possible to make money and make a difference.?

Mary Ellen Molyneaux and Steve French
Managing partners at The Natural Marketing Institute in Harleysville, Pa., a strategic consulting, market research and business development company specializing in the health and wellness marketplace.

  • Years in the biz: 30 plus
  • Achievement: ?On a personal level, it has been the development of a highly professional strategic consulting team at NMI. On a client level, it is the significant
  • Achievement: of the Atkins brand and the low-carb marketplace in general, of which NMI and I personally have had the privilege to be a part.?
  • Leap of faith: ?When I questioned my desire to stay in a fledgling industry that I believed would someday be mainstream. ? Each step along the way has required a recommitment of my personal beliefs in the health and wellness industry.?
  • Learning experience: ?Getting my mind into the minds of consumers with regard to their health and wellness. ? Each year they teach me that there is something new under the sun, and they?ve taught me how to look for it.?
  • Stress reliever: ?Being in my garden, or on the golf course having just made a birdie.?
  • Where the smart money is going: ?Forward-thinking companies will concentrate on categories and products that can provide meaningful, scientifically based, specific benefits for specific conditions.?


  • Years in the biz: 10 plus
  • Achievement: ?Development and utilization of annually trended, proprietary consumer databases that measure a range of consumer attitudes, behaviors and product usage patterns across the world of health, wellness and sustainability.?
  • Leap of faith: ?Transitioning from 20-plus years in industry [with global consumer packaged goods corporations] to becoming a business owner and entrepreneur.?
  • Learning experience: ?The eye-opening observation that many companies within the health and wellness market lack the necessary level of consumer-based insight in order to formulate meaningful and effective marketing strategies; this inherently limits their likelihood of marketplace success and places undue risks on companies of all sizes.?
  • Stress reliever: ?Any time without a cell phone or laptop computer.?
  • Where the smart money is going: ?To products and services associated with external health, wellness and sustainability.?
  • Doug Greene
    Co-founded New Hope Natural Media in 1978; launched The Natural Foods Merchandiser in 1979 and Natural Products Expo in 1981. Currently a member of the board of Penton Media Inc., which acquired New Hope in 1999.

    • Years in the biz: 26
    • Achievement: ?Helping to foster a media environment where the core values and learnings of the natural foods industry can spread in a healthy way.?
    • Leap of faith: ?Putting the equity in our home up as security to pay the early printing bills of Natural Foods Merchandiser. Make or break type of thing. We made it!?
    • Learning experience: ?For the first 10 years of our company, we were constantly short on cash in the midst of launching new things. You learn a lot, daily, fast.?
    • Stress reliever: ?Fun with friends.?
    • Where the smart money is going: ?This has always been an industry with innovative pockets all over the place. We?ll have more breakout products like Silk that change the landscape and introduce whole new population groups to natural and organic products. We?ll also continue to have a large stable of innovative health products that each in their own way pioneer their universe.?

    Harvey Hartman and Laurie Demeritt
    Hartman is founder, chairman and chief executive officer of The Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Wash., market research and consulting firm.

    • Years in the biz: 15
    • Achievement: ?I think just founding the company and creating a company that serves a growing marketplace. Anyone who starts a company and it goes 15 years has done something.?
    • Leap of faith: ?I think the biggest
    • Leap of faith: is believing in people. We?ve got a number of people who have been here for a substantial amount of time. Not worrying about their youthfulness or their experience, but believing in their growth, passion and commitment is a big
    • Leap of faith: that?s paid off.?
    • Learning experience: ?Understanding who we are and what value we give to the marketplace, and recognizing at the same time who we are not. We?re not giving statistical data of the sales of the consumer as much as we?re talking about why the consumers are behaving the way they are and shopping like they shop.?
    • Stress reliever: ?I read a lot. I?m reading City Boy. I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction.?
    • Where the smart money is going: ?To me, the smart money goes to those companies who understand how to create a lifestyle brand for consumers. That lifestyle brand is recognizing: one, there is a changing consumer who is seeking different things than consumers were seeking years ago; two, we need to understand ? what products they buy, how they shop and how they live; three, as part of that, those companies have to create experiences, brand experiences and build brand communities.?

    Demeritt is The Hartman Group?s president and chief operating officer, responsible for the quantitative and qualitative market research and client services departments. She is the team leader on all consulting projects, including brand development strategies, retail services and new product market analysis.

    • Years in the biz: 6
    • Achievement: ?Understanding that organic and wellness were breaking into the mainstream over five years ago. We realized that consumers of all persuasions and demographics were experiencing similar societal factors and looking for products that would resonate with their lifestyles, and that organic and wellness were the categories around which it was all coming together.?
    • Leap of faith: ?We decided to create our own consumer panel about two years ago. The implementation and management of the panel seemed overwhelming, but as we approach a panel size of 15,000, it is clear that the ability to deliver research to our clients in a time- and cost-effective manner has been well worth the effort.?
    • Learning experience: ?My favorite learning experience was the first presentation I ever gave on behalf of The Hartman Group. I was filling in for someone else and only had one day to prepare for a large audience. I stayed up all night speaking into the mirror and had my lines memorized. Unfortunately, the minute I walked into the room I forgot everything and had to speak off the cuff. It made me realize that if you truly understand your business, you should be able to talk about it to anyone, anytime, without hesitation.?
    • Stress reliever: ?Heading outside for some exercise—it is great any time of year in the Pacific Northwest.?
    • Where the smart money is going: ?The attribute of ?local? is going to be increasingly important to consumers. Being able to incorporate this element, whether through product sourcing or simply through good storytelling, will be integral to increasing the size of the overall natural category.?

    Jeff Hilton
    President and owner of Integrated Marking Group in Salt Lake City, Utah.

    • Years in the biz: 14
    • Achievement: ?I think earning the trust of my clients. Trusting me with their money, their business. That?s the thing I?m proudest of.?
    • Leap of faith: ?It was when, eight years ago, I left my job at Nutraceutical Corp. and started this company from scratch—just me and a computer.?
    • Learning experience: ?I think probably learning how to run my own business. Managing growth with the ups and downs of the marketplace. Navigating, growing our company and making it work.?
    • Stress reliever: Music. ?All types. Classical, all of rock, pop. Sheryl Crow.?
    • Where the smart money is going: Functional foods and branded proprietary ingredients have a huge upside. ?Consumers are clamoring for more science.?

    Jay Jacobowitz
    President of Retail Insights in Brattleboro, Vt. Jacobowitz spent 20 years as sales manager for Stow Mills, now a part of United Natural Foods Inc. Developed more than 700 successful retail stores; and is a writer, speaker and educator.

    • Years in the biz: 27
    • Achievement: ?Providing strategic guidance to independent natural products retailers, one store at a time, for 27 years.?
    • Leap of faith: Starting Retail Insights.
    • Learning experience: ?Realizing that mistakes occur all the time, and usually it?s not too late to fix them if you are willing to swallow your pride.?
    • Stress reliever: Bikram yoga.
    • Where the smart money is going: ?Scientific research on dietary ingredients.?

    Harvey Kamil
    President and chief financial officer of NBTY Inc., a leading manufacturer and retailer of value-priced nutritional supplements worldwide. In 2003, NBTY purchased Rexall Sundown from Royal Numico NV.

    • Years in the biz: 22
    • Achievement: ?Being a team member of this organization that has been extremely successful—being an integral part of a very fine management team.?
    • Leap of faith: ?Our total commitment to be able to operate a business outside the United States. We had purchased Holland and Barrett, the No. 1 health food store in the United Kingdom, in 1997, and though it was a different country with different rules, we were convinced we could run a company in the U.K.?
    • Learning experience: ?Realizing that you can?t do everything yourself—delegating things we?ve done in the past to other people has enforced the premise of how important subordinates and the motivations of subordinates are. Every person is an integral part of the company.?
    • Stress reliever: Physical fitness—working out, running.
    • Where the smart money is going: ?Smart money will pay attention to demographics and the fact that in the United States one person reaches the age of 50 every seven seconds. Money should be going into nutritional supplements because the customer base will increase considerably as the population ages.?

    Theresa Marquez
    Chief marketing executive for Organic Valley Family of Farms, the nation?s largest organic cooperative with more than 600 farmer owners, based in La Farge, Wis. Marquez also serves on the Organic Trade Association board of directors and is president of the newly formed sister organization, The Organic Center for Education and Promotion.

    • Years in the biz: 25
    • Achievement: ?Helping the organic industry grow since 1978 has been quite a satisfying endeavor. Specifically, helping Organic Valley grow from $5 million to $190 million in 2004 ? was very satisfying.?
    • Leap of faith: ?I think becoming a marketing director. Loving organics and the people in this industry propelled me to grow into this role. I was heading toward being an English teacher.?
    • Learning experience: ?When I worked all day on a document and failed to save it. No, only kidding. This is a tough one. So many mistakes, so little time.?
    • Stress reliever: ?Depends on the season. Cooking, always, and being outdoors. Yoga is the best balancing act.?
    • Where the smart money is going: ?Organic hemp, organic meat. Most anything organic.?

    J. Gary Shansby and Charles Esserman
    Co-founders and managing directors of The Shansby Group, a San Francisco investment partnership focused on investments in premium consumer products.

    Shansby was chairman and CEO of Shaklee Corp., a natural vitamin company, from 1975-1986, and previously served in senior management positions at Colgate-Palmolive, American Home Products, the Clorox Co. and Booz, Allen and Hamilton.

    • Years in the biz: 30
    • Achievement: ?The most significant would be Chuck and I partnering together, and recognizing early on the growth opportunities in natural and organic foods. I was also an early believer that combining healthy eating, supplements and a healthy lifestyle really could impact the way people feel and live—and how long they live.?
    • Leap of faith: ?The biggest
    • Leap of faith: turned out to be one of our greatest successes—investing in Terra Chips. It was clearly a
    • Leap of faith: because at the time Terra Chips was small. From a competitive standpoint, people bought Frito-Lay—it was a leap of faith to believe that people would go for a premium chip. It turned out that Terra Chips are now one of the [top] salted snacks in organic foods.?
    • Learning experience: ?I wouldn?t use the word disaster—if you don?t have a disaster, you?re not smart, you?re just lucky. But my most instructive learning experience has been coming to understand the mindset of consumers who are truly committed to healthy lifestyles. When you understand the people who shop at Whole Foods—why they buy Terra Chips, why they buy organic foods, why they wouldn?t pick up Kellogg?s cereal or Heinz ketchup—it really is instructive.?
    • Stress reliever: ?The most regular is daily exercise—walking, running, swimming. I also do yoga every day.?
    • Where the smart money is going: ?The smart money happens to be where we?re going ourselves: the premium end—the higher-priced, higher-quality organic and natural foods and beverages. Another big upcoming trend that?s already big in the U.K. is prepared refrigerated meals, never frozen. These are very high-quality foods, ready to eat in six to seven minutes. I think all the big food companies are finally waking up to that trend.?

    Esserman has spent 25 years working with entrepreneurs and building entrepreneurial companies.

    • Years in the biz: About 20
    • Achievement: ?Co-founding and building one of the leading focused private-equity funds, providing capital and support to branded consumer product companies.?
    • Leap of faith: ?Our business, and the businesses we invest in, continually require leaps of faith, as they are built by people who see what others may not see, and have to overcome obstacles with hard work and unrelenting perseverance.?
    • Learning experience: ?Over and over, we see companies that lose focus and try to do too many things, as opposed to doing a few things very well.?
    • Stress reliever: ?Working with and being around positive people.?
    • Where the smart money is going: ?I think the smart money is going towards delivering products with real, tangible consumer benefits, both in terms of functionality and convenience."

    Suzanne Shelton
    President of The Shelton Group in Chicago, Shelton has worked with international and domestic ingredient suppliers, associations and manufacturers since 1988, specializing in dietary supplements.

    • Years in the biz: 16
    • Achievement: ?Founding the first PR firm to specialize exclusively in [the] dietary supplements industry, tied with founding CANI [Consultants Association for the Natural Products Industry] in 1991.?
    • Leap of faith: ?Choosing to work only with ethical companies that have substance to their products, science behind them and the long-term health of the industry as part of their priorities.?
    • Learning experience: ?The current media besiegement undermining the supplements industry is a result partly of just how the media operates, and partly of bad choices some industry members have made. Watching the debacle unfold, while being maddening and heartbreaking, has taught me more than any other challenge in my life.?
    • Stress reliever: ?Weight lifting and fast walking on the treadmill while watching The History Channel.?
    • Where the smart money is going: ?Funding science to support products, and supporting industry advocacy efforts like those of the NNFA.?

    Morris Shriftman
    CEO of Mozart Inc., a marketing communications and interactive design firm headquartered in Ponte Vedra, Fla.

    • Years in the biz: 30
    • Achievement: ?I?ve been very fortunate to create new product lines and branding programs for some of the industry?s leading companies, but my most significant accomplishments are my three children.?
    • Leap of faith: ?The biggest
    • Leap of faith: for all of us is to trust ourselves and to trust others. In my business ? each time we bring something new to market, it?s a test of faith in our vision and our courage.?
    • Learning experience: ?I?ve found effective marketing requires real differentiation—customers need to find something different and valuable in a company whose products they buy.?
    • Stress reliever: Yoga, meditation on gratitude, exercise, listening to and making music, painting.
    • Where the smart money is going: ?Functional foods, innovative forms of nutrient delivery, and products or services which anticipate and serve the special needs of the aging population are good places to invest.?

    Irwin Simon
    Chairman, president and CEO of The Hain Celestial Group in Melville, N.Y. ?Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada. Worked for H?agen Dazs, Brand Equity and Slimfast, where I learned people wanted to go on diets and lose weight. ? In 1992, with all the money I could save up or borrow, I went out to consolidate and merge healthy food companies. The very first was Kineret kosher foods, and the second was Farm Foods. I went public in 1993 at a valuation of $3 million, and today Hain is valued at close to $800 million.?

    • Years in the biz: 12
    • Achievement: ?No. 1 is building the world?s largest natural/organic food company,? including expanding distribution and growing longtime brands like Hain, Health Valley, Westbrae and Little Bear into national brands. ?With the world today focused on health and nutrition, I?d say Hain and myself are a major factor in helping change the way the world eats.?
    • Leap of faith: Gambling on the natural food industry, Simon borrowed $20 million and went to Expo West in 1992 to do research. ?I saw a lot of natural food products. I saw a major opportunity to improve product and packaging. My research told me that what we eat and the products we eat are going to play an important factor in our health.? He predicted then that the ?Microsoft of the food industry? would be a healthy food company. ?I wouldn?t say [Hain] was the Microsoft. We are definitely an innovator. But there?s $500 billion of food sold every year in the U.S. and only $36 billion of organic, so we have a long way to go to convert people to eat natural and organic.?
    • Learning experience: ?I?ve had multiple disasters. The No. 1 product of Hain was rice cakes. The rice cake business turned down tremendously and we lost a tremendous amount of sales. That taught me to diversify and not be a one-product company. ? We have done acquisitions that didn?t work out properly. We have had earnings disappointments. There are times, when you get bigger, you can be perceived as someone gobbling up all the companies and you?re that big consolidator. At the end of the day, you have to believe in your convictions.?
    • Stress reliever: ?No. 1, I have a lot of fun being happy. Being happy is part of the formula of being healthy. I?m in general a happy person.? Simon hangs out with his four children, playing ice hockey, skating and bicycling. ?I love going to supermarkets and going to stores. My greatest feeling is standing in a store watching people buy our products.?
    • Where the smart money is going: ?Smart money should chase retail, distribution and consumer goods within the natural, organic food industry. ? Wild Oats and Whole Foods are doing a great job, which is giving consumers the ability to buy more. At the same time, it?s forcing [mainstream] retailers to put more and more natural products in their stores. Distributors like Tree of Life and UNFI are getting more products to the stores. And last but not least, companies like Hain, who are still independent and will continue to innovate. Big manufacturers, the Krafts and the Pepsis, have done a terrible job in putting healthy products out there for people. We?ve seen mainstream companies think they can take a brand and just stamp organic on it and all of a sudden it?s become a great, clean brand. It?s very hard for a brand to go both ways.?

    Paddy Spence
    Founder and chairman of San Francisco-based SPINS, a leading market research provider for the health and wellness industry. Prior to founding SPINS, Spence served as vice president of sales and marketing for Kashi Co.

    • Years in the biz: 12
    • Achievement: Pioneering the use of sales tracking information in the health and wellness industry.
    • Leap of faith: ?Believing that companies in our industry would pay for reliable, quantitative market research if it were offered (and they did).?
    • Learning experience: ?Spending time trying to create a B2B marketplace back in the days of the Internet bubble. What we learned from that was, technology is useful, but it?s a means to an end, not an end to itself.?
    • Stress reliever: Exercise—running, yoga, triathlons, Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
    • Smart money: ?We?re seeing increasing precision on the part of companies in the industry in the way that they target consumers. Companies that create targeted plans to reach specific lifestyle segments—everything from pet owners to white wine drinkers—are going to have an edge.?

    Michael Straus
    President of Straus Communications in San Francisco. Launched in 1999, Straus Communications promotes businesses and nonprofits that offer concrete solutions to ecological, social and economic problems.

    • Years in the biz: ?10 years (but grew up in an family of sustainable agriculture pioneers, including my mother co-founding the first agricultural land trust in the USA.)?
    • Achievement: ?Helping save our family farm. ? As an unexpected consequence, I was drawn back into food and farming.?
    • Leap of faith: ?It?s been a continuous
    • Leap of faith: for the past year and half, since my mother and my father died. ? I face each day with renewed wonder, humility and hope.?
    • Learning experience: ?My mom, who was lying on her deathbed, was reviewing my company?s capability statement. It was ? the last thing she ever read. ? When finished, she smiled and ? told me the three words that have forever changed the way I do business. ?Michael,? she said, ?too much bullshit.??
    • Stress reliever: ?I love sitting on the big rock along the shore of Tomales Bay, next to our farm.?
    • Where the smart money is going: ?Environmental stewardship, social justice and fiscal responsibility.?

    Sylvia R. Tawse
    President and senior counselor of The Fresh Ideas Group, founded in 1996. Tawse and her husband own and operate Pastures of Plenty, a 32-acre, certified organic farm in Longmont, Colo. She was director of public relations for Alfalfa?s Markets.

    • Years in the biz: 17
    • Achievement: ?Our agency?s coordination of the Organic Trade Association?s ?Keep Organic Organic? campaign to lobby USDA for federal regulations that represented the integrity we all knew was essential to secure consumer trust in the term organic.?
    • Leap of faith: ?Buying my partner?s half of the agency five months prior to 9/11. My entire team has stayed with FIG—we?ve had zero turnover. I?m extremely proud of my team. I made a significant investment ? and looked at this as an investment in my entire team?s future. My scariest moment as a businessperson made me a better person overall.?
    • Learning experience: ?The $40 million plant fire for a client in French-speaking Canada when FIG became the communications center for English-speaking press. All of the company?s computers, phones, etc. melted.?
    • Stress reliever: ?Cooking with my husband, Lyle, and serving it up to as many as we can fit. Hiking and true adventure travel place second and third place.?
    • Where the smart money is going: ?Organic?s biggest dollar growth right now is in food service—and not just fine dining. Look for fast food fries from trans fat-free organic oils, and more impressive burgers across America with natural and organic beef and chicken choices.?

    Scott Van Winkle
    Managing director at Adams, Harkness & Hill, a Boston-based investment bank. Van Winkle focuses his research on the Healthy Living industry and the forces driving consumers to natural, organic and nutritional foods. He has been a Wall Street research analyst since 1996, and is a chartered financial analyst.

    • Years in the biz: 7
    • Achievement: ?My family. Marriage to my wife, Lisa, for nine years, and my daughters Madeline and Kathryn.?
    • Leap of faith: ?Believing that new mothers would pay a 30 percent premium for infant formula with omega-3s, purely because, as a new father I couldn?t imagine price sensitivity when considering better nutrition for my child. I then led investors to Martek Biosciences on this belief, which became the greatest business decision and investment recommendation of my career.?
    • Learning experience: ?I failed to recognize the herbal bust in the late ?90s, while the indicators foretold the market?s collapse, because I mistook emotion for passion. Passion is a powerful tool for success, but emotion blinds and the numbers never lie. What I ?believe,? and any significant decision I make now, requires qualitative and quantitative support and recognition of the contrary opinion. My decision-making is vastly improved as a result.?
    • Stress reliever: ?Baseball, both playing in my Over-30 league and watching the Red Sox daily, although that?s more stressful than I would like every October.?
    • Where the smart money is going: ?Obesity. The obesity epidemic is becoming one of the most significant drivers of consumer spending and will continue to be a major force for decades.?

    Our free-lance writers for this story include Michael BeDan and Victoria Gits of Denver, Lynn Ginsburg and Christine Spehar of Boulder, Colo., and Kristen Lewis of Arvada, Colo.

    Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 6/p. 68, 70, 72, 74, 80

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