Legendary Leadership Series: Planting the Seed with Arran and Ratana Stephens

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Take a pinch of resilience, a scoop of empathy, and stir it with the organic ladle of accountability while generously garnishing the concoction with the magic of spirituality. Voilà: Nature’s Path Foods is carved!

Meet Arran and Ratana Stephens, the Founders of Nature’s Path Foods, and Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends 2021 Inductees. On September 22, AMA Toronto hosted its Legendary Leadership Series event: Planting the Seed, presented by HelloFresh. It included a fireside chat with the charismatic duo as well as numerous golden nuggets regarding their journey  of owning a fiercely independent, family-owned company. They discussed their insights on how to build a food movement, as well as being trailblazers in their industry. They imparted their wisdom with as much ease as they quoted Rumi and Emily Dickinson. Almost in the same breath.

And who better to interview them, but Suzie Yorke, CEO & Founder of Love Good Fats, a company that produces high-fat, low-carb, and low-sugar products. With a mission to spread the word that fat is back, and sugar is out, Suzie, an eleven-time Ironman finisher, turned heads when her business turnover skyrocketed from $40K to $7Mn within 2 years of starting up.

Q, Suzie (SY): Words may not do justice, but my heartfelt gratitude to both of you for guiding me in the early days of my business. What lessons can you share from your experience to help today’s marketers, especially young founders in the current times? Did you also have to pivot during the pandemic?

Arran (AS): The journey of an entrepreneur can be best summed up as taking a flight of stairs- one step at a time; it is not an elevator ride. ‘Overnight success’ actually means 20 years of behind-the-scenes struggle that no one mentions. Young founders need to be focused on the bottom line to ensure that the rug doesn’t get pulled from under one’s feet. And yes, the pandemic hit us as well. With slow immigration, government aid to jobless people, recruiting the right people for our factories became a real challenge.

Q, SY: I wish I knew that a global pandemic was coming. We would have made better strategic decisions. But I have gained wisdom. Speaking of which, how do you see your leadership style and how do you manage your company culture?

Ratana (RS): We follow the ‘servant’ model of leadership. You are a leader, but you are also a servant to your people. You have to care for them, empathize with them, and yet people have to be accountable. Our people understand that we have to be financially viable in order to also be socially and environmentally responsible. When we care for people, they are purpose-driven and committed.

AS: You take a spoon of yogurt, put it in milk and culture starts to work. Company culture works the same way too.  

Q, SY: So much to learn here. We scaled so quickly, that one day I was a one-person team doing everything from R&D to package designing and before I knew it, we were hiring directors and VPs. And that’s when I witnessed the real cultural shift. Tell us more about bringing magic to the world as marketing leaders? Especially in digital marketing.

AS: Cultivating people and creating influence makers out of them makes for good PR for the brand.  Marketing is the science behind selling and with the shift from traditional to digital, we have changed our stance as well. There was a time when we did guerrilla marketing!

RS: Now we have a marketing team dedicated to market analysis, product testing, data mining and consumer reviews.

AS (contd.): A brand needs to have a unique voice. While everyone is chasing virality, sometimes such stories come out of nowhere. We had our share when Jenna, Jerico’s mom sought social media’s help to find the only waffles her autistic son liked. We had discontinued that particular brand, but our R&D team recreated the recipe for Jenna. (Read more here: https://www.naturespath.com/en-ca/recipes/jericos-maple-cinnamon-waffles/)

  1. SY: That was indeed a moving story. From the marketing lens, can you share your experience in marketing and targeting kids?

AS: Envirokids is a kids’ food product with significantly less sugar than many big brands. No chemicals, real organic fruits and real colours ensured that we gained parents’ trust. And that 1% right off the top of the sales goes back to saving endangered species, is making the parents and kids aware and responsible, both.

RS: We are creating advocates and environmental activists with Envirokids. Kids need to understand the link between diet and health. (If you want to adopt a sea turtle, check it out here: https://www.naturespath.com/en-ca/products/envirokidz/turtle-splash-cereal/)

Q, SY: We know the world needs more activists than ever! Please take us through your personal journey. How has your experience been working with your family?

RS: I am blessed to be working with Arran. We discuss, we argue and then we pause and reflect. It is not always easy; your emotions get in the way. But we ultimately accept the right decision. Our children have also joined us in the business and are doing well. In fact, our daughter started a vegan restaurant right when the pandemic hit and we are proud that they have survived while delivering on quality.

AS: It is not easy working with your partner. You tend to carry work stress home with you, and on holidays you walk around in stores together, checking shelves and placements. Yet it has been a blessing working together. While I wanted to build big, Ratana wanted to build it big but right. She is the yin to my yang.

Q, SY: I wish we could bottle the magic you have! You have been pioneers and path makers. When I had this crazy dream of starting on my own, I realized that I had not networked enough in 20 years of my career. Tell us about the importance of mentorship in your own career and your organization.

RS: I never had regular mentorship. I came from a family background where women were supposed to nurture within the confines of the household. But my grandmother stood by me when I wanted to graduate, so yes, she was my mentor and guiding light. Today, it gives me immense joy to see more focus on women leaders around the world. We have empathy, we can make a difference wherever we go. Our time is here.

……….The woods are lovely, dark and deep,  

      But I have promises to keep,  

     And miles to go before I sleep (Robert Frost)

Now I mentor my children. In fact, there are times when my daughter mentors me (laughs!) about carbon footprint.  I strongly feel that young people need mentorship.

Q, SY: I am thankful for your guidance when I was starting out. It is my payback time and I am working towards it. Today my brand has a voice and my marketing budget has the power to make a difference. Mentorship taught me much more than any VC meeting ever could. Shout out to all younger marketers- Make it a priority to carve out time to foster relationships. Before we wind up, tell us what do you, our legends, think of your future goals, and what fuels your brand and daily work?

RS: I live by the mantra of leaving the planet better than how we got it. Retirement is a far cry as of now.

AS: I have been meditating for the last 57 years. It detaches me from the messiness of the world and helps me cope up with catastrophes. That is my foundation; it gives me balance. I want to continue to give back to society. Quoting Emily Dickinson:

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

This interview excerpt has been summarized to the best of our abilities to accommodate the POVs of the esteemed speakers.

Written By- Shreya Parashar. She is the founder of Culture Opus, a Toronto based content agency and is the Content Director at AMA Toronto.

 To watch the full session, you can click on the link here:

Our special thanks again to Presenting Sponsor, Hello Fresh, our Supporting Partner, Globe & Mail Media Group, our Data Technology Partner, Q One Tech as well as Lulu Marketing, our Creative Partner, for their generosity and support.

 

 

 

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