RICHMOND, BC. — Founded in 1985 by Arran and Ratana Stephens and still family-owned and -operated in Canada today, Nature’s Path Foods continues to uphold the company’s stated mission to “leave the earth better than we found it.” Presiding over five brands, including EnviroKidz, Love Crunch, Qi’a, Que Pasa and Nature’s Path, the company specializes in breakfast and snack foods that are all made with organic, non-GMO ingredients.
Last November, Nature's Path acquired a majority interest in Anita’s Organic Mill, Chilliwack, BC, allowing for increased vertical integration throughout the production process. The acquisition has eased the pressure of supply chain bottlenecks that are impacting food production across the globe, according to the company.
In an interview with Jyoti Stephens, vice president of mission and strategy, and Arjan Stephens, general manager, the siblings discussed ways in which Nature’s Path is growing its sustainability mission while continuing to expand its product lines. Currently, that effort is taking the form of advancing regenerative organic agricultural practices in the company’s ingredient supply chain and beyond.
“Organic food and farming is at the root of everything we do,” Ms. Stephens said. “All (our brands) are organic certified and we think organic is the right base to be building off of. It already has climate benefits and regenerative organic certification is an additional practice on top of that to deepen our ability to sequester carbon in the soil.”
The term “regenerative” does not yet have any widely standardized or legally binding meaning on its own when applied to agricultural practices. It is possible for companies to stamp it on products with varying degrees of regenerative practices involved in the production process. A crop may be grown using regenerative techniques alongside conventional herbicide, pesticide and GMO seed usage. “Regenerative organic,” however, has more measurable qualities because of the law mandating the term organic.
Since 2008, Nature’s Path has been purchasing renewable energy credits and carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutral status. More recently, the company has shifted its focus from carbon neutrality to promoting regenerative organic agriculture practices that sequester carbon in the soil.
“We took the budget that we had set aside for offsets and invested in this partnership with Canadian Organic Growers (which is) $100,000 a year, and through this we’ll be bringing on three additional farms that are interested in achieving regenerative organic certification,” Ms. Stephens said.
The funds can be applied to training, education, networking, cover crop seed purchases and the cost of official regenerative organic certification.
“Additionally, one of the outcomes is to create an open source manual for any farm that is interested in achieving or integrating more regenerative organic practices on their farms to make it widely accessible,” Ms. Stephens added.
Despite the relatively new mainstream interest in regenerative farming, Nature’s Path has sought from its inception to spearhead eco-conscious agricultural and production techniques in the food manufacturing industry.
“All of the cocoa we buy is fair trade certified, we use palm oil in our toaster pastries and that is all RSPO certified,” Ms. Stephens said. “I’ve been to our palm plantation in Brazil and seen some of the amazing reforestation work that they’ve done there. Our wood-based packaging is all FSC certified, we’ve signed on to Ellen MacArthur New Plastics Economy pledge to have all of our packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025 and we’re about 97% of the way there by weight.”
Within the company, Nature’s Path encourages several initiatives to increase employee sustainability, including stipends for carpooling, taking the bus and purchasing a bicycle, as well as electric vehicle incentives. Additionally, Nature’s Path is the only company that has received zero waste certification at all of its sites by TRUE, an organization that grades facilities based on solid waste diverted from landfills and overall carbon footprint reduction.
Two Nature’s Path brands, EnviroKidz and Love Crunch, donate percentages of their proceeds to charitable causes. For every box of EnviroKidz cereal sold, 1% of sales are donated to environmental non-profits that support species and habitat conservation or environmental education for children, according to the company. The newest addition to the EnviroKidz product line is Rhino Rolls, a cinnamon bun-inspired cereal that supports Rhino habitat preservation. For every bag of Love Crunch granola that is sold, an equivalent amount of food is donated to food banks as part of Nature’s Path “Bite-for-Bite” program. The minimum annual donation is $2 million and since the program’s inception, the company has donated close to $4 million of food each year.
Through an annual grant program called Gardens for Good, the company has been working to increase interest in regenerative organic agriculture on more local levels.
“Since 2010, we’ve donated money to five community gardens in North America every year,” Ms. Stephens said. “Just seeing how much there was such an increased need for access to food, we changed that program up last year and now we’re giving $100,000 to 21 gardens last year and about $110,000 to 22 gardens this year. These are amazing community gardens all across North America really focused on bringing people together, addressing food apartheid, creating education and of course delicious access to organic food.”
Nature’s Path ongoing effort to increase sustainability is rooted in the company’s original mission, which the family feels is strengthened and upheld by its intergenerational ownership.
“Our vision is to always leave the soil better than we found it,” Mr. Stephens said. “That’s why we’re independent, that’s why we haven’t sold this business, that’s why Jyoti and myself and the rest of our family is committed to seeing this company last for generations. We really want to make a difference every day, and that’s what we’re excited to do.”