Part Seven of a Seven-Part Series on Natural Success Stories
As we round out our editorial series on Natural Success Stories, it’s time to highlight the accomplishments of several female industry pioneers. These amazing women cleared the way in previously unchartered territory. As company founders and top-level executives, they are truly inspiring. There are hundreds of women who we would have loved to feature in these pages. While space does not allow us to share all the amazing stories of the incredible and talented women in our industry, we are proud to offer the stories of the following leading ladies.
Digestive Health Pioneer
It wasn’t long ago that most Americans thought the extent of digestive care was chewing on a chalky tablet after greasy meals. Brenda Watson, C.N.C., best-selling author and founder of ReNew Life Formulas, Inc., Palm Harbor, FL, was one of the first people to truly understand the connection between digestive health, internal cleansing and overall well-being.
Watson built ReNew Life around the idea that digestive health care is critical to one’s well-being. After her own health struggles that conventional medicine did not help with, Watson founded ReNew Life “as a way to create products that did not yet exist, but that were sorely needed to address digestive health as the foundation of overall health,” she states. Her company has become synonymous with high-quality, high-potency digestive care products.
But it’s not just digestive health supplements that Watson cares so much about. Watson’s focus on education is key to her helping so many people lead healthier lives. Whether it’s lectures, radio appearances, public television shows or books, Watson’s mission is to teach others about the importance of addressing digestive health at the beginning of any health journey. “I want to inspire others to be their own health advocates, and to seek out knowledge that will help them make the right decisions when it comes to their health challenges,” she states.
Perhaps, being emotionally intuitive as a woman has given her an edge in this endeavor. “It allows me to better connect with and understand consumers,” says Watson.
While many find Watson inspiring, her own inspiration comes from the people around her at ReNew Life. “They are an amazing group of people, and I am proud to call them my ReNew Life family,” states Watson.
As the leader of a startup company years ago, Susan Morano, president and CEO of Suzanne’s Specialties, New Brunswick, NJ, dealt with frustration over her treatment by other businesses she sought to work with. “I’ve had more people hang up on me from large corporations because I didn’t count…I couldn’t order so many bags, or so many pounds. It was irritating,” Morano says.
Her answer was not only to build a successful business as supplier of nutritive sweeteners like honey and brown rice syrup, but also to turn around and help those in the position she once occupied. “We enjoy helping small companies to succeed,” she says.
Morano’s journey in the natural products industry began against the backdrop of family life. Husband Jim Morano, Ph.D., worked away from home, and Susan was doing her part to raise a family. “We started Suzanne’s Specialties as a hobby. When I married Jim, I acquired two children and a dog. I needed to have something to do at home,” she says. The fledgling company was operated out of the Moranos’ kitchen and other borrowed space. The only initial goal was to establish a business that could support itself.
But in the 30 intervening years, the company has grown far beyond those modest aspirations. Though she brought some knowledge of working with food and basic sweeteners, she says, “My husband is the one with the Ph.D. in food science. As we got along, we had to take what we did at home and expand it. It gets a little bit bigger, and you’ve got recipes, and formulas, and so I depended upon my husband to guide us along.”
Looking back at the business atmosphere of the time, the Moranos recall the difficult road to acceptance facing women who owned businesses. They knew they had to find a niche within their chosen industry that would be welcoming to a female leader. “We settled on the natural foods industry,” Jim Morano says.
Some people multi-task. Suki Kramer multi-talents. The ballet-trained competitve ballroom dancer, journalist and product formulator founded suki skincare in 2000. The 14-year-old company is now estimated to generate millions in sales each year with celebrity devotees like Jennifer Garner and Eva Longoria.
Kramer, the company’s formulator and president, had struggled with skin problems and sensitivities all her life. About 20 years ago, she tried her hand at developing homemade products that would suit her needs better than anything available in stores.
“I tried everything from gentle ‘naturals’ that did little more than moisturize to synthetics that severely irritated my skin. so I began by creating a cure for myself, discovering that it’s the underlying cause of skin problems (often the same for all skin conditions—inflammation, systemic and immunity issues, bacteria production & oil imbalances, allergies),” says Kramer.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, she ended up studying with industry chemists and came up with a line of natural skincare products that are pure and efficacious, Kramer says.
Despite her success, Kramer says she has faced numerous obstacles as others didn’t respond to a female leader as positively as they did male counterparts. “I’ve proven this time and time again, bringing men into my business and seeing the reaction to them saying the very same things I would say. It’s actually quite funny, if you can separate yourself from it. But it’s also frustrating, of course,” she states.
In the end, it was a combination of her tenaciousness, her ability to turn challenges into triumphs and her detemination to build a unique advanced-technology skincare line that drove her to succeed. “It comes down to authenticity, ethics, formulation technology and a commitment to efficacy and purity,” says Kramer.
True marketing geniuses can explain a concept in a way that sparkles and shines, making outside-the-box connections that are smart, meaningful and memorable. Suzanne Shelton, managing partner of The Shelton Group, Skokie, IL, is one of those talents. She explains why coming to natural products marketing was a fit for her in the first place: “My first career was in the music business, in the punk rock and new wave niche specifically, starting in 1979. Explaining why curcumin is a better alternative to NSAIDS isn’t that different from suggesting people listen to The Clash rather than Fleetwood Mac.” See what we mean?
Like many female leaders in this industry, motherhood was a factor in driving Shelton to this market. “After my twins were born in 1986, I wanted to do something that felt more meaningful…After my first Expo West in 1987, I knew I was home,” she states.
Over the years, Shelton has represented scores of natural supplements, foods and ingredient suppliers. Through relationships with companies like NOW Foods, Sabinsa, Synutra Ingredients and Herbalist & Alchemist, Shelton is “driven to do the right thing, to make things better, to advocate for best practices that move the industry forward with integrity.”
Shelton is active in trade groups as a member and a leader. She chairs the communications committee of the American Herbal Products Association and was a founding board and executive committee member of the Natural Products Foundation.
Shelton attributes connections with these groups and others like UNPA and CRN as contributors to her success. “I’ve found my involvement in trade associations to be invaluable for the connections, information and ability to participate in working on industry issues,” she states. In fact, UNPA’s leader, Loren Israelsen, has been a true inspiration for Shelton. “He always teaches me so much and has inspired me to keep advocating for best practices for over 20 years,” Shelton states.
She adds, “I absolutely love my work and have every intention of doing this for the rest of my life.”
Those who know energetic and enthusiastic Janie Hoffman, CEO and founder Mamma Chia, Carlsbad, CA, and author of Chia Vitality and The Chia Cookbook, may hardly believe what her life was like just a few short years ago. For 20 years, Hoffman dealt with several debilitating autoimmune disorders that left her so challenged, she often couldn’t leave the house.
Rather than giving up on herself, Hoffman tried numerous diets and treatments, eventually stumbling upon chia seed. “Just a few months later, I was in complete remission. I knew at that point I simply HAD to make this part of my soul’s mission, since chia seeds had the power to help so many people like myself,” says Hoffman.
Hoffman created a line of chia-based drinks—the first of their kind—and branched out to fruity-chia squeeze packs, another unique concept. “We introduced retailers and consumers to something that was entirely new and foreign to them,” says Hoffman. “The reaction has been absolutely overwhelming—both from the success we’ve received business-wise, but even more importantly, from the thanks we hear from our community every day about how Mamma Chia products have made their lives better.”
Pioneering a category isn’t just what makes Hoffman a success story. It’s also the good that she is doing in the world. Mamma Chia is a Certified B Corporation, a member of 1% For the Planet and a founding member of the Slow Money Alliance.
Hoffman says her desire to be the best she can be every day stems from a core belief that her company’s products truly help people. She states, “I think my sincere belief in chia and my personal experience with this amazing little seed, fuels my drive to succeed. It’s not just a business model for me—it’s really my soul’s mission.”
Naomi Whittel was in the south of France enjoying a conversation with her cousin Eric Lafforgue, M.D., when the pair began discussing the French paradox. Whittel, who is known for her insatiable curiosity and passion for sharing health and wellness solutions with everyone around her, knew right then and there that she needed to bring these healthful, scientifically validated French polyphenols to the U.S. nutrition market. Growing up on a biodynamic farm in Europe, Whittel brings a holistic approach to each of her brands through ecological sourcing, cultural sensitivity, fair-trade relationships and female leadership empowerment.
Whittel then pinpointed the perfect organic/biodynamic French vineyard and developed a novel extraction process that preserved essential phytonutrients found in grape skins, stems and vines. They paired this polyphenol blend with resveratrol from Polygonum cuspidatum as the heart of the product line.
Whittel opened the doors to Reservage Organics, Gainesville, FL, in December 2008, and launched her first products in March 2009 with some key retailers like Vitamin Shoppe and Tunies being her first customers.
It’s no wonder these big players took notice. Whittle had created the first resveratrol-antioxidant brand in the industry. In just four years Whittel and her company have been honored with numerous industry and business accolades, including being added to Inc.’s 500 Fastest Growing Companies list in 2013 and winning the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2013 Award in Florida.
Today, Reservage Nutrition’s offerings have expanded worldwide to include beauty-from-within products dedicated to solving challenges like skin health and beauty, nutritional powders like Grass-fed Whey, the CocoaWell sub-brand based on the story of the indigenous Kuna people of coastal Panama, the ReBody brand dedicated to the science of body transformation and more. Through it all, Whittel insists that only the highest quality, clinically researched ingredients make it into her line. “Our core guiding principles at Reserveage are transparency, authenticity and best-in-class ingredients and manufacturing processes. I want what I choose for my friends and family to be available to yours as well,” said Whittel.
Association Leader, GMOs Fighter
After spending a few years at home with her young children, Roxanne Green felt it was time to return to the workforce. Green was already an avid shopper at PCC Natural Markets, so she was drawn to the business. “It was a natural fit for me,” says Green, who served as an assistant store manager for six years. “My mother always told us to find your passion and go fit it. I’ve been doing that for over 31 years here at PCC Natural Markets.”
That passion includes eating healthy and leading a sustainable way of life. “I grew up that way,” she states. “My mother instilled all of that in the family.” But it also encompasses health and body care (HBC), and she has served for more than two decades as the HBC coordinator at Redmond PCC. “That’s what I really like to do, and that is the HBC department. I run the department here in one of our stores, and I’m also a product screener for corporate,” Green states.
Green also made being involved in the Natural Products Association (NPA) a priority. The NPA Northwest region had been looking for a new board member and Green stepped up to the plate. She served on the board for more than 11 years, including five as president (2007–2012), before adding the national board to her resume by being elected to become president of the national NPA Board. Green also served on the steering committee to help establish the NPA Natural Seal for Personal Care Products.
The self-described over-achiever says that as part of the regional board, they made some headway on getting visibility for issues surrounding GMOs, including the need for labeling. While mandatory labeling did meet a successful vote in Washington State, she says, “It didn’t come to pass, but we’re not finished yet. We’re going to keep going for it.”
Climate change wasn’t a top-of-mind concern for many people in the 1980s, but Susie Hewson, founder and developer of Natracare, Greeley, CO, was different. Hewson was a member of Friends of the Earth at the time, and was growing increasingly frustrated at large corporations’ disrespect for the environment.
“Twenty-five years ago, it was anger and frustration with the conventional feminine hygiene industry that lead me to develop and launch Natracare as the pioneering organic and natural feminine hygiene brand,” says Hewson. “It was a moment of inspiration and years of perspiration for Natracare.”
Indeed, Hewson had an immense challenge ahead of her being the first to market organic and natural feminine hygiene products and creating a category that did not exist in stores. “It was a challenge, but one I was ready and willing to commit to,” she states.
Hewson certainly had the training to get her through: “Having an older brother teaches you about strength and determination and how to kick a ball with your left foot—that’s a strong metaphor in life and business!”
She also had the creative genius to offer a much-needed alternative to dioxin-releasing chlorinated products that were harmful to the environment and to women’s health. Hewson adds, “Also important was being ‘many years in advance’ ready with a certified organic product because when consumers eventually came to realize that choosing organic was really important, Natracare was established in the natural products industry.”
Hewson received the Women in Ethical Business award in 2008 and in 2009.
Mother of Natural Baby Food
Back in 1979, not many people shared Rondi Prescott’s views about what baby food should be. That year, her first child Lorissa was born, and nothing on the market met Prescott’s standards for healthy baby food.
“Health food stores did not carry any baby products, and I knew I would use my nutritional background and my passion for cooking natural foods to provide moms with another choice, healthy and natural baby foods,” she states.
Prescott went on to found and become CEO of Healthy Times, Poway, CA, at a time when working-mom CEOs were as scarce as healthy baby foods. “The first distributor presentation was made with my daughter sitting on my lap, enjoying my natural teething biscuit. This was a unique presentation in a male-dominated industry,” says Prescott.
Launching an organic baby/toddler food line was groundbreaking at that time, something easy to lose sight of in today’s market with big players like Campbell’s Soup, Danone and Hain Celestial all owning organic baby food brands, not to mention mainstream private label brands.
Recalls Prescott of her initial efforts to get buy-in, “It was difficult meeting with all male buyers with the goal of convincing them to bring in natural baby products, when there were not any baby products in any health food store.”
It didn’t take long to win them over, especially given her passion for standards and quality in the category. “I have full control from the recipe, to working with farmers for my ingredients, to the production of the products, and the art on my package. Each product is part of me and I never cut corners,” she states.
Other women who have achieved their goals and transformed the lives of others inspire Prescott. She states, “Women have come a long way in how they contribute to our overall society and participate in the business arena.”
Linda Miles, D.O.M.
In the early 1970s, vitamin E supplements were making news for their amazing health properties, but Linda Miles, D.O.M., co-founder and chief formulator of derma e, Simi Valley, CA, and her friend and co-founder David Stearn were going in another direction. “After learning that this remarkable antioxidant could be just as beneficial when applied to the skin, David and I introduced the first high-potency topical vitamin E crème,” says Miles, noting that this was the start of something big for the pair. “People were amazed with the results this vitamin E 12,000 IU Crème had on their skin, and derma e was born,” she states.
Today, the derma e name is a mainstay in the HABA sections of most industry stores. The brand continues to appeal to shoppers by offering highly effective natural skincare with a deeper purpose. As shoppers come back with their own success stories, Miles becomes even more inspired to continue this mission.
“As we’ve grown in this industry, we have always looked at the big picture. We firmly believe that educating consumers on the healthfulness and effectiveness of natural products supports our industry as a whole…It really is a symbiotic relationship. If a natural company becomes successful, it sheds positive light on the entire natural industry,” she states.
Miles says she and Stearn are dedicated to nature’s ability to foster better health and wellness, and believe in paying it forward, “contributing positively to our community, caring for our environment and making our world a better place.”
derma e supports various humanitarian causes and philanthropic organizations such as The Paraguay Project, Special Olympics: Ventura County, Vitamin Angels, Heal the Bay, World Wildlife Fund, Polaris Project and others.
Linda Kahler, president and CEO of Rainbow Light, Santa Cruz, CA, was a college student and working in a health food store when something hit her. A customer battling cancer was fighting back with natural means after allopathic medicine didn’t cure her. “I was deeply moved by the transformative impact simple changes in diet, lifestyle and supplement use can make in people’s health,” states Kahler. “Since then, helping people transform their own personal wellness as well as fighting global malnutrition have been commitments to which I’ve not only dedicated myself, but also our company.”
In 1981, Kahler founded Rainbow Light with the goal of bringing science-backed, food-based supplements to market. Today, her supplements are sold everywhere from independent health food to mass-market stores. Rainbow Light’s food-based multivitamin was the first of its kind. The company has since branched out with top formulations to support wellness for everyone: prenatal, women, men, kids and seniors.
Perhaps it was her retailing roots and her creative mind that have brought her brand to where it is today. “At retail is where I was introduced to a dedicated group of people starting an industry committed to community service—with health food stores serving as education and community centers for sharing knowledge and best practices for personal and planetary wellness,” says Kahler. “This foundation combined with the ability to innovate has cultivated our company’s mission, guiding principles and long-term success.”
Kahler wants her legacy to be more than the creation of the food-based supplement category and top-selling prenatal supplements. It’s the company’s 30-year history of good corporate citizenship, called its Circle of Care, that she hopes will endure. Rainbow Light is a founding supporter of Vitamin Angels, is committed to a healthy environment and supports numerous philanthropic projects, which she calls an honor that comes with leading a business.
Patricia Bragg, N.D., Ph.D.
Energetic. Passionate. Inspiring. Intelligent. Patricia Bragg, N.D., Ph.D., is all of these things and more. Bragg is the much-loved leader of Bragg Live Health Products, Santa Barbara, CA, a company started 102 years ago by her father, Dr. Paul C. Bragg. “My father was my mentor and my beloved best friend and life teacher,” states Bragg. “[He] taught me a simple sentence: ‘If it is to be, it is up to me!’”
Mr. Bragg opened the first health food store in Los Angeles, was a health food product innovator and helped found the National Nutritional Foods Association. He made it his life’s work to spread good health worldwide, a mission carried on by his daughter as a Bragg Health Crusader. “I’ve made 30 world trips and am always on the go! I love it, live it and spread it—The Bragg Healthy Lifestyle!” she states.
Says Bragg of her father, “He inspired followers to open the first health food stores across America and the world. He pioneered and made available nationwide the first (365) health foods, such as: herb teas, vitamin and mineral supplements, whey and enzymes, amino acids, wheat germ, health beverages, seven-grain cereals and crackers, herbal and kelp seasonings and more.”
Following in her father’s footsteps, Bragg has carried on the legacy as CEO and president of Bragg Live Food Products for decades. “Business was never a problem for me,” she says. Bragg has been honored by numerous organizations for her contributions to the health industry. “We’ve received so many honors over the years. It’s exciting and wonderful and thrilling,” she reflects. Those inspired by the Bragg message include everyone from industry pioneers like the founders of Schiff Vitamins and Gardenburger to celebrities like Jack LaLanne, Clint Eastwood and Katy Perry.
Bragg founded BraggHealthKids.org, a non-profit to teach schoolchildren and parents the importance of healthy “live foods.” States Bragg, “I love teaching children the importance of exercise, eating healthy, good posture and being devoted to school education—their foundation for a healthy, fulfilled, long life…It’s so important we teach them when they are young!”
The Queen of Retailing
Sandy Gooch had a serious health scare. A reaction to something in her environment nearly took her life. After some investigation, the former schoolteacher realized a combination of commonly used food additives were to blame, and she needed to eliminate all synthetic additives from her diet.
This wasn’t easy, as access was extremely limited. Gooch’s answer to the problem? Team up with the late Dan Volland and create a groundbreaking supermarket—the largest of its kind—filled with the finest, most natural, wholesome foods. And so, Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods Markets was born in Los Angeles in 1977.
The road was far from easy. For starters, funding was a challenge. “Getting a loan—as a woman, one could not do that,” says Gooch. In addition to gender prejudice, Gooch had the huge challenge of innovating something completely new with her stores. “There were no records out there for me to follow. No example to follow for what I wanted to do,” recalls Gooch. “This was a one-of-a-kind market at the time.”
Gooch was not deterred, boldly proclaiming her ”Goochable” standards of excellence for products she would sell. This meant no harmful chemicals, preservatives, artificial colors/flavorings, white flour, refined sugar, alcohol, hydrogenated oils, animal growth hormones, added caffeine or chocolate. Her efforts are credited with developing the demand for natural foods in southern California as well as shaping the standards that other natural stores would strive to achieve, both in product offerings and consumer education/outreach.
The biggest contributors to her success, according to Gooch, may well be her “adherence to standards, a passion and a belief in the products we carried, due diligence, proper communications with the community and guerilla marketing about the benefits of the products.” By contrast, competitors relied on newspaper ads about product and price. “We were not about that. We were about the story of our store, manufacturers, suppliers, farmers and growers,” says Gooch.
Her stores were filled with gorgeous displays and signs that told a story of the products and created an experience that was completely unmatched. This created a shopper community of advocates. “An advocate goes to a store out of passion, fills up a basket and then tells 10 others about it,” she states.
Within 16 years, Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods Markets expanded with even larger stores and became a $90-million/year business. The chain was sold to Whole Foods Market in 1993. Gooch went on to design, build and refurbish estate homes with the environment in mind, receive numerous awards and distinctions, and serve on the boards of GrowingGreat, the Goddess Fund, Bastyr University, Southern California’s International Women’s Forum and others.
Online Exclusive: Young Women to Watch
Who will be industry’s next generation of female leaders? Here’s what interviewees had to say:
“I was incredibly inspired and impressed by a moving tribute given by an amazing young woman at the recent 20-year anniversary celebration for Vitamin Angels. Howard Schiffer’s daughter, Eliana Schiffer, gave a heartfelt presentation with poise and passion to a gathering of industry luminaries and Vitamin Angel supporters that honored her father and the amazing work that Vitamin Angels is doing around the world. In the process, Eliana also burst onto the scene as a present and future leader for us all to keep an eye on. I can’t wait to see what comes next in this brilliant young woman’s future.”
—Linda Kahler, president and CEO, Rainbow Light
“It’s no secret that I think very highly of Amber Cerda, marketing communications manager at NOW Foods.”
—Suzanne Shelton, managing partner of The Shelton Group
“Kathryn Lukas, CEO and founder of Farmhouse Culture, would make a powerful and effective industry leader. I look forward to more souls hearing her inspiring story and tasting her awesome organic kraut.” —Janie Hoffman, CEO and founder of Mamma Chia
“Already a great leader and someone who we should continue to watch is Rebecca Hamilton, the Director of Product Development for Badger.”
—Linda Miles, D.O.M., co-founder and chief formulator of derma e
“Rebecca Hamilton, the Director of Product Development for Badger is doing some really amazing …she’s making a difference right now.”
—Roxanne Green, HBC coordinator at Redmond PCC and president of the Natural Products Association
“Erin Schrode, co-founder of Teens Turning Green, is a young intelligent woman who is a wonderful role model for youth and an advocate of the natural products industry.”
—Susie Hewson, founder of Natracare
“Nell Newman of Newman’s Own is a great health industry female leader. She's a refreshing inspiration to all who know her. She donates some of their company profits to good causes.”
—Patricia Bragg, N.D., Ph.D., CEO and president of Bragg Live Food Products
|Emily Broad Leib|
“Beth Pollack from Harvard University is passionate about sustainability/organic/health/environment. Whatever she does, she’s going to be caring about our future, our society and the health of our planet. Emily Broad Leib is also at Harvard University. She wants to change the way food is grown. She wants to change what people can have available to eat. She’s an absolutely remarkable person. Boulder’s Best Organics or America’s Best Organics is owned and operated by a very dedicated woman, Seleyn DeYaras, and it is the only all organic gift box company in the U.S., plus a Certified B Corporation. She is passionate about her product philosophy. Her gift boxes are engaging and unique.”
—Sandy Gooch, founder of Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods Markets
Other young industry woman that are bound to shape the industry—and continue on their paths of success—include Jessica Mulligan, vice president of sales and marketing at NeoCell Corporation; Carilyn Anderson, president of Carlson Laboratories; Guinevere Lynn, director of sales at Gaia Herb; Dana Tarello, vice president of marketing and general manager at Solgar Vitamin and Herb; and Kathy McKnight, vice president of sales and marketing at Natural Factors.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2014