Justin Gold was one of those little kids running around Natural Products Expo East jacked up on organic cookie samples. His grandfather started one of the first vitamin stores in western Pennsylvania, and the family would trek yearly to Expo. " I grew up eating tofu and keeping a garden with my mom," he says. " The importance of eating organic was instilled in me at a very young age."
After earning a degree in environmental studies at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, Gold moved to Boulder, Colo., where he gobbled up opportunities to play outside—and to eat a lot of peanut butter. " But it didn't really taste that good. And it only came in one flavor," he says. " Out of personal necessity, I started to make my own. I wanted to make it taste and function better." And he did. Consumers quickly became addicted to Justin's Nut Butter flavors such as Sinfully Cinnamon and Maple Almond.
His business grew. Then playing outside paid off once again. Pausing on a mountain-bike ride to suck down a shot of sugary energy gel, Gold thought: " This is way too sweet. Why doesn't anybody do this with a nut butter? … Hey, I make nut butter." After an unsuccessful two-year quest to find a packager willing to work with nuts (they feared contaminating their lines with allergens), Gold bought his own machines. The small squeeze packs have been hugely successful. In fact, Gold's working on creating strategic partnerships with large brands to boldly " go places nut butter's never been before," he says, including REI, coffee shops and United Airlines.
" What's really wild is that I created the product for people like myself, outdoor enthusiasts, but our largest market's been mothers and kids. It's a perfect grab-and-go protein." Now kids can grab samples at Expo. " It's really cool to be there as an exhibitor," he says. Even in squeeze packs, the nut doesn't fall far from the tree.
What are the biggest challenges facing the naturals industry? Keeping organics simple and maintaining the integrity of, and honoring, the food. A lot of the big companies that are getting into organic seem to be missing the point. Just because something's organic doesn't necessarily mean it's better. It could have 30 ingredients and be overprocessed.
What do you enjoy most about what you do? Our food is a fusion of a lot of different categories. I love the fact that I can walk into a marathon or a bike race and hand out squeeze packs one day, then go to a playground and give out samples the next day, then go to a natural foods store and hand them out the next day. I love the fact that the product brings together everything I care about.
Natural product you can't live without? Lemongrass deodorant.
What keeps you going on a tough day? Boulder County sunshine. Because I set my own hours, if I'm having a tough day, I can put everything aside and go for a long run, and chances are, around here, it's probably sunny.
As a little kid, you wanted to grow up to be … A professional basketball player. I made it to college, but that was it.
What are you afraid of? Boredom. I'm a go-go-go kind of person. I'm afraid of running out of things to do.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 22