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Using A Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet and Profit. An Interview with Nature’s Path, Arjan Stephens.

In our latest episode of Conquer The Noise, Jonathan speaks with Arjan Stephens, the Executive VP of Nature’s Path and President of Que Pasa Mexican Foods. Nature’s Path was started by his mother and father, Arran and Ratana Stephens in 1967. They started out by opening the Golden Lotus, which was one of the first vegetarian restaurants in Canada. Together, his parents combined creativity, passion, and knowledge to start a natural food store and bakery which ultimately lead to the creation of Nature’s Path – some of the first certified organic products on the market. 

Nature’s Path Started As A Family Business

His family started the restaurant business with a $1500 loan which they used to buy pre-owned equipment from a bankrupt restaurant down the road. His dad carried all the equipment down the road to his new restaurant, and this type of work ethic is what led Arjan and his sisters to have the focus and drive today. 

When the cereal plant opened (Nature’s Path), they worked in the plant, getting a penny per sticker to label the boxes. Arjan described that time as a fun part with all of the family involved. In the beginning, it was full of challenges like none of the equipment worked and the struggle of not know what they were doing. Arran, his father, was literally sleeping at the factory around the clock trying to get it going. They had a lot of creditors and investors circling when they finally figured out how to solve a key production issue after bringing in one last expert who simply added a bucket of water at key part of the process to fix it all. 

His dad always quoted Winston Churchill and was always encouraging persistence and resilience to keep going forward. As Arjan stepped into leadership he invested in looking after team members which holds even more true today with the pronounced need to support people after the pandemic, supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine. Nature’s Path has close to 900 team members and Arjan is working to see what they can do to ensure they are able to provide for them.

Using A Triple Bottom Line Approach Ensures People, Planet and Profits Are Always Considered. 

Arjan Stephens was interviewed on podcast, Conquer The Noise, with Jonathan Hanson, founder of Unconquered creative agency and they talk about their triple bottom line approach.

Arjan talks about how the food industry is truly global. They bought a 5,500 acre farm. That represents a small fraction of their wheat needs so they source organic and fair trade ingredients from around the world. Their farm is the first oat farm in the world to become regenerative organic, ensuring they are putting carbon BACK into the soil.

Nature’s Path follows a triple bottom line philosophy which covers: People, Planet and Profits. They have to be profitable to fuel growth, pay employees and their give back efforts. But, that’s not their reason to exist – the reason is to look after communities and make customers healthier through organic foods. The chemicals in the environment from the agri world are devastating. It gets into air, water and then we consume it. Nature’s Path believes regenerative agriculture is our antidote to heal the world and make a difference.

Their philosophy is to always leave the soil better than when they found it, which they apply to all things – the earth, business model, foundational vision for the business, and Arjan’s own family. He feels the choices we make, however small, can have a tremendous impact. 

Creating A Business That Lasts For Generations Requires Stewardship

Nature’s Path is the largest organic breakfast company in North America. The bare minimum of what they do is organic. Organic certification has standards, audit tracing – if caught cheating the system people face huge penalties. From organic, Nature’s Path layers in fair trade, supplier audits (i.e. no child labor), and regenerative farming practices. For their dairy products, they ensure it’s sustainably sourced.

Arjan wants Nature’s Path to be around for generations. Their focus is getting his kids to share in the passion, not take things for granted and making sure they aren’t entitled and thinking that this is a piggy bank. This should be a legacy for future generations. 

Jonathan and Arjan talk about the business strategy which is to make organic food available to everyone. Organic shouldn’t be just for specialty food stores but for anyone who shops at any grocery retailer. They take a lower gross margin to make the price more accessible. There is still a premium vs non organic, but not as high as other brands. 

Getting Creative With Marketing, Consider Packaging, Shelf Placement and Product Innovation

Arjan talks about how to use creativity in marketing when faced with less resources. Getting on store shelves can be expensive, but it’s a great way for people to see the brand so they first invested there. Keeping this in mind, they decided to use their packaging as the next biggest marketing vehicle because it can show brand values. A lot of what they do is trend forward and they’re continuing to try this as they grow. For example, they were the first company to use flax seeds in a cereal product in 1995. Their challenge is coming up with ways to simplify a compelling message, one that consumers can connect with when they have so many to share.

Unconquered is here to help you connect your company to new and existing customers. Reach out for a consultation

Arjan and his wife met at a volunteer event and when they were planning their wedding, they wanted to do something where guests gave back instead of gifts so they started a wedding site and asked friends to donate in lieu of gifts. 

To thank them for this, they developed, Love Crunch, as a party favor at their wedding. It was full of the most delicious ingredients they loved, and after a few days, they had so many guests coming up and asking for more, they knew they were on to something.  With that feedback, they took it to a Whole Foods buyer to taste and they said “I need to sell this product”. They launched with Whole Foods and as part of giving back, they gave microloans to women in various countries who were starting their own businesses which helped get families out of poverty. It has become the second best selling product at Whole Foods. 

Recommendations For Entering A Partnership With Marketing Agencies

Jonathan asks Arjan what he has learned after working with creative agencies over the years. He talks about how it can be scary for entrepreneurs to work with an agency because they are used to doing so many things by themselves. It starts with selecting the right partner, ensuring values are aligned and understanding their passion, relevant experience and if you’re actually going to be getting the top talent. Are you going to have access to the principal or will you be thrown off to the junior? Trust your gut at the end of the day, a clearly defined SOW is important so you know what success looks like upfront. Are you going after brand awareness or are you trying to drive tangible results with a specific retailer. They’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years and setting a good foundation creates a strong relationship moving forward. 

Arjan Reflects On Advice To His Younger Self: Take More Time For Himself

Arjan talks about the advice he’d give his younger self. Looking back he’d read a bit more and take a bit more time off. Being the son of the owner made him feel like he had to work twice as hard to prove himself and he took things very seriously. He was so driven towards the goal of making a difference (which is important) that he could have taken it a bit slower in some instances and by going a little bit slower he could’ve been more impactful. He says he is still learning every day, that patience is important and making sure you have purpose/passion. Passion is a fuel, it’s important but not the end all be all. Passion, mixed with skill development and introspection, can lead to a lot of great things that go beyond yourself.

Unconquered is here to help you create a brand that will connect your company’s purpose and story to new and existing customers. Reach out for a consultation