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Report on Business Magazine Nature’s Path co-CEO Ratana Stephens on how she got the funding to start her multimillion-dollar business

Jennilee Marigomen

I was an infant during Partition in 1947. Luckily, a neighbour told my grandmother to leave Lahore; otherwise, we’d be killed. So we crossed into India. My family had been wealthy, but we became so poor, there was no money for electricity.

I met my husband, Arran, in India, where he went to study philosophy. My family was against it—it would have been okay to have a son marry a foreigner, but not a daughter. Within six weeks of getting married in 1969, I was in Canada.

I had a degree in English literature, psychology and Sanskrit from India, and I went to one of the universities in Vancouver—I won’t name which one—and told the admissions officer I wanted to upgrade my education. He said, “What? Go and look after your family.”

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I went to work at the vegetarian restaurant Arran started in 1967—the first in Canada. By 1985, we had four restaurants, which I ran, and we started Nature’s Path in the back of one of them, making organic cereal and bread. Arran had grown up on an organic farm on Vancouver Island, and his father told him: “Always leave the soil better than you found it.”

Entrepreneurs jump in first and then ask how deep. When we started Nature’s Path, we decided to go with a co-packer, so we didn’t have to spend millions of dollars to build a manufacturing line. When we asked him to produce a certificate that he was organic, he said, “What is organic? Everything is organic!” Our hearts just sank.

Three banks refused to lend us money. They told us the big companies would crush us down. Instead, one of our suppliers loaned us $250,000, and now we give that supplier $34 million per annum in business.

In the early 2000s, Kraft and Kellogg offered to buy us on the same day. Arran and I said, “Okay, we might get quite a few million dollars, but what are we going to leave to our kids? A bunch of money and no purpose?” Nature’s Path is not for sale. It’s a legacy company.

Two of our four children work in the business, and they are as passionate as we are. They started at the very bottom. You can’t shoot kids in and hope they’re going to be successful.

We want our food to be consumed by people who can’t afford $10 a box. Our products are very competitive considering the ingredients we use cost 20% to 100% more. We believe in the triple bottom line: socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and financially viable. As David Suzuki once said, “You cannot do business on a dead planet.”

We have to continually find new sources of organic grains. One year, the supply of organic oats dried up in North America. Guess where we got them from? Sweden. As long as they’re organic, we are willing to pay the price.

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I’m grateful Arran treats me as an equal. Although I’m not a feminist—the connotation of feminism does not sit well with me—I do believe in equal rights. Women should be treated equally. They should be paid equally.

Recently, Arran and I were standing in a long lineup for a vegan restaurant, and I said, “See what a difference we have made?” It fills our hearts with joy.


This interview has been edited and condensed. Read more at tgam.ca/r.

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