When I think back to the summer of 2003, I remember the exciting, yet apprehensive feeling that settled in to permanently live with us when the idea of Navitas first came to life. Our friends Paul and Lisa had been importing Maca for sale in Australia and knowing we were in transition with work, thought it might be a good fit for us, too. Zach and Paul had a long history of traveling together in their twenties, sharing a profound curiosity about different cultures and traditional foods abroad. It was through these early experiences that Paul was introduced to the miracle plant Maca from Peru. As is typical of an entrepreneur, Zach saw infinite possibilities for a business beyond Maca and comfort with the risk, while I stared at my pregnant belly of six months with a mix of hope, trepidation and a fair amount of skepticism. After all, we had only been married for a little over two years, not yet ready to be parents, much less for the enormous responsibility of the “other baby” we were about to raise. But, we both came of age embedded within the Grateful Dead community and therefore the idea of starting a health food company fit squarely within our personal ideologies. Convinced that traditional superfoods would help Westerners be healthier, we forged ahead with nothing more than the vision of what could be and a nominal personal investment. We had no idea then that Navitas would evolve to become a wellness lifestyle brand supporting health seekers like us and helping to advance organic agriculture in the process.
As Navitas celebrates 15 years in business, I am amazed at how far we’ve come. So much has changed since the beginning, both within the industry and personally throughout these years. Several pivotal moments and instrumental people have helped to create a confluence of success for the company. As we celebrate this milestone, it seems fitting to honor each of those crossroads and the amazing people that share our story because without them, we wouldn’t be here today.
Timing is Everything
During our inception in 2003, sales of organic food products were reported to be between $10-11 billion dollars annually. Market demand for healthier products would steadily increase over the years and the Organic Trade Association reports that sales for organics reached a record-breaking $49.4 billion in 2017. Alongside this trend, the global wellness industry (beauty, nutrition & fitness) skyrocketed from a $68 billion industry to a whopping $3.7 trillion enterprise between 2003 to 2015. These numbers reflect a consumer backlash to rising lifestyle-related disease rates, obesity and mental health disorders that threaten population health as we know it. It also demonstrates that as the public becomes more educated about the health hazards embedded in our environment and in our food system, more are turning to organic every year.
Leading by Example
In 2003, there were only a few companies importing traditional superfoods like ours to compliment the wide array of homegrown organic products on the market. We were fortunate to fill an industry niche, succeeded in taking the products nationwide at the right time and as a result, became the early pioneers of the superfood category. This distinction has always kept us committed to staying true to who we are at the core - endeavoring to put the health of people and the planet first by sourcing the highest quality products cultivated through organic, sustainable farming practices as our guiding principle.
Coming Alive in 2005
Having moved from a home-based business to the Novato business park the prior year, we set the ball in motion for having the ability to scale as needed. It was do or die time and the company needed more manpower and more money to expand to the next level. Friends Ward & Carolin came through, partnering with us to distribute Navitas on the Canadian market. With that and a small loan from family, we added Cacao and Goji Berries to the line alongside our flagship product Maca. Both the move to our current headquarters in Novato and the addition of Cacao and Goji proved to be the catalyst we needed. Undoubtedly though, the most critical part of 2005 was the initial branding by our friend and current Creative Director Judy Hemming that would transform the brand to visually represent the phrase, “Power Foods for the Modern Lifestyle.” With its eye-popping colors and simple, modern graphics, the line changed from hippie to chic overnight, opening doors to an entirely new demographic of health-seeking individuals.
Connecting the Dots
The next three years were spent hustling, spread thin with a skeleton staff. My brothers John and Mike moved north to lend a hand with operations over the next couple of years, offering a critical lifeline right when we needed it. Zach focused on sales and making connections at places like Expo West, in Peru and abroad. As usual, he made decisions based on his gut feelings, both of who to trust and what next steps would be worthwhile. We landed accounts with Whole Foods Market and Amazon by the end of 2006, expanded our warehouse space in Novato and added a few more staff members.
After a long period of contemplation, I returned to school to become a nurse while helping out with the business part time and raising our toddler. For the first time in years, Zach and I began to go our separate ways professionally for the good of the family and with the intention of widening our safety net. While I may not have been physically present during those years, the trials and tribulations of Navitas would continue to come home each and every day, and for all the years that followed.
But, the story doesn't end here. Check back next week for Part 2!