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John Roulac: Hemp & Coconut Foods Champion

April 01, 2008

From the age of three, John Roulac was blessed to spend his summers playing among the tide pools and forests of the Pacific Northwest. When a truck driver dumped nuclear waste nine miles from his family’s home, John began his central life journey–to study natural systems and discover practical solutions to pressing environmental challenges.

As an avid street basketball player, he learned to incorporate the use of natural foods, yoga, and acupuncture as ways to improve his game and overall health.

John has been a passionate advocate of holistic living for more than twenty years, working in the areas of whole foods, natural healing, organic farming, forestry, water and energy conservation, recycling and composting, and hemp agriculture. John’s is a passionate advocate of a society that places people above profits and one in which access to wholesome and organic food is a God-given right.

In 1994, John started Hemptech and quickly became a leading hemp industry publisher of news, a hemp products directory and six books and reports on hemp. His handbook on composting sold over 1 million copies and was responsible for igniting the recycling movement, He developed a subsidy program with municipalities around the country, selling over 500,000 compost bins over five years to local residents. In 1990, John actively promoted the Forests Forever campaign that attempted to save California’s old growth forests. The initiative was narrowly defeated by the state’s logging interests. From compost and forest protection, Roulac turned his attention to industrial hemp.

When Roulac started Nutiva in 1999, he saw a market for a new kind of food made from the mighty hempseed. From his first hemp bar, made from the delicious and nutritious hemp seed, Roulac has built a company with over 25 products in the line and more on the way. Today, Nutiva is not only the leader in hemp foods but also the number one brand of organic virgin coconut oil in over 6000 retailers in the US, Canada, and the UK including Whole Foods Market. The line now includes hemp seeds, hemp oil, hemp protein, HempShakes in three flavors, and organic extra-virgin coconut oil. Nutiva’s 2007 sales reached $6.9 million and Roulac’s target is $25 million by 2012.

The road to success was not easy. Roulac had to win a David and Goliath battle with the DEA who asserted that hemp foods and cosmetics were drugs because they contained trace amounts of THC, the active ingredient in industrial hemp’s cousin, marijuana. “It was a joke” says Roulac. “Here I was just starting my company and the DEA seizes a shipment of hempseed coming into the US from Canada where its legal to grow it, slaps me with a $600,000 fine and tells me I cannot sell my hemp bars any longer essentially saying, ‘you’re out of business.”

Roulac had to fight for the life of his company and the right for anyone to sell products with hemp seeds or oil in them. Through a friend, he contacted Jack Anderson who wrote about the silliness of the seizure in his syndicated column and the DEA backed off-but not for long. They next placed proposed new rules classifying industrial hemp as a drug in the Federal Register at which point John met with the owner of Dr. Bronner’s soaps and together with several other companies sued the DEA in Federal Court in San Francisco. Amazingly, the verdict came down in their favor with the judge telling the DEA that they had jurisdiction over drugs not foods and to leave Nutiva and the industry alone. This landmark decision enabled Roulac to attract investors and assure retailers, who had begun pulling his products off their shelves because they didn’t want to run afoul of the law, that it was safe and legal to stock all hemp products. That was the moment Nutiva’s sales took off and for the past 5 years, have averaged over 70%.

Nutiva is a values-driven socially responsible business that serves people and the planet and donates one percent of its sales to non-profit sustainable ag groups that contribute to a sustainable world. Past recipients have included Bioneers, Seed Lady of Watt’s, and Eco-Farm. Nutiva donated over $75K in 2007.

What’s in the future for Nutiva? “We’re looking at launching several new products this year and continuing to support farmers fight to grow industrial hemp. It’s ridiculous that our government does not allow farmers to grow hemp when 30 other countries have no problem with its cultivation,” says Roulac.

Nutiva and Roulac have been the subject of numerous articles in mainstream press including the Wall Street Journal and the Economist. Not bad for an eco-preneur who started with passion, a vision and and a hemp seed bar just 8 years ago.

Ed} NPD will continue to monitor and report on Nutiva’s progress in coming articles. There is no doubt that the market for industrial hemp will continue to flourish and at some point in the not too distant future, we should see farmers enjoying increased incomes thanks to their ability to once again grow this sustainable crop. NPD urges its readers to support legislation in many states to legalize industrial hemp cultivation.

To read more about John and Nutiva, visit as well as to learn about hemp growing in the USA.

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