Shifting the Paradigm

Gretchen Grani and the team at Nutiva are leading the way toward a planet-friendly, others-focused food industry

Since its founding in 1999, Nutiva has committed to giving back to the community and supporting organizations that promote sustainable farming, food and environmental activism, trees and gardens, and healthy communities. Gretchen Grani, director of corporate giving and sustainability, discusses her role on the giving side of this generous company.

Tell me about Nutiva.

Gretchen Grani: Nutiva is an organic food company that is driven by a mission to revolutionize the way the world eats. We’re advocates for creating a sustainable food system, and we have four core values: community, well-being, purity, and innovation.

Why is Nutiva a great place to work?

Grani: First of all, we attract smart, values-minded people who are a pleasure to work with. But as an advocate for healthy lifestyles, Nutiva also has a fantastic culture of wellness. The company pays for personal gym memberships, we have a staff chef who makes us healthy snacks, we make salads from our edible garden, and all of that shows that we work for a company that truly cares about our well-being.

What’s another top priority at Nutiva?

Grani: A top priority has always been to use our success as a force for social and environmental good. Our founder and CEO, John Roulac, has demonstrated that by giving away 1 percent of our sales every year since founding the company in 1999. Our sales have grown 61 percent annually since 2004, and our donations have grown at the same rate. We have given away $3 million to date, and have an ambitious goal to give away $10 million by 2020.

How does your work support the company’s values, as well as its business goals?

Grani: My work with our sustainability initiatives ultimately lowers costs and risk, as well as reduces resource intensity in our value chain. These initiatives also foster growth and resiliency, and spur innovation, all of which supports our company’s business goals. My work in corporate giving is directly linked to our commitment to building a healthy and sustainable world for all.

How are consumers influencing the natural food industry at the moment?

Grani: We have been disconnected from our food and environment for a long time, which has made us sick, overweight, and confused. But everyone eats, and it’s one of our most powerful, emotionally binding experiences, so food has become a hot topic for consumers. People want to know what’s in their food and where it comes from, and Nutiva is responding by increasing our transparency and advocating for the labeling of genetically modified food. We also support nonprofit garden and urban farming programs that are healing our disconnection from food and advancing food justice.

What are some current business trends that are affecting Nutiva?

Grani: There is a business trend to consider not just stockholders but all stakeholders, including the environment. As we move into a resource-constrained and climate-changing world, farmers and food companies are especially vulnerable, and it is becoming clear that remaining within our shared planetary boundaries will require a paradigm shift in the way we do business. In just the last two years, Nutiva has moved toward this shift by becoming certified as a B Corporation and Green Business, producing fair trade products, measuring and reporting our sustainability performance, and becoming a zero-waste facility.

How did Nutiva become a zero-waste facility?

Grani: Our waste stream used to be mixed, but after we sorted it into different components, we were able to sell it. Now, we donate food byproducts to farmers for animal feed, we sell expired coconut oil for use as biofuel, we donate our coconut drums for use as rain barrels, and we sell the huge sacks that our chia seeds come in for reuse in industrial storage. It was actually very simple—every business should do it. It’s a moneymaker!

What are some industry-specific trends that Nutiva is leading?

Grani: Nutiva is a leader in the natural foods industry, actively advancing the sustainable food movement. We see ourselves as a catalyst for change. We paved the way for hemp foods consumption in the US, and we continue to support national legislation for growing industrial hemp. We are leading the fight against GMO foods and for GMO labeling, and we have introduced a sustainable, fair-trade red palm oil into the market to replace the previously unsustainable choices for consumers.

Can you elaborate on some of the good causes that Nutiva has participated in?

Grani: In addition to our advocacy work around hemp and GMOs, we’ve funded sustainable farming training and documentary films, nutrition education programs, and hundreds of organic edible gardens. When we moved to Richmond, we committed to planting a fruit tree garden at every public school, and we’re about half done with that project. We host an annual, free basketball camp for kids, coached by our employees. This year, we are also focusing on carbon farming as a possible solution for climate change.

What is something you hope to see in the future of the industry?

Grani: If we approach sustainability from the point of view of service, rather than from the point of view of profit or brand image, it’s a much more profound path. My hope is that Nutiva and other companies like it will keep pushing the food industry toward producing healthy products in a way that serves a greater good to others and the planet.