Left Coast Naturals —walking the talk with a non-GMO deadline

By Arianne Pfoutz
Published: April 2, 2014
Category: Non-GMO Company Profiles

Wyffels Hybrids advertises for its non-GMO corn seed on a billboard in Iowa

Ian Walker, president of Left Coast Naturals

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Left Coast Naturals, an organic and natural foods manufacturer and distributor located in Burnaby, BC, likes to be a little edgy, a bit different—not only in their unique snack creations but in the way they think about food, business, and the planet. It’s not enough to deliver food that is different, delicious, and pure—it’s about changing the way people think about eating and growing food, while maintaining quality relationships.

“Our products are all about staying true to the way nature made them,” said Ian Walker, company president. “GMOs stand for the opposite. We feel this is the direction in which our industry needs to go. Someone had to step up first—why not us?”

Putting money into priorities

Left Coast Naturals is the first distributor in North America to have a formal non-GMO policy with target dates attached. Meeting that triple bottom line—People, Planet, and Prosperity—has been motivating this mission-driven corporate culture from the start. Known as a sustainability trailblazer, the company recently took a hard look at their carbon footprint, from farm to table; they found that 80% of the print originated from how the food in their products was grown and transported. They quickly started helping farmers to reduce their own footprints through tilling, irrigation, and other measures.

The unwavering commitment to organics has also been omnipresent. Nearly all the products in their three brands—Skeet & Ike’s, Hippie Foods, and Left Coast Natural Bulk Foods—are organic. Close to 100% of the bulk foods are organic, as are nearly two-thirds of all brands represented.

When GMOs became an issue, the path was clear. “We favor unadulterated food,” Ian said. “The loss of seed diversity and healthy soil are critical for our food supply. And we don’t like the idea of a group of people ‘owning nature.’ ”

The move to get rid of GMOs began ten years ago. “We’ve been growing 20% to 30% yearly, so we can reinvest in our business,” said Ian. “We don’t want to be huge or rich—we don’t need a massive sandbox—we just want to accomplish our goals.”

Growing quickly

The company now commands a fleet of trucks, a 32,000 square foot warehouse, and a 10,000 square foot production facility. Its origins were much humbler: In 1996, Ian and his friend Jason Dorland began making unusual nut butters (think peanut butter mixed with yogurt pieces) in a basement kitchen, selling them to markets under the label “Skeet & Ike’s.” Stores wanted to stock the product, and soon the partners began representing other brands as well. The need for bulk ingredients to expand their snack line segued them into organic bulk distribution—Left Coast Naturals was created in 2009 as the distribution and repackaging company.

Converting to non-GMO

Although Left Coast vendors have always been asked to provide GMO status, in these days of widespread GMOs, third party verification has become advantageous—the deeper transparency instills trust, while enabling the company to fulfill its non-GMO mission. Brand Manager Trish Kelly is involved in the complicated nitty-gritty of the conversion process. “Our policy and procedures will be a template for others to use,” she said. “There’s a challenge to being the first to do it—you work out the kinks.”

Effective immediately, all new products developed by the company, or brought into distribution, will need to prove non-GMO status. For current products in distribution, strict timelines have been set for weeding out GMOs from both bulk foods and packaged grocery catalogs by the 2015 deadline. If vendor products are not certified organic, and contain high-risk ingredients or items of concern, they must be third- party verified. Left Coast will accept Non-GMO Project verification, or adequate lab test results.

With Left Coast’s in-house brands, any products at risk for GMOs (i.e., those containing corn or canola), are double certified, organic as well as Non-GMO Project.

Feedback from retailers has been very positive, Kelly added, as the demand for non-GMO products is rising.

Ian insists on Left Coast Naturals going above and beyond to ensure non-GMO status, because “The market is going that way and we want to beat the curve.”

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, April 2014

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