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Food and Beverage Journal CEO Spotlight: John W Roulac, Nutiva

He started by selling blackberries to his neighbors as a young boy and later founded one of the most innovative companies in the health food industry. John W Roulac is a man who lives and works for what he truly believes in – healthy, holistic living. His goal is to move beyond conventional food industry practices to embrace a bigger picture that supports the long-term well-being of humanity as a whole. The Food and Beverage Journal chats with John to find out more about his passion for organic foods.

Food and Beverage Journal: When did you know that you wanted to work in the Food and Beverage industry?
John Roulac: I began my food career quite by accident as a young boy of 10, when I saw there were extra blackberries in the field near our home. I picked them and sold them door-to-door in re-used berry baskets I got from my mom. Later as a teenager, I caught and sold fresh crab at docks where boaters tied up.

FBJ: How do you maintain a balance between your professional and personal life?
JR: An excellent question. Running a fast growing, international organic food brand takes a lot of focus and time. I currently work 7 days a week, yet I make sure to take time to workout, hike, and have fun. I competed in a triathlon in 2007, and am training for another event.

FBJ: Who were your role models when you joined the industry? Why?
JR: I think Gary Hishberg, CEO/Founder of Stonyfield Yogurt, and Steve Demos, founder of Silk, exemplify how one can combine organic values with market leadership – and come out as the brand leader.

FBJ: Walk me through the initial thought of setting up Nutiva and to what it is right now?
JR: I simply started up Nutiva in 1999, to assist Canadian hemp farmers who had extra hempseed and needed a market. Our line of organic hemp foods and coconut oils are now sold in 6,000 stores across the US, UK, and Canada.

FBJ: Where do you think you have outsmarted your competitors?
JR: I made a conscious choice for Nutiva to have the highest percent of organic hemp food offerings. Taking the high road in terms of giving back to the industry through our 1% of sales donation to groups promoting sustainable agriculture. We gave away $70K in 2007 and our customers love to be part of creating solutions to the pressing issues of today.

FBJ: What was the biggest challenge Nutiva faced during the start-up phase?
JR: In 1999, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) blocked all imports of hempseed foods in
our first year. It was a hard blow but we fought back with PR and won that round. Then in 2001, the DEA attempted to outlaw the importation of all hemp foods, so we created an industry-wide coalition including Dr Bronners, Nature’s Path, Ruth’s Hemp Foods, and sued the DEA in federal court. In 2004, the 9th Circuit ruled in our favor and it’s case law now. We almost went out of business many times during this rather dark time for Nutiva. While hemp is a non-drug crop, the federal government chose to ignore science and free trade. Lucky for us we survived, and as the saying goes “what does not kill you, makes you stronger.”

FBJ: Can you share one or two of your company’s most exciting successes?
JR: Nutiva’s organic hemp protein was voted Best New Supplement in 2003 by retailers at the Natural Products Expo. Helping pioneer organic, extra-virgin coconut oil as the healthiest all-purpose-cooking oil has been another highlight. We have over-come the misconception that coconut oil is unhealthy, which was started by the soy margarine industry in the 1960s. In 2008, we just sold our millionth jar of Nutiva Coconut Oil!

FBJ: How do you visualize the Food and Beverage industry a decade from now?
JR: With rising food and fuel costs, having an efficient supply chain is vital. Firms that accomplish this and keep an eye of moving towards a more healthy and sustainable world should be well positioned for these challenging times.

FBJ: What kind of people can make the best CEOs in this industry?
JR: I don’t think there is any set formula. Being passionate about food and building a great team is a good start.

FBJ: Is finding Food and Beverage professionals a challenge?
JR: Recruiting the best team possible can be challenging for sure.

FBJ: What are the advantages of working at Nutiva?
JR: We are committed to a positive work environment and creating exciting new food products that make a difference in our customers’ lives.

FBJ: How do you want to position the company in the next 5 years?
JR: To be a strong, values-driven, independent organic food brand, that sets the latest trends in healthy foods.

FBJ: How do you hire the best people? What are the top 3 things you look for when hiring?
JR: Strong communication skills, organic values and a proven track record.

FBJ: Physical fitness comes as second nature to you. Would you share with us some of your fitness secrets?
JR: Health is our greatest wealth. Practicing yoga and walking, and eating as much organic food is part of my secret to keeping healthy.

FBJ: You have followed a holistic lifestyle for over 20 years. What advice do you have for people considering making the change to a more holistic lifestyle?
JR: Start today and do what you can to improve your health.
John W. Roulac is CEO of Nutiva, an organic hemp food company focused on providing high-nutrition hemp-based products. He founded two other successful companies, Hemptech and Harmonious Technologies. John has authored “Backyard Composting” and co-authored many other books on hemp and is an expert in composting and industrial hemp. John is a well-known speaker on the radio and other media and has been quoted widely for industrial hemp-related articles. For interview feedback, contact John at john (at) nutiva.com

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