Jordan Rubin is the founder and former CEO of whole food supplement company Garden of Life. Following his 2009 sale of Garden of Life to Atrium Innovations, Rubin founded Beyond Organic, a multi-level marketer of organic beef, cultured dairy and beverage products. With a focus on biblical agrarianism, the company takes organic growing to a higher level and is poised to capture an evangelical, anti-industrial niche of natural consumers.
NBJ: How did Beyond Organic get its start?
Jordan Rubin: Since I was 20 years old, when I was in the midst of getting well from Crohn’s disease and other illnesses, I’ve had a passion to bring the foods and beverages that were instrumental in helping me get well to the world. I got well from consuming cultured dairy products, raw juices and grass-fed beef—and also powerful probiotics, which ultimately led to the formulation of Garden of Life’s first product. During that time, I visited medical experts and traveled around the world. Nothing worked, and when I found the answer, I knew that I needed to get it out there.
Over the course of about 14 years—in the time period from when Garden of Life started until today—I have been a huge fan of sustainable and what I like to call ‘beyond organic’ foods. I have visited well over 100 local farms that sell raw dairy, grass-fed meats, things of that nature. I have written about these products in 21 books now and have always dreamed of having my own farm or ranch. In 2008, I was on a tour called Perfect Weight America, to support a book and a TV program. It was a bus tour around America and I was looking in the distance at the farmland and these beautiful green crops. As I got closer and closer, I realized these beautiful green crops were from massive, genetically-modified, mono-crop agriculture businesses.
It was at that point that I realized I had to do something. In 2009, I started the Beyond Organic farm and ranch network, producing what I believe to be some of the world’s healthiest foods and beverages. We shipped our first products in November 2011. And we’ve introduced many foods that haven’t been consumed in perhaps thousands of years—and maybe never—in America.
We wanted to create products particularly in the areas where people mess up the most in their diets, or where they can’t fi nd the highest quality products. So, we started with beef, with dairy and with beverages, including spring water. We looked for the purest and most effective sources—even the genetics of the cattle are completely unique, taken from an ancient species that originated in Africa and India that’s not available today in the dairy and beef markets.
NBJ: So why network marketing?
JR: I have been bombarded and solicited by every network marketing distributor on the planet in the probably 500 seminars I have done in health food stores, and I have largely been a critic of this industry because of two things. Number one, being a product formulator myself, I know about supplements—and what I see in network marketing, frankly, is over-promising and under-delivering. I see individuals who are representing the products about a mile wide and an inch deep. I just didn’t believe that a superfruit from the Amazon was going to cure every disease known to man. I also didn’t want to hear the story of ‘You can fire your boss and work at home in your underwear and be a millionaire.’
That said, the products that we have and the message behind them is so unique that I didn’t believe they could sit next to a similar looking product and have their value properly explained in a retail setting. I love health food stores, but I knew that we needed to take this message from our farms to front doors of families.
NBJ: You don’t see many food-based companies in the MLM channel, but it seems like a good channel to get across the message that good health starts with food.
JR: Absolutely. It is great because, while the supplement space gets attacked for doping or quality issues, when it comes to food, there are great works out there—Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Inc., etc. It is just a great topic of discussion, and with 4% of our nation’s agriculture being certifi ed organic, to be able to expand on that, it has been a real undertaking and a real joy.
Garden of Life obviously owes a lot of its success to our great accounts—Vitamin Shoppe, Whole Foods, Sprouts, the great independent health food stores. But if you have the opportunity to share something that you love over dinner or invite somebody to taste some of these foods, why wouldn’t you?
If you give individuals an objective reason of why something is unique and potentially better, you don’t have to say that this cheese is going to help your skin and reduce your waistline. What you say is that we have dairy products that come from cattle that are fed green foods completely—no grain. They have a unique genetic makeup. The cheese is raw, meaning it has never been heated above a cow’s body temperature, and we make it on the same farm where the cattle are raised. It’s artisanal. Every batch is going to taste subtly different.
Our most popular product right now is a cultured dairy product called Amasai. I got the idea from visiting Africa in 2006 and doing seminars. I saw that there was a cultured beverage they drank every day. It came from the Masai, who prize cattle above all their possessions. I knew that I was going to bring this to America. I feel like it has advantages over yogurt and kefir and obviously, in the direct-selling space, you want to have something that is unique.
Like our green-fed beef. On our land there are grasses, there are legumes, there are forbs, and there are herbs, and this makes up our forage. You certainly want grass to be a part of the cow’s diet, but we try to keep grass to under 50% of our forage, because clover produces more CLA, and other forbs, legumes and herbs are very beneficial. So we said, well, it’s not grass fed, it’s green fed.
NBJ: What other products are in the mix?
JR: We’ve also got a cultured whey beverage called SueroViv that easily could be our flagship. It has the benefits of a combination of kombucha and coconut water, with some added bonuses. There are only two other brands in the world—one in Switzerland and one in Iceland. We also own a spring in north Georgia which produces the purest spring water that I’ve ever tested. We are rapidly launching new products. We’ve got raw snacks, cultured veggies and skin care on the way, so a lot of unique things are coming down the pike very soon.
Should organic return to biblical times?
NBJ: Is there a strong faith aspect in the marketing for Beyond Organic?
JR: Absolutely. Well, the faith aspect is me. There is no strategy behind it. I mean, this is who I am, so I am going to appeal to people for whom faith is an important part of life. But I don’t cater to any one faith. It isn’t that I am someone who is using the company so that I can preach a gospel message. I am using the biblical model of eating from that time period to bring these things to light.
Whether you believe the Bible is the word of God or not, it is an historical document. These people lived, just as much as any historical figures lived. They were nomads and shepherds. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—they consumed most of their diet from dairy. How could dairy have nourished people that lived to 120, 127 years of age and now be so unhealthy?
And that is why we began to search for this unique genetic makeup for our cattle. There’s this component in modern cow’s milk dairy called beta casein A1. Certain breeds of cattle that originate from India, the Middle East and Africa don’t produce it, and that was the impetus for us to create this unique cattle herd. And people are saying, ‘I formerly could only tolerate imitation milks or goat milk. Now I can tolerate your dairy products.’ There is a great book called The Devil in the Milk, which really brings to light that beta casein A1 could be the next gluten, in terms of damage to people’s health.
NBJ: What is so appealing about that back-to-nature, ancient-living message to a modern consumer?
JR: I read that a representative from the USDA said that 99% of folks want to know where their food comes from. When I talk to people about Beyond Organic, initially what comes to mind is this: ‘This is what I never knew I always wanted.’ I’ll hear people say, ‘Wow, my grandmother grew up on a farm and I used to go to her house and consume this and that.’
There is also wholesomeness in knowing where your food comes from. There is a term you are going to start hearing more—‘single-source,’ getting your food from one place, not from who-knows-where. What you have right now is health food stores and products from large, industrial organic companies—companies that we think are small brands but are really owned by Dannon, Nestlé, Kraft, Pepsi or Coke. I go to the farms that have resources and they are not doing it right.
To mandate that 30% of a cow’s diet needs to be pasture—that really had to be made a rule in organic? To be able to make organic beef, you only need to have an organic feedlot where they have ‘access to pasture’ for the last 120 days of life. So, what is that telling you? People are not doing it like they used to.
This kind of ancient wisdom really just gives people a new excitement about a product or a category of food—like beef or dairy—that has been maligned for years. It gives them an understanding and a feeling of, ‘Hey, this has been consumed for thousands of years. This is historical.’
NBJ: Do you have organic certification?
JR: We are certified organic by CCOF, we are USDA inspected, and we are inspected by the Missouri State Milk Board. You are not going to wake up one day and have us get raided. You are not going to buy something with no label on it. I trust an Amish farmer as much as the next guy, but that’s a hard sell. Not everyone is going to get that.
NBJ: Are the resources behind the company from the sale of Garden of Life or do you have any private equity or investment backing?
JR: Yes, extremely private equity—myself. There is no way that this can be something that a bunch of bankers could look at and make a decision, purely on the Xs and Os. It is something that is very vision-minded, and it’s hard to get someone to invest in something that has never been done before. So I didn’t bother trying.
NBJ: What’s your progress thus far? Have you built a substantial distributor base?
JR: This is another thing that frustrates me about this channel. I don’t have a bead on how many people will order next month, but I can tell you that we have well over 10,000 purchasing customers. We did a pre-launch, which gave us a really good start. So, you know, companies will say, ‘I have this many millions of distributors.’ I don’t really know where to put that number or what to call them other than purchasing customers. We have preferred customers, we have retail customers, and we have what we call Mission Marketers.