Health food company Nutiva moving to Richmond, hiring 100 workers
on August 3, 2012
When he was 20 years old, John Roulac had no idea that the pain and sluggishness he was experiencing while shooting hoops would lead him to found Nutiva, one of the fastest-growing health food companies in the United States, which will soon move into a new warehouse in Point Richmond and expects to hire about 100 local workers.
“I was a basketball fanatic. All I wanted to do in my twenties was play basketball every day. I started cramping a lot, so I had to change my diet,” said Roulac of his early years. He decided that eating copious amounts of Spam and hamburgers wasn’t helping his game, so he switched to organic and healthier foods. But at the time, they could be hard to find. “When I started eating healthier in the ’70s, it wasn’t that easy,” he said.
Roulac’s passion for finding practical solutions to environmental challenges has dominated his career. Roulac authored a best-selling book on backyard composting as well as one about industrial hemp. In 1999, he founded Nutiva in Sebastopol, California, transferring his interest and knowledge of hemp into Nutiva’s first product—a hemp food bar. The company later expanded to producing other hemp food products—oil and protein powder—and later into other “superfood” markets.
“Superfood” is a slippery term without scientific standards or legal definitions. It’s commonly used in marketing to describe foods high in nutritional content and low in negative properties like saturated fats, artificial ingredients and additives. Currently, Nutiva sells coconut oil based products and chia seeds, in addition to its hemp seed products. Chia seeds are traditionally consumed in Mexico and South America, but have recently gained popularity as a food product in the US—in addition to their decorative abilities as “Cha-Cha-Cha-Chia Pets.”
The company’s focus on hemp products attracted the attention of the federal government in 1999, when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) seized a tractor trailer full of hemp seed from Nutiva’s supplier, Kenex, Canada’s leading producer and processor of industrial hemp products. The DEA was concerned that the hemp seeds, which are derived from a variety of Cannibis plants, were too closely related to marijuana, which is a controlled substance in the US.
Nutiva teamed up with Kenex and other hemp industry groups to take on the DEA in court. They challenged two regulations that, taken together, banned the sale or possession of hemp seeds even when they contained only non-psychoactive trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinols (THC), the chemical that makes it possible for marijuana users to get high. The court decided that the hemp seed did not fall under the definition of marijuana and ruled in favor of Nutiva and its fellow petitioners.
Since 2005, Nutiva has reported a 42 percent annual growth rate. Its products are sold by more than 10,000 retailers nationwide, including Whole Foods Markets and The Vitamin Shoppe. The company also sells its products online directly from its website or Amazon. The closest place to Richmond to pick up their goods is at El Cerrito Natural Grocery Store on San Pablo Ave.
Now that Nutiva is moving in to its new home in Point Richmond on September 1, it is looking to hire 100 employees over the next six months. The company is hosting a public job fair on Monday, August 6, from 12-4pm at the new facility at 213 W. Cutting Boulevard. The public is encouraged to attend, no RSVP necessary.
According to Laura Ferracane, Nutiva’s recently hired Human Resource Director, open positions vary from warehouse production and manufacturing to administrative and office jobs. “We’re hiring for all positions. We’ve been busy hiring people already,” said Ferracane.
Ferracane said she’s excited about the prospects for finding employees in Richmond and hopes to hire people who live in the community. “We’ll be taking applications and resumes not just for these positions that are open now, but for the ones open over the next few months,” said Ferracane.
“We’re excited. We think we’re going to get a big turnout,” Roulac said about the upcoming job fair.
That type of response would not be surprising in Richmond, where the economic downturn hit residents especially hard over the last few years. According to California’s Employment Development Department, Richmond’s unemployment has remained dismally high, spiking at nearly 16 percent over the last year.
The move to Richmond, from Oxnard, California, where it is currently based, is an important one for a company that imports many ingredients. “One of the reasons we chose Richmond is it’s close to Port of Oakland,” said Roulac. “It’s centrally located in both the East Bay and Marin County. We’re really focused on recruiting the best team possible from the people in this area.”
Roulac and Ferracane boast that Nutiva is not a typical company, and that they pride themselves on exemplifying the company’s core values for employees: Nourish people and planet. “We’ll walk our talk in trying to build a community,” said Ferracane.
Once Nutiva is up and humming in its new space, employees can expect on-site fitness classes, health and wellness classes and incentives to pursue a healthier lifestyle, in addition to a standard health benefits package, according to Ferracane.“One of the things we’re doing is we cover up to $75 for people to reimburse for yoga classes, swimming at the Richmond Plunge and we’re looking to have some yoga classes on site as well,” said Roulac.
“We believe that we’ll revolutionize the food world one person at a time. Meaning, not everyone we hire will understand the value of eating organic. But, with education we can slowly turn that tide and eventually make a good dent in that world,” Ferracane said.
At a city council meeting on July 24, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin presented Roulac with a commendation for Nutiva. McLaughlin, and the council, expressed their excitement at welcoming Nutiva to Richmond and recognized the company for its early commitment to the city. Over the next five years, Nutiva–in partnership with Common Vision–will plant fruit trees in every public school in Richmond.
“In Richmond there’s not as much access to healthy food, and we understand that,” said Roulac. He said the tree planting is their way of helping to fill the void.
Richmond Confidential welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Richmond Confidential assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.
Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.
Please send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.