Natural Foods Merchandiser

40 Under 40: Zach Adelman

Zach Adelman
Navitas Naturals
Marin County, Calif.
Age: 37

Zach Adelman started out in the import-export business, which answered his love for travel and led him to Peru, home of maca root—the mineral-rich plant that would steer the career change he'd been seeking. Navitas Naturals was born in 2003 with maca as its first product. Then came goji berries, and cacao nibs, powder and other forms of the chocolate bean. Navitas now sells 24 categories of superfoods and functional foods.

"We're focusing on the health benefits, viability of the products and quality and sourcing," Adelman says.

Attracted to the Bay area for lifestyle reasons, Adelman and his wife, Meghan, made Marin County, Calif., home and headquarters. A recent graduate of nursing school, Meghan—who set up the Navitas books and data files—is moving into a health advisory role, Zach says. Two of his brothers-in-law also work for the company. Zach and Meghan have a son, Jordan, 4, and another boy on the way.

What are the biggest challenges facing the naturals industry? The competition out there, the conglomerates involved. To be successful, companies like ours have to solidify our supply chains. It comes down to having strong relationships with your suppliers.

What would you like to see change in the naturals industry in the next five years? I'd like to see more eco-friendly types of packaging and less waste of product. It's astonishing, these trade shows go on and at the end there's waste of every kind everywhere. I once saw a cooler full of organic meat just left behind.

What do you enjoy most about what you do? We provide an amazing economic source to these indigenous cultures.

What are you most proud of? Starting this company single-handedly from scratch with little financial backing. Now we have 17 people here and our partners in Peru.

What's next for you? Expand our environmental consciousness and give back to environmental and educational organizations and certain non-governmental organizations in the regions we source product from.

What keeps you going on a tough day? My family, my customers, my wonderful staff—knowing they're relying on me—my little puppy, Ziggy, lying right here in my office.

If Ben & Jerry's named a flavor after you, what would it be? Lunasol. (Chocolate ice cream, goji berries, cacao nibs and cashews.)

As a little kid, you wanted to grow up to be … A doctor, like my father. If you go way, way, back, I wanted to be a hockey player.

What are you afraid of? I'm afraid of heights. I guess the fear of failure is there at times. The economy. John McCain, if he wins.

If you had one piece of advice for natural products retailers, what would it be? Have somebody on staff who is knowledgeable about the products, and [don't] be so focused on products that distributors have. There are so many small companies that aren't with distributors. The end user gets a good-quality product for a fair price.

Got any tattoos? A sun and moon on my left shoulder.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 12

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