From the industry?s maverick merchants to supplements superstars, each month this year The Natural Foods Merchandiser has celebrated its 25th anniversary by honoring the people and ideas that make this industry what it is. Alas, we?ve reached December and our last list. But last is not least as we recognize 25 people and companies that the natural products industry couldn?t do without.
Biz background: Foothills Ranch, Calif.-based Alacer was founded in 1970 by Jay Patrick, who after 25 years as chief chemist and president of a chemical company, turned his attention to nutrition. His research led him to vitamin C mineral ascorbates that he marketed as effervescent powder in single-serving packets.
Claim to fame: ?Emer?gen-C is the No. 1 vitamin C product in the natural channel and the fastest growing in all classes of trade,? says Ron Patrick, Alacer?s senior vice president.
What motivates you to do what you do? ?Continuing the legacy of our late founder to manufacture, distribute and provide education to all consumers about vitamin C in the form of mineral ascorbates.?
What was your biggest leap of faith? ?Building a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility to support our anticipated growth. The risk paid off, as our growth more than supported the capital investment.?
Biz background: Buckey has been in the natural products industry for 27 years and is owner and president of The Natural Way Health Food & Supplement Stores, a three-store chain and the largest locally owned natural products business in the St. Louis area.
Claim to fame: Sixteen years as a board member for Frontier Natural Products Co-op, including five years as president of the board. Two of Buckey?s daughters are also in the natural products industry: April Longe at Natural Factors Nutritional Products and Janel Ellsworth at GreenEarth Grocery in Edwardsville, Ill.
Motivation: ? ?Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.? This quote from Buddha has focused my passion during my life, particularly the last 27 years. My undoubting belief that by living and believing my best I can make a difference to my family, employees, customers and community.?
Leap of faith: ?Driving my 1974 Dodge van on Highway 70, dressed in a Mayan Guatemalan wrap skirt over a black Danskin leotard, headed west to Anaheim, Calif. I was set in motion by winning the creative retail merchandising contest sponsored by NFM, which awarded me the prize of an expense-paid trip to the first Natural Foods Expo. It was the careful note taking during those Expo seminars, along with the subsequent diligent implementation of the retail secrets shared, that empowered me to success in this budding industry.?
What is the one natural product you can?t do without? ?Double shots of kava kava by day and Serenity tea by night. No, seriously, it?s identifying and stocking the newest and most innovative products—keeping The Natural Way a step ahead.?
Biz background: The Arlington Heights, Ill.-based company was started in 1965 by John and Susan Carlson. The family-owned and operated company wholesales more than 250 nutritional supplements and is a sustaining donor of Bastyr University.
Motivation: ?The desire to supply consumers with nutrients that scientific research shows to be beneficial, yet is ignored by major drug companies due to the lack of high profits,? says Susan Carlson.
Leap of faith: ?Doing what we call ?charity work? by attending medical conventions to educate doctors on nutrition and its benefits,? says John Carlson. ?Discontinuing dealing with our No. 1 customer in the 1980s because we did not like the way he was doing business,? says Susan Carlson.
Clif Bar Inc.
Biz background: Gary Erickson began the Berkeley, Calif.-based company 18 years ago, selling energy bars named for his father.
Claim to fame: ?Eating nothing but Clif Bar products the entire week leading up to our annual Epiphany Ride, when I rode 150 miles fueled only by our foods.?
Motivation: ?My love of good food and the ability to offer our consumers great-tasting products using natural, wholesome ingredients. I am also motivated by the desire to show that a business can be run sustainably and with integrity, where sustaining people, the planet and the community are just as important to our success as sustaining our brands and our business. We?re proud to be part of a growing cadre of businesses that are redefining the bottom line.?
Leap of faith: ?In the face of huge competition and with the stress of running a privately held business, I decided at the very last minute to walk away from selling the company for $120 million. I believed that I could keep the company private and not only survive, but thrive.?
Can?t do without: ?Because of my athletic endeavors, I cannot live without Clif Bar products. Besides our products, I make sure to add one tablespoon of Spectrum Organics flax oil to my smoothie every morning.?
Biz background: Davis owns and farms the 35-acre organic Pastures of Plenty farm in Longmont, Colo., and is a partner in Big Bang catering, which emphasizes organic and seasonal locally grown, freshly prepared foods. In 1978, he co-founded Alfalfa?s Market in Boulder, Colo.
Claim to fame: ?At Alfalfa?s, I was general manager for the produce, foodservice and related departments. My unspoken role was that of food guy—developing concepts like juice bars and delis. Early on, I had a strong belief in high-quality local and organic produce being the absolute pinnacle in quality.?
Motivation: ?I like my work to feel like applied art.?
Leap of faith: ?When I devolved on the food chain and became a farmer. After working with so many farmers, I knew it would be arduous and hard to make a living at.?
Can?t do without: ?Locally grown organic produce.?
Biz background: In 1970, when Diamond was 25 years old, he was very ill and heavily medicated. When his father died of stomach cancer, he began studying natural hygiene and eventually published a book on the subject.
Claim to fame: ?My book Fit for Life (Warner Books, 1985), which was on the New York Times best-seller list for 40 weeks. I?ve helped millions of people live free of ill health and pain.?
Motivation: ?I saw for myself what it did for me; there?s no question for me that I wouldn?t be alive now if I didn?t do this.?
Leap of faith: ?Before Fit came out, I was not just broke but deeply in debt. We took what little money we had and put it into the book. If that didn?t go, I don?t know what we would have done.?
Can?t do without: ?Digestive enzymes—I take them prior to eating, and they help break down food.?
Biz background: Feinblum is president and chief executive officer of Boulder, Colo.-based Organic Vintners. His tenure in the natural products industry began in 1976 when he quit his teaching job to become production manager for Celestial Seasonings, of which he later became president. He was a founding member of Alfalfa?s Market, president and CEO of Horizon Organic Dairy, and sits on many boards, including Gaiam, Seventh Generation and Pharmaca. He also recently helped establish Greenmont Capital Partners to invest in natural products companies.
Claim to fame: He bought Celestial back from Kraft in a leveraged buyout, preventing its sale to Lipton. He also built Horizon from a regional brand to a national brand.
Motivation: ?The good people in the natural products industry who have committed to being part of the solution instead of the problem. The industry?s double-bottom-line approach—business not only as profit but also as a social mission.?
Leap of faith: ?Leaving education and taking a one-third salary cut to go to work for Celestial—most people thought [Celestial?s staff] were just hippies picking herbs in the Rockies. At the ripe old age of 28, I was the conservative old fart at the company.?
Can?t do without: Horizon Organic milk.
Biz background: Healthnotes was founded in Portland, Ore., in 1986 as a newsletter company that provided local health food stores with the latest news and science covering supplements and herbs. In the mid-?90s, Healthnotes President and CEO Skye Lininger, while on a family vacation in Hawaii with his business partner Michael Peet, came up with the concept of presenting easily accessible electronic health information over the Internet. In 1998, Healthnotes launched its first software product, an HTML knowledge base of health and supplement information presented through in-store computer kiosks.
Claim to fame: ?Healthnotes brought retailers into the information age,? Lininger says. ?Before Healthnotes, retailers relied upon often out-of-date pamphlets, making photocopies of books or fishing around in filing cabinets to provide their customers with information.?
Motivation: ?We are passionate in our desire to give consumers the information they need to make informed decisions. We believe if we can provide easily accessible and trusted information, we are doing our part to make the planet healthier and improve people?s lives.?
Leap of faith: ?We believed that customers would be willing to use interactive touch-screen kiosks in their stores, which was a relatively new technology for many retailers at the time.?
Biz background: HerbFest, a three-day event in August in Norway, Iowa, in the wilderness surrounding Frontier Natural Products Co-op?s headquarters, was started as an herb and natural healing conference in 1992. It has expanded to include other aspects of healthy and natural lifestyles.
Claim to fame: ?HerbFest is the nation?s largest herb and natural healing conference, but what we celebrate most is its strong family focus, a rare feature in conferences of any type,? says Kathy Larson, Frontier?s vice president of corporate responsibility. ?We intentionally keep prices affordable to encourage attendance of entire families, and also offer a work exchange program and group discounts.?
Leap of faith: ?After 10 consecutive years of hosting HerbFest, changes in management and direction led to the decision to drop the event. After new management rebuilt the co-op?s financial strength, we realized HerbFest was something we really wanted to bring back in 2004. Fortunately, HerbFest was a huge success and has been re-established as an annual event.?
Biz background: Katzen has promoted natural cooking for 35 years. In addition to her best-selling cookbooks, she was named by Health magazine as one of the five ?Women Who Changed the Way We Eat? and holds a seat at the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Roundtable.
Claim to fame: Author of some of the earliest natural foods cookbooks, including the perennially popular Moosewood Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 1977).
Motivation: ?Love for people, food, life and possibility.?
Leap of faith: ?Writing informally in my own voice, and expressing it in hand lettering and very personal illustrations.?
Can?t do without: ?Fresh, crisp apples.?
Melissa?s/World Variety Produce
Biz background: Los Angeles-based Melissa?s is the country?s largest provider of specialty produce. President Joe Hernandez started the company, which he named for his daughter, in 1984.
Claim to fame: ?Bringing the most exotic fruits and veggies to tables in the United States. We made organic produce available on a national basis under one brand name—at least 350 items,? Hernandez says. ?We were one of the first companies to volunteer to be Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points certified.?
Motivation: ?The excitement—we don?t just sell carrots and celery here, we sell over 1,300 items. We?re changing the way America eats from a produce prospective.?
Leap of faith: ?We were primarily a Latin fruit and vegetable company, so bringing other ethnic foods to market.?
Nelson Bach USA Ltd.
Biz background: Wilmington, Mass.-based Nelson Bach has been manufacturing homeopathic products for 140 years and flower essences for about 70.
Claim to fame: Rescue Remedy—the No. 1 selling all-natural stress supplement on the market.
Motivation: ?Providing a holistic approach to health and wellness with a wide range of products, helping consumers bring mind, body and spirit into balance,? says Curt Finckler, brand manager.
Leap of faith: ?Investment in the United States—we believe that U.S. consumers will appreciate and benefit from our products as much as the Europeans have.?
Biz background: Located in Bloomingdale, Ill., NOW Foods has been manufacturing nutritional supplements since 1968.
Claim to fame: ?In addition to winning numerous annual Vity Awards and having our facility A-rated for good manufacturing practices for several years running, NOW Foods was Nutrition Industry Executive?s 2003 Manufacturer of the Year,? says spokesman Bill Landry.
Motivation: ?NOW Foods? mission is to provide value in products and services that empower people to live healthier lives. To accomplish that mission, we are committed to support the independent health food store retail channel.?
Leap of faith: ?The company has a strong underpinning of Christian principles at its core. Thus, faith and acting in accord with the Golden Rule to ?do unto others as you would have them do unto you,? is something which is present in what we do every day.?
Biz background: Prizgintas started in the natural foods industry cooking in a restaurant in Philadelphia in 1972. She was the founding chef for the Painted Turtle Camp, the first of Paul Newman?s Hole in the Wall Gang Camps to serve organic food. In addition to cooking for celebrities, she coordinates culinary events for environmental organizations, including The Environmental Media Institute and The Land Institute.
Claim to fame: ?There are two events of which I am very proud: cooking for the annual [Natural Products Expo West] fund-raiser for Organic Farming Research Foundation and introducing the Environmental Media Association to the concept that ?eating is an environmental activity.? We created its annual organic star-studded event feeding 1,000 Hollywood industry members organic food prepared by the most creative chefs in Los Angeles.?
Motivation: ?I feel that it is very important for every individual to consider the effects of their livelihood, where has it come from and where does it go. ... In the food industry, cooking is just a small part of the agricultural process by which we nurture ourselves. I want my work to contribute to the health of the producers, the consumers and the planet.?
Leap of faith: ?It seems to be a constant necessity.?
Can?t do without: ?Everything produced on an organic farm.?
Biz background: ?During high school and college, I worked part-time at natural food stores and co-ops. My real interest wasn?t in retail; it was cooking. In the early 1980s, I became the chef at the Golden Temple—a legendary vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles. I then started my catering and event-planning company. Everything I have done since—working as a private chef (for actors Al Pacino, Richard Gere and Billy Bob Thornton), writing cookbooks, product development and brand promotion—focuses on my first passion: creating great-tasting cuisine from natural and organic ingredients.?
Claim to fame: ?The media tagged me as ?healthy chef to the stars,? which used to bother me. But I then realized that if it inspires a reader or consumer to eat healthier, it?s a good thing. Hopefully it won?t be the headline of my obituary.?
Motivation: ?I am still motivated by my original mission of helping people to eat better with great-tasting food that?s good for you. The growth of the industry in the last 30 years, particularly with the availability of organic ingredients, keeps me creative. I fortunately love what I do, which makes every new event or project a creative venture for me. Equally important are the amazing people I work with and have become friends with in the naturals business—they inspire me all the time.?
Leap of faith: ?Leaving a full-time job as a private chef and going free-lance.?
Can?t do without: ?Silk soymilk—for two reasons: I am addicted to hot Chocolate Silk, but I also cook with Silk in my catering business, in savory dishes like No-Cream of Tomato Soup and desserts like German Chocolate Cake and Chocolate Chip Cookies.?
Biz background: Riedel is president of Nature?s Life in Larkspur, Calif., a division of Nutraceutical International Corp. He has worked in the industry for 25 years, including four terms on the National Nutritional Foods Association board of directors.
Claim to fame: ?I have retained my passion, sanity and sense of humor, and feel blessed every day to be in an industry that I love. Continuously striving to improve the quality of the products and information we provide to people, through education and self-regulation, especially cooperative efforts with industry associations.?
Motivation: ?Natural health products coupled with valid information on their benefits are powerful tools to satisfy consumers? needs and desires—and reward me. The opportunities inherent in this industry remain a powerful driver for me. Acting in my own enlightened self-interest to run a profitable business provides others with beneficial products and information: win-win. Doing it ethically and striving for continuous improvement remain the challenges—but the rewards keep getting richer every year.?
Leap of faith: ?As an eternal optimist, every day I put my faith in others to do the right thing—and the good news is that, for the most part, people do.?
Can?t do without: ?A quality multivitamin-mineral formula.?
Biz background: Smillie began farming organically in 1974 and started an organic fertilizer company in 1977. He is a founding member of the Organic Trade Association, senior vice president of organic certifier Quality Assurance International, and author of two books, Soul of Soil (Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1983) and Orchard Almanac (AG Access, 1996).
Claim to fame: ?Educating people about organics and co-founding OTA.?
Motivation: ?Concern for the planet—I became aware of the ecological crisis in college in 1969. I realized that we couldn?t go on doing what we were doing to the planet, that we had to change our ways. I eventually turned away from political action and turned to agricultural action. I became one of the ?back to the landers.??
Leap of faith: ?Turning away from society as it was and homesteading—going out in the middle of nowhere with no money, building a house and trying to become a farmer.?
Can?t do without: ?Shoyu and miso.?
Soyfoods Association of North America
Biz background: SANA has been serving the soyfoods industry for 26 years.
Claim to fame: ?Established April as Soyfoods Month; petitioned the Food and Drug Administration for a voluntary standard for soymilk; urged FDA to allow foods made from whole soybeans to carry the soy and coronary heart disease health claim; secured in legislation the option for schools and child care centers to serve soymilk as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture reimbursable meal,? says Nancy Chapman, executive director.
Motivation: ?SANA is comprised of a broad constituency of dedicated soybean farmers, soy processors, soyfoods manufacturers, soy experts, nutritionists, chefs and cookbook authors that are dedicated to helping all Americans enjoy the good taste and health of soyfoods. SANA enhances collaboration and coordination among the divergent interests to assure sustainability, integrity and growth of the soyfoods industry.?
Leap of faith: ?Believing that a very small soyfoods industry could open the national school lunch and breakfast programs to include soymilk for children who do not consume cow?s milk, and then successfully working with the powerful dairy interests who have preserved a unique place for cow?s milk in these programs to make the option a reality for schools and child care centers.?
Biz background: Tabor is general manager for the southeast division of Advantage Sunbelt Marketing in Irvine, Calif. He began his naturals career as a retailer at Kennedy Natural Foods in 1971. In 1986, he became Tree of Life?s first general manager and then went on to start Sunbelt Marketing, which he sold in 2001.
Claim to fame: ?My love of the industry; not many of us have been able to watch the industry grow from its infancy in 1971 to where it is now.?
Motivation: ?Having been a retailer and distributor and understanding what it takes to do those things.?
Leap of faith: ?Starting my own sales and marketing company when I was so high up at Tree. When you?re 40, it takes courage, and there are always at least five people who say you can?t do it.?
Can?t do without: ?Heart, organic heart. This industry is loaded with heart.?
Thayers Natural Remedies
Biz background: Henry Thayer, M.D., began selling herbal extracts in 1847. His Westport, Conn., company is known for its slippery elm throat lozenges and witch hazel, which Thayers supplied to soldiers in the Civil War as an antiseptic and to help stop bleeding.
Claim to fame: ?A vegan, gluten-, wheat- and lactose-free product; the government?s approval of the slippery elm lozenge as an over-the-counter drug, which took 40 years; and the only alcohol-free witch hazel,? says owner Karen Clarke.
Motivation: ?To produce products that help people and don?t cost a lot. Singers use our dry mouth lozenges, and chemo and radiation patients use them too.?
Leap of faith: ?Leaving a high-paying career to buy and run Thayers.?
Biz background: Scotts Valley, Calif.-based Threshold has been a distributor to the natural products industry since January 1978 and is the parent company of supplements manufacturers, Source Naturals and Planetary Formulas.
Claim to fame: ?Wellness Formula and introducing melatonin to consumers,? says Brian Cayton, national sales manager.
Motivation: ?The opportunity to provide the public with intelligent forms of true healing through naturals compounds; being on the forefront of the wellness revolution.?
Leap of faith: ?Our Wellness Formula. Our president, Ira Goldberg, saw that people were purchasing the individual ingredients for cold and flu season. He had the vision to implement them as one natural Wellness Formula. It has been successful ever since it hit the retail shelves.?
Biz background: President of Philip Tozzi and Associates in Somerville, N.J., a natural products brokerage. His career in natural products began in 1974.
Claim to fame: ?[Winning] the Cliff Adler Heart in Business Award. My heart is in the business; I?m not just going through the motions.?
Motivation: ?Love of life and the industry.?
Leap of faith: ?Starting my own business in 1986.?
Can?t do without: ?Tofu.?
Biz background: ?I started tagging along, visiting health food stores when my father was holistic health advocate Bernard Jensen?s business manager in the late 1950s. I began working in my parents? store, which they purchased in 1960. I opened my own store in 1970, began industry consulting in 1985 and am currently president of Vacaville, Calif.-based Danny Wells & Associates Inc.?
Claim to fame: ?Labeled by many to be the industry?s leading consultant, but find my family titles of ?Best Husband? and ?World?s Greatest Grandpa? to be of greater value.?
Motivation: ?Clients whose businesses have improved as a result of following my recommendations, and the overall satisfaction of facilitating others? success.?
Leap of faith: ?Every consulting project. There is always the concern when you begin that you may not be able to make any difference. So I proceed into each project with a leap of faith that I will be inspired to recommend the correct solutions. So far, I?ve been able to maintain a gratifying batting average.?
Can?t do without: ?Hyaluronic acid—actually bringing color to my ?distinguished? gray hair.?
Biz background: Yogi Tea, a division of Golden Temple of Oregon Inc. in Eugene, began in 1984 when customers asked for Yogi Bhajan?s teas, which were served at the Golden Temple restaurants. (See ?Yogi Bhayan, 1929-2004.?.)
Claim to fame: Manufactures more than 50 teas—26 certified organic—and co-sponsors the Socially Responsible Awards.
Motivation: ?Applying our yogic lifestyle to our businesses; honoring diversity and the need for individuals to grow in social and spiritual ways; supporting the health and well-being of our customers; developing work environments that focused on the growth of each individual?s potential as much as on production of goods and profits, in the hope that this would create a radical and meaningful shift in the notion of ?work,?? says Atma Singh Khalsa, brand manager.
Leap of faith: ?Our commitment to organics that began in 1991, even though organic suppliers hardly existed for herbs and spices, let alone with the reliability, abundance and quality that we required for our teas.?
The Naturals Consumer
Because, after all, where would any of us be without the person pushing the shopping cart?
Claim to fame: She cares enough to spend more time reading labels and trying out things like wheat germ and dulse with her family. Still married despite making her husband submit to ear candling.
Motivation: He knows natural products will keep his family healthy. His Subaru has playtime with the other Subarus in the parking lot. And his dinner actually tastes like food. Still feels manly, even with more natural facial products in his side of the medicine cabinet than in hers.
Leap of faith: That first tentative trip to a ?freaky? naturals store. Where are the artificially colored Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs? What?s the difference between these vitamins and discount store vitamins? They?re not serious about this goat yogurt, are they? Happy ending: Cheerful and knowledgeable store employees came to her rescue, and now she confidently loads her cart with soymilk and wears organic cotton clothing because it?s better for her and the planet.
Can?t do without: Says ?granola,? but really means ?ice cream.?
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 12/p. 10, 12, 14-16, 18