John Roulac, founder of Nutiva, the world’s leading organic brand of hemp, coconut, chia, and red palm superfoods, announced today that he is stepping down as CEO, a position he has held ever since founding the company in 1999.
Aside from being one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the organic industry, he is also one of the most longest tenured CEOs. So, his decision to pass the baton to CPG veteran Pankaj Talwar, who has held senior management roles at Goodman Fielder, Bimbo Bakeries and Procter & Gamble, and received his MBA from Harvard Business School, comes as a real surprise.
Under John’s leadership, Nutiva has certainly thrived, being named as one of Inc. magazine’s fastest-growing companies in America for seven years. Yet, his contributions extend far beyond bringing superfoods to supermarket shelves.
A longtime advocate for healthy people and ecosystems, John Roulac helped jumpstart the modern home-composting movement in the early 1990s and has written four books on topics related to the environment and sustainability, which have combined sales of more than one million copies.
He has started five non-profit ecological groups, and in the fall of 2012, he founded GMO Inside, a group dedicated to educating people on the dangers of foods containing genetically modified organisms.
Nutiva, via its 1% of sales program, has donated more than $4,000,000 to groups promoting sustainable agriculture including VoteHemp and the Hemp Industries Association. John Roulac is also co-producer of “Kiss the Ground,” a movie that is scheduled for a 2018 release.
I recently caught up with my good friend, and we discussed his decision to relinquish the CEO post.
Why are you stepping down as CEO?
I couldn’t be more proud of what I’ve accomplished in my tenure at Nutiva, but our rapid growth over the last few years now requires the expertise of an experienced CPG food executive as we move to the next stage in our evolution. There are certain complexities that come with managing a company (now 115 employees) poised for more rapid innovation and expansion in today’s hyper-competitive food space.
Even though you will no longer be the CEO, what kind of role will you have at Nutiva? What kind of endeavors or activities will you be working on outside of the company?
I will stay as Chairman of the Board at Nutiva and will also fill the role of Chief Visionary Officer. Right now, I’m working on some very innovative projects we’ll announce next year, and I’ll focus on new product development. Going forward, I will continue to work on Nutiva’s mission to revolutionize the way the world eats.
Outside of Nutiva, I look forward to helping advise and mentor the next generation of entrepreneurs, as well as continuing to support my passion for driving environmental sustainability and innovation, including regenerative agriculture and marine permaculture. I am very excited about my latest project to bring back California’s giant kelp forests as a way to restore our ocean and create blue-green jobs.
Should consumers expect Nutiva to grow in different directions now that you’re no longer the CEO?
Absolutely! We’re researching some new organic product ideas that deviate a bit from our current offering but are still true to our core value of nurturing vitality.
One innovation we’re particularly excited about is our new Organic MCT Oil, a revolutionary USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified liquid oil that offers a concentrated serving of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) perfect for delivering clean energy. This product enables us to connect with a different consumer than we’ve focused on in the past.
Looking back, what are a few of the most memorable or pivotal moments in the company’s history?
I am most proud of our historic 2004 successful legal victory against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, which laid the groundwork for hemp foods to be legal for consumption.
We were also the first brand to showcase organic virgin coconut oil in large case stack displays at health food stores, and we brought virgin coconut oil to the club channel. Nutiva also was the major funder of GMOinside, whose social media campaigns helped shift many of the largest food brands (including Hershey’s, Campbell’s, General Mills, Danone) to expand their non-GMO offerings.
In 2012, when Nutiva moved to Richmond, California, we made a commitment to our new community to plant a fruit tree orchard at every public school. This fall, we will have 26 orchards public schools providing tasty fruit for students while teaching them the importance of growing food.
There is no question that John Roulac has had a major impact on the organic industry, in terms of the products he has introduced to the market and his activism endeavors. Fortunately, he will still continue to be involved in the industry but just not on a day-to-day operating basis.
To learn more about John Roulac’s decision to step down and what he has planned next, watch the Facebook Live I shot with John earlier today.
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