In Part 1 of my blog, I shared a glimpse into how we got started as a superfoods company and all the incredible people that contributed to our exponential growth. In this final installment, you'll learn about the inevitable challenges that tested our thriving business and how they only drove us to reach for new heights as we look toward the future.
Ready for Prime Time
Navitas continued to experience sustained growth throughout the devastating economic downturn of 2008. Despite the tumultuous times, and perhaps as a result of them, consumers were still willing to invest in personal wellness and premium nutrition. We began innovation that year and expanded from single ingredients to the addition of convenience snack foods with the launch of the Power Snacks. At that point, we had upwards of 40 products and many more ideas in the pipeline about others that would follow.
We took a huge gamble that year and invested in a large 20x20-foot, fully customized trade show booth and positioned ourselves in the middle of the action at Natural Products Expo West. Our booth was gorgeous and its presence and location at the show demonstrated that we were finally ready for prime time. Sales were growing at an incredibly fast pace and it appeared as though we were moving from fickle start-up to a profitable enterprise. During that period, we tripled the size of our Novato campus and grew to 50 employees.
Unfortunately, the stress grew along with the size and the responsibility of additional people reliant on the company’s success. With that came new concern over management capabilities and Zach felt strongly that the time had come to move from what had always been a scrappy entrepreneurial business to a more professionalized operation in order to meet the challenges inherent with the rapid growth.
By early 2012, Zach began the process of hiring key people who would bring knowledge and creativity to help Navitas transition into the next stage. We needed to tighten up the financial side of things in order to improve our lending capabilities with the banks and meet the persistent demand for increased production. Ira Haber was hired as CFO, who eventually evolved into the current COO role. Ira brought with him a calculated systems approach to the business from years of experience in the food industry. Soon thereafter, Greg Hingsbergen came on as our Senior Accountant and played a key role in helping Ira transform operations to become more efficient and data-driven. As a result, Navitas finally evolved from a family-style business to a bona fide professional operation. Although the change was necessary, it signified the end of an era and took time for many of our long-time employees to embrace and appreciate it.
In 2013, Brooke Golden was hired to lead the marketing department, which had historically been combined with sales and was long overdue for some creative direction of its own. Years later, Greg Hingsbergen would be promoted to VP Controller with a permanent position on the executive team. Around the same time, the effusively positive force Peter Hartman became our VP of Sales. With that, the executive team was rounded out and remains in place today.
Practicing What We Preach
Also, in early 2013 while working as an RN, I became increasingly disillusioned with what I came to believe was primarily a sick care system, rather than a healthcare system. I was moved into action by watching the CNN documentary Escape Fire that put all of my feelings into context and I decided at that point that I would devote my career to empowering others to engage in self-care and prevention strategies, which in turn could alleviate the burden on our healthcare system. I was proud that Navitas was a prime example of health promotion in action, educating consumers about the value of a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet and promoting a lifestyle that will effectively reduce the burden of disease. Although we were small compared to other companies that had Workplace Wellness Programs in place, I felt it was essential that we had an internal example for our team that aligned with the mission and values of the company. By fall of that year, we officially launched the Navitas Wellness Program. Although the concept was embraced from the start, the true synthesis into our brand identity was still to come.
In May 2014, we hit one of the most challenging moments in our company’s history with the devastating news that our Chia Powder and Omega Smoothie Blend was being recalled. The whole experience was devastating because we had always taken pride in sourcing the highest-quality ingredients and performing rigorous testing upon arrival of the products to the US prior to allowing anything into production. Perhaps the most disturbing part for us was that our products were meant to promote health, not threaten it. Nonetheless, it affirmed the need to double down on food safety and supply chain vetting, and as a result, we improved our practices.
From a personal standpoint, the news of the recall hit Zach and me very hard. Not only did it induce overwhelming fear and anxiety about the company’s future, we both finally felt the heavy weight and burden of the risk at hand. Needless to say, it precipitated a period of deep introspection and a re-evaluation of priorities. By the end of that year, we decided that the time had finally come to bring in a financial partner who could help the company overcome the challenges inherent to the food industry and to help us strategize for the future. After much deliberation, Zach chose to work with Encore Consumer Capital, a Bay Area investment group with sincere leadership, expertise and a wide network of talented individuals to draw from.
Coming Into Our Own
In 2016, Navitas underwent a re-brand and finally came into our own as an established wellness lifestyle company. Our name changed from Navitas Naturals to Navitas Organics, a move that was long overdue given the ambiguity of the word natural in the organic food industry. Since we had always been exclusively organic, it was a necessary change and allowed us the opportunity to refresh our look in a new and creative way. It achieved the desired goal of celebrating the lifestyle brand we had become, opening the door to diversifying the product line in the way it had always been envisioned.
As a healthcare provider, I am extremely proud of the direction the company has taken over the last few years. The brand has evolved to fully represent the integrity of health and wellness in product innovation, company culture and marketing. Our mission to provide people with nutrient-dense foods that nourish the body and mind from the inside out has guided us throughout our 15-year history. We feel this is important because it provides a foundation for healthy living and fosters a positive outlook to get the most out of this journey called life. Five years later, our comprehensive Wellness Program is robust and supports employees with multiple opportunities to engage in healthy behaviors within their workday so that they have more time to do what they want and need to do when they return home.
Thankfully, Zach and I have weathered the storm and have come out the other side with immense appreciation for the journey. We are grateful first and foremost for ALL of the people, far too many to name here, who have played an important role at Navitas in one way or another over the last 15 years. But I would be remiss if I didn’t take this moment to recognize the integral contributions of Jeff Minehart, Jamie Carr, Cahill Walsh, Roger Gutierrez, Juan Gonzalez and Luis Orozco—who, like those mentioned above, have stuck it out with us since the early years. The future of Wellness looks bright and as more and more people discover the positive benefits of living a healthy lifestyle free from disease, we will continue to see a dramatic shift in the way we perceive the world. There can be no greater reward in life than this.