Shoppers who want a side dish of health with their meals increasingly seek out so-called superfoods, and behind one of the country’s leading sellers of dried and powdered nutrient-dense superfoods – which include such things as goji berries, cacao powder and hemp seeds – is a former Maine resident.
Wes Crain, who graduated from Colby College in 1988, is president of Navitas Naturals. With business booming, the Novato, Calif.-based business recently expanded its production facility. The company had $25 million in sales last year and is poised to achieve 50 percent growth in revenue by the end of this year, according to Crain.
“Superfoods can be incorporated into most dishes that people make to provide a nutrition and flavor boost,” Crain said. “Navitas is all about the quality and taste of our products and about offering high-quality foods that are safe and delicious. All of our products are certified organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan and most are raw.”
Navitas buys its nuts, berries and powders directly from farmers and cooperatives in the countries where the superfoods grow. The farmers and producers process the foods to Navitas’ exacting standards and then ship them to the U.S.
“Navitas rejects many of the standard food-processing techniques, which are designed to bring the cost down but are not necessarily good for the consumer or the health benefits of the food,” Crain said. “We work with our suppliers to process the foods so that they maintain their nutritional and flavor benefits.”
The company was founded in 2003 by Zach Adelman with a goal of bringing “energizing superfoods to North America to invigorate the modern ‘Western’ diet.”
Crain joined the team eight years ago.
“I really like pure, clean food,” Crain said. “So Navitas’ heavy focus on organic and premium quality that Zach had established was appealing to me. The minimalist approach that Navitas takes toward food processing honors the food, and it is simple and relatively easy to manage. How the food is processed, and even transported, is important toward helping us preserve the nutritional benefits.”
After graduating from Colby, Crain knew he wanted to be involved in the organic movement.
“A big part of my organic food awakening started with Elliot Coleman,” said Crain, referring to the Maine author and homesteading guru who runs Four Season Farm in Harborside with his wife, Barbara Damrosch.
So with a business degree in hand, Crain spent time learning to garden and working on small, organic farms. Later he did work for the Department of Conservation and launched a natural-fiber clothing company in Portland called EcoDragon. Eventually he founded a sales and marketing company that brokered organic foods to other companies.
“I met Zach Adelman, the founder of Navitas Naturals, at a trade show,” Crain said. “I really liked him, the products and the premise of the company and soon after, I started working for him as a sales broker. I eventually became president and an owner of Navitas.”
The privately owned company employs 75 people and is aiming to add several more before the end of the year.
The company’s best selling items include goji berries, cacao, chia and maca. It also sells golden berries, dragon fruit, acai powder, coconut sugar, mulberries and pomegranate powder, among other products. All the fruit is dried.
A recipe database on the company’s website includes such uses for its products as a berry antioxidant smoothie, barbecue-hemp kale crisps, acai fudge, green pancakes, Incan pilaf and Mexican pesto pizza.
“I really enjoy making smoothies with our foods, and my children use them a lot in oatmeal and in yogurt,” Crain said. “I also use many of the powders in baked goods, especially this time of year. We recently made pumpkin muffins and used hemp seeds and coconut sugar, but there are a number of our products that work well in sweet breads and cookies.”
Crain said next year the company plans to introduce more products.
“We are working on additional snacks, grocery and wellness products,” Crain said. “2014 should be a very good year for us in the product development and launch arena.”
Crain enjoys working in the natural food industry and living in California, where farmers markets are held year round. He said one of the best things about this sector of the grocery business is the people.
“Those that have chosen to work in the natural-food industry tend to be fun and active – great people,” Crain said. “In the end, business is business, but there is a passion and dedication to healthy lifestyles that permeates the industry.”
Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, where she already had many Navitas items in her pantry when she learned the company was headed by a Colby graduate. She can be reached at: [email protected]