Some people see a problem but only complain about it. Nicole Bernard Dawes actually does something.
Her problem was saltine crackers. She was pregnant and on the hunt, but couldn't find organic saltines. Anywhere. So she decided to make her own. With her son Stephen now 5 years old, her organic snack company, Late July, is about to turn five as well.
Natural and organic food is all in the family for Dawes. Watching her father, Steve Bernard, create successes such as Cape Cod Potato Chips and Chatham Village Foods, was, she says, "like growing up immersed in an entrepreneur MBA program." Why the name Late July? "In late July the perfect beach day lasts forever and your worries are a million miles away. It's the carefree childhood captured in two words, made even more special by the fact that my birthday is July 30. The picture on our box shows our family enjoying a day on the beach with my oldest son's birthday present hidden on the sailboat. This feeling, and trying to live by it, is one of my defining forces."
What was your first exposure to the natural and organic food industry? Natural and organic foods have been a way of life for me since my mother and aunt opened their first natural foods store in 1977. I was a child of the 1970s' natural food movement. My childhood memories include a macrobiotic summer-camp retreat with Michio Kushi, adzuki beans, nori rolls and carob-covered rice cakes in my lunch box. Truthfully, I didn't love most of the natural/macrobiotic foods of my childhood, and that dissatisfaction started me on a lifelong quest to make healthier foods that also taste great.
What keeps you going when things get tough? I get through the tough times by knowing that we haven't compromised our values or taken the easy way out. People ask me if we would introduce a "made with" organic product to help Late July be more competitive, and my answer is always no. The tough times are often when we are inspired to come up with unique solutions.
What are the biggest challenges facing the natural and organic food industry? Commodity prices and marketplace confusion are two of our biggest challenges. The historically high wheat, cocoa and other commodity costs are hitting organic companies particularly hard. At the same time, there is still some confusion in the marketplace between what it means to be organic versus all natural versus made with organic. Two major points of confusion for consumers are companies using organic in their brand name to describe products that are not organic and conventional companies greenwashing their packaging.
What's the one natural product you can't live without? I cannot live without organic, dark-chocolate cookies. I'm not sure how I survived before. Second place would have to go to the new-and-improved Seventh Generation diapers.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 19