RATANA STEPHENS, CEO OF NATURE’S PATH - INTERVIEW WITH WBM TOP 100 INNOVATION CEO
RATANA STEPHENS, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER OF NATURE’S PATH HAS BEEN SELECTED BY THE JUDGES OF WORLD BIZ MAGAZINE'S ANNUAL AWARDS TO BE A RECIPIENT OF THE TOP 100 CEOS IN INNOVATION AWARD 2021. THIS SELECTION FOLLOWS A STRINGENT PROCESS THAT EVALUATED OVER 40,000 NOMINEES TO SELECT THE EXCLUSIVE LIST OF 100 WINNERS.
"Nature’s Path has been a proudly organic company from the beginning. With a mission to always leave the earth better than we found it."
Ratana Stephens founded organic breakfast foods company Nature’s Path Foods with her husband Arran 35 years ago. As CEO and co-founder, she has grown the company to become North America’s largest independent certified organic breakfast and snack food company, while remaining firmly committed to Nature’s Path mission of leaving the earth better than they found it.
Ratana remains at the center of every development within the company, which operates on the triple-bottom line of social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and financial viability, in that order. Since 2008, Ratana and Arran personally, and additionally through Nature’s Path, have committed to donating almost $40 million to various philanthropic and community service efforts.
A dedicated student, Ratana studied psychology and Sanskrit at Arga University in India, where she also obtained an MA in English literature. She went onto become a college lecturer, before meeting her husband Arran and moving to Vancouver.
As a role model for women in business, Ratana’s contribution to the successful growth of Nature’s Path has been recognized by the business community through a variety of awards, including being named by the Vancouver Sun as one of 150 noteworthy British Columbians. Ratana has also been awarded the distinguished YWCA Women of Distinction Award for entrepreneurship and innovation, regarding her impact on business and the eco-movement. In 2013 she was listed as one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network. Most recently, she was honoured with an Influential Women in Business Award by Business in Vancouver.
Nature's Path Foods has been in the news recently regarding its CSR actions, please share some details.
Our annual Gardens for Good program expanded in 2021 to support 21 organic, community gardens across the US and Canada with $5,000 grants. With a record-number of applicants, we ended up awarding 22 gardens with grants to help make organic food more accessible to all.
Nature’s Path also expanded the Eat Well Do Good program in 2020, donating one million bowls of food to 10 U.S. and Canadian food banks. In addition to the food donations, Nature’s Path also raised more than $335,000 for their food bank partners to aid in addressing food insecurity, which hit record levels during the pandemic.
Nature’s Path also became the first Canadian company to make a 100% Fairtrade cocoa commitment through the Fairtrade Sourced Ingredient Program. Since 2012, Nature’s Path has exclusively sourced 100% organic Fairtrade cacao and this will now be reflected across all packaging.
Nature’s Path also expanded its partnership with Loop when the global reuse platform launched in Canada. Loop allows customers to shop for their favorite products in reusable, durable packaging in support of the circular economy.
How is Nature's Path Foods (as the North American segment market leader) driving industry innovation?
Innovation is extremely important to the growth of Nature’s Path and it gives us the opportunity to create products that meet the needs of our consumers. Nature’s Path typically releases 15-20 innovation products each year across all four brands. This past year, Nature’s Path introduced a line of delicious Superfood Granolas and Oatmeal cups, chock full of functional ingredients designed to contribute to optimal health, improve endurance, boost stamina, and sharpen mental focus. The Superfood line includes two granolas, Golden Turmeric and Smoothie Bowl, as well as two convenient, ready-to-eat oatmeal cups in Golden Turmeric and Cacao flavors. For our Love Crunch brand, Salted Caramel Pretzel Granola was launched last year. The new granola combines pretzels with dark chocolate chunks, crisp caramel puffs, and a sprinkling of Himalayan pink salt. Que Pasa ventured into the grain-free category by releasing our first-ever grain free tortilla chips in sea salt, nacho, and squeeze of lime flavors. Made with cassava flour, Que Pasa Grain Free Chips are an inclusive option for those who prefer not to eat corn or who follow a paleo diet.
Why do you believe your customers hold Nature's Path in high regard and remain loyal?
Nature’s Path has been a proudly organic company from the beginning. With a mission to always leave the earth better than we found it, organic is front of mind for everything we do at Nature’s Path. Our customers value our strong stance on organic, non-GMO, and plant-based products. As we continue to grow as a company we have also begun to explore the benefits of regenerative organic agriculture, which goes even further beyond the rigorous standards of organic farming. Our customers see the value in our commitment to remain family owned and operated, which allows us to not only be nimble, but also to stay true to our organic roots.
Giving back is a key pillar of your mission, tell us about this commitment and some initiatives over the years.
At Nature’s Path, giving back is at the heart of what we do. Arran and I have donated more than 40 million dollars over the past 11 years. As previously mentioned, our Eat Well Do Good and Gardens for Good program help to make organic food more accessible in low-income communities. In 2020, we also increased our annual donation commitment from 1 million to 2.5 million to help support those struggling with food insecurity in North America. Through the Bite4Bite program, for each Love Crunch product sold, the equivalent in cash or food is donated to food banks in Canada the US. For EnviroKidz, we have an extensive give back program that helps to support animal conservation organizations. For each EnviroKidz product sold, a portion of the sale is donated to support animal conservation efforts to help protect vulnerable and endangered species. In terms of sustainability initiatives, sustainability is at the core of everything we do at Nature’s Path. We follow the triple-bottom line of socially responsible, environmentally sustainable, and financially viable. Nature’s Path has a series of sustainability goals and targets that are part of our strategic and annual business planning process. Nature’s Path was the first North American cereal company to have our manufacturing facilities Zero Waste Certified. We are also committed to making all of our packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. Since 2008, we have supported 100% renewable energy for all of our operations and head office, and since our inception we have always used organic farming practices. All of these initiatives help to reduce our carbon impact.
From a market leadership perspective, how is Nature's Path working to achieve wider change in the industry?
We hope to see more CPG companies moving towards organic in the fight to combat climate change. The environmental benefits of organic farming practices are abundantly clear and we encourage our industry to do its part to help fight climate change. We are always willing to work with our partners to help them improve their sustainability initiatives and are constantly reviewing our own internal processes to do our part to support people and planet.
For more information, please visit: www.naturespath.com