When Arran Stephens was 23, he started Canada's first whole foods plant-based restaurant, introducing people to a new way of thinking about both food and business – one that values environmentally sound practices, community and sustainability. Over the past 50 years, the organic food pioneer has continued to live by these values as he launched the country's first large natural foods supermarket and founded Nature's Path Foods, North America's first certified organic breakfast cereal company.
Mr. Stephens credits his father with introducing him to organic farming and inspiring him to "leave the earth better than he found it." In the early 1950s, after noticing that the nitrogen-based fertilizers he was using on his farm north of Victoria, B.C., were having adverse effects on topsoil quality, Mr. Stephens's father stopped using chemicals and put up a sign stating "No sprays or poisons used."
This simple and straightforward approach has guided Arran Stephens throughout his career and proved instrumental to his business success. Nature's Path Foods originally made bread and other products, but Mr. Stephens soon identified a gap in the market: organic breakfast cereal. He also recognized the importance of having control over the manufacturing process to ensure his new company's ongoing independence.
Indeed, even before he and his wife Ratana started Nature's Path Foods in 1985, Mr. Stephens could see industry consolidation on the horizon. "When I started out, I knew that organic foods would become mainstream," he says. "I wanted to thrive and withstand the massive competition that would emerge once that happened."
The company has certainly thrived. Nature's Path Foods now has three Zero Waste Certified manufacturing facilities (one in Canada and two in the U.S.), directly employs 700 people and supports over 125,000 acres of organic farmland and the farmers who grow the organic, non-GMO crops used in the company's many products.
The company has also maintained its independence, even as large multinational competitors continue buying up smaller firms to increase their share of the growing market for organic food.
Mr. Stephens says he receives dozens of offers each year from investors and multinational conglomerates wanting to buy the company. "Nature's Path is not for sale," he says. "We are a family legacy, and with our independence we can speak our minds, champion causes close to our hearts and make decisions that we believe contribute to positive change."
One of those causes is advocating for GMO labelling. Nature's Path Foods was a founding member of the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization that provides third-party verification to ensure that food is non-GMO and all of its products have been tested to ensure they are GMO free.
"It's been a marvelous journey and I am grateful for all of it," he says. "With my wife of 48 years, Ratana, our children and our 700 staff, I think we have done our little part to make our world better. We have a saying here at Nature's Path: 'Get up, go to work and save the world.' We are doing our bit, just as everyone has to do their part to make a difference."
This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.