Mitch Propster is the quintessential American entrepreneur. Largely responsible for bringing salba, an Aztec seed with cardiovascular and other benefits, to the U.S. naturals market, Propster got his business start as a paperboy in Southern California. After a stint in e-commerce during his mid-20s, he moved into the naturals realm and is now CEO of Core Naturals.
Enthusiastic and energetic, Propster is driven by clear vision and passion. He seems to have a sixth sense for success. For example, he acquired exclusive distribution rights to his brand of salba two years before the hard science came out.
And he's good at creating a buzz, taking a little-known food supplement and building a 3,000-bottle-a-day market in just a few short years. Propster's work in marketing, research and education helped salba become one of the top three finalists for this year's Nutracon NutrAward.
What was your inspiration when you were getting started? The real inspiration came from a guy named Larry Brown, a founding partner in Salba North America. He believed in the product so wholeheartedly that he sold his condo and all his belongings, lived out of his car for six months and gave all his money for the research that was being conducted at the University of Montreal. His energy and conviction were so powerful, I had little room for doubt.
What are the biggest challenges facing the naturals industry today? The biggest challenge is education, getting the public to recognize that natural products have a different way of bringing health and healing than allopathic medicine. The old paradigm says: Go to the doctor or take a pill versus depending on food or nutritional sources to heal your body. The key is to get the public to practice prevention, rather than reaction to illness, to reconnect with food as the source of health and nutrition.
What would you like to see change in the naturals industry in the next five years? I would like to see that the original ideals and choices that are being made when good companies are started don't get lost or sold out to mainstream profit-making. Whenever a product takes off, there's almost a knee-jerk commercialization effort that often dilutes the original intention and purpose of that product.
What's next for you? I am constantly looking for new and emerging ingredients and products that we can offer as whole, untouched, unprocessed foods. One of the big ones we are working on now is a new form of organic maca root.
If Ben & Jerry's named a flavor after you, what would it be? I guess it would have to be Mitchellicious.
If you had one piece of advice for natural products retailers, what would it be? Sometimes retailers pay more attention to the turn and burn of dollars than giving the customer the best products the industry has to offer. Put people and product before profits—that's how they are going to win.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 32