Revolutionizing the way the world eats one innovative product at a time
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

John W. Roulac launched Nutiva in 1999 with the goal of bringing healthy, nutritious superfoods to consumers across the globe. Roulac is a lifelong advocate of healthy, sustainable living. Growing up, he spent his summers in the San Juan Islands with no electricity or running water.

Spending time outdoors, exploring tidal pools and trees, Roulac developed a strong affinity with nature. When nuclear waste was deposited 10 miles from his home when Roulac was in his early 20s, he began to wonder how human activity affected the many systems people rely on, such as agriculture, clean water and forestry.

“That was when I started to wonder how we can improve the way we live on Earth through natural systems,” Roulac explains. “We are so involved with technology in this day and age –completely enamored – that we have forgotten that the highest technology on Earth is nature itself. In the 1990s, after working as an environmental activist, I decided to focus on business in order to help build better, more sustainable systems. “


Hemp for happiness

Nutiva came about when Roulac found an opportunity to work with Canadian growers, looking for outlets to distribute hempseed. “They didn’t have a market for it,” he says, “So we built the market for them. Hemp is one of the most sustainable crops on the planet and there are great nutritional and utilitarian benefits. We started producing and selling hempseed bars and saw a great market, but there were challenges, as well.”

For several years, Roulac and his team faced off against customs officials, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the USDA. After several years of fighting the import ban placed on his products, he decided it was in the best interest of the company to expand the line. He added coconut oil to the company’s product selection, bringing Nutiva back from the brink of extinction.

In 2002, he filed a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration for lumping hemp into the same category of controlled substances as heroin, an egregious exaggeration of the harmless plant’s capabilities. Roulac and his coalition won, bringing hemp back into the picture for the business.

Today Roulac lobby’s at the state and federal level to allow U.S. farmers to grow this non-drug crop. More than a decade later, the company’s product line centers on four specific organic superfood sources: hemp, coconut, chia and red palm.

Always something new

The Nutiva brand has experienced exponential growth over the last few years. “Now our greatest challenge is managing growth,” Roulac says. “We are keeping the supply chain lean and efficient and keeping close tabs on our working capital.” Meanwhile, the business continues to drive forward new products and initiatives.

“We are always reinventing ourselves,” Roulac adds. “We can’t rest on our laurels. We have been a single-ingredient brand and now are creating value-added foods that people buy already made. We have organic coconut and red palm shortening and buttery spread. Now, we are expanding our line further.”

In January, the company is launching a line of organic apple sauce with chia seeds. The tasty new product will come in three flavors: coconut mango, apple pie spice and pure apple. Whole Foods will be a major distributor of the new line, although like other products in the line, the chia seed apple sauce will hit markets across the world.

Still growing, still green

Nutiva has been a leader in the organic food brands of the world, with a 61 percent annual growth rate since 2004. Inc. Magazine has recognized Nutiva as one of America’s fastest growing companies six years in a row.

With new products continually in development, Roulac predicts the company will about double in revenue in 2015. Nutiva is making major waves in the food industry, helping to spread the word about healthy, sustainable eating.

While Nutiva is Roulac’s major business focus, he remains an advocate for sustainability. In fact, his passions intertwine. Nutiva donates 1 percent of sales to sustainable agriculture. So far, the company has given $2.2 million to nonprofits within the industry.

Roulac is also launching a campaign to promote carbon farming, which he feels is the next big thing in sustainable agriculture. Besides being a CEO, John writes articles and gives talks on the subject of green business and organic farming.

Nutiva is a business with strong dedication to a mission. Roulac is grateful for his team, which he says is dedicated to the cause and works hard for the business. “We have a great staff,” he explains. “One of our largest indicators of success is how people enjoy working here. We do monthly teambuilding talks; we screen films and have an annual picnic.” Working together to meet a common goal, the Nutiva crew is building change, one healthy product at a time.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Oakland Pallet