There have been many organic food companies that achieved a level of success and then were purchased by a large food company. Cascadian Farm and Annie’s, purchased by General Mills, and Kashi, purchased by Kellogg’s, are three examples. That won’t happen at Nature’s Path Organic Foods, a family-owned business that has been a pioneering leader in the organic food movement for the past 35 years. The Canada-based maker of organic and non-GMO cereals and snack foods has an unwavering commitment to organic food production that is rooted in the Stephens family, which founded Nature’s Path and continues to run it today.
Nature’s Path has also been a leader in the non-GMO movement as one of the first companies to have their products Non-GMO Project Verified. Nature’s Path co-founder Arran Stephens was an early supporter of the Non-GMO Project, and has been a strong opponent of the dangers of genetic engineering, and the threat they pose to organic foods.
Recently Nature’s Path announced a leadership change with co-founder Ratana Stephens retiring as CEO and joining her husband, Arran, on the board of directors.
Arjan Stephens, Nature’s Path Organic Foods’ current general manager and president of Que Pasa, has assumed the role of president of Nature’s Path, and will lead the company’s growth and sustainability strategy.
Ken Roseboro, editor of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, recently interviewed Arjan about assuming leadership of Nature’s Path.
What are some initiatives that Nature’s Path is involved with to further your mission of being a platform for positive change?
Arjan Stephens: Regenerative organics is one that we’re putting a lot of effort behind, both in trials and in the first regenerative organic oat products. Also, all the palm oil that we source is Regenerative Organic Certified.
Fair Trade is also important for us, and we support fair trade chocolate extensively. We’re going to continue to work with our partners and farmers to create even better practices that are more climate friendly and can help reverse the big challenges we’re facing as a society and as a planet.
What do you see as the value of regenerative organics?
Arjan Stephens: The value is how farmers can develop practices where they’re being even more mindful of the earth and sequestering carbon. We already know that organic farmers do a tremendous job of that through all the biodiverse practices they use. We think organic is the base threshold.
I think organic certification has changed over the years. Hydroponics has been allowed into organic and other things that the people who started the organic food movement oppose. We stand for food grown in the soil, and for sustainable practices whether that’s fair trade or ROC certified.
Non-GMO was a big one for us as you well know. We were early pioneers taking a stand against GMO foods and helping to make people aware about GMOs in the food supply chain.
In addition to GMOs, a growing number of people are concerned about pesticides such as glyphosate in food products.
Arjan Stephens: Even if a company’s products are Non-GMO Project Verified, which is a good step, they can still be using chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which are prohibited in organic food production.
There were glyphosate tests done of some natural food brands, and massive amounts of glyphosate were found in oat products.
I saw results of those tests. Oats are often sprayed with glyphosate right before harvest though some companies are asking farmers to stop that practice.
Arjan Stephens: I think the two main oat millers, Grain Millers and Richardson Milling, have moved away from pre-harvest use of glyphosate.
What are some of the challenges that your company faces as well as the organic industry as a whole?
Arjan Stephens: As we’ve come out of COVID, I think one of the big challenges is consumer demand. People are worried about the possibility of a recession in Canada and the U.S., and around the world. They are purchasing less organic food in some categories. I think there’s also a concern that some people are trading down to some cheaper “natural brands” that aren’t organic or are buying conventional food products. Still, the organic consumer is staying strong, and it’s the people that dabble in or experiment with organic food that are buying non-organic options.
What is your vision for Nature’s Path going forward?
Arjan Stephens: I think that purpose will always stay the same: to always leave the earth better than you found it. We are passionate about being independent because we can chart our own path and take a stand for things that we believe in. Whether that’s protecting endangered species, supporting the non-GMO and organic food movement, or other initiatives like regenerative organic certification. Being independent is a big part of who we are and what we want to do. We want to grow and expand our scope and scale to do more good for the earth through organic farming.