Nature’s Path: Trailblazing the Organic Industry, One Breakfast at a Time

nature's path
Image care of Nature's Path (Joey Armstrong)

When Arran and Ratana Stephens founded Nature’s Path in 1985, they had a dream of creating organic breakfast and snack foods that were both delicious and truly healthful. Their passion and drive resulted in North America’s largest certified organic breakfast and snack food company, a brand that doesn’t compromise on quality, transparency, and sustainability to grow and succeed.

The History of Nature’s Path

While Nature’s Path got its official start in Vancouver, BC, in 1985, the company’s roots actually reach back to the 1930s, when Arran Stephens’ father Rupert inherited Mountain Valley, the 89-acre organic farm where Arran would eventually grow up.

Arran’s childhood on the farm instilled in him a love of nature and wholesome food, something that he would later seek to recreate in his own life: before developing Nature’s Path, he journeyed to India, where he met his wife, Ratana. Together, they opened Woodlands, the first vegetarian restaurant in Canada, in 1981. They were more than ready to start Nature’s Path, a family-run vegetarian food company, in 1985.

Since then, Nature’s Path has not ceased to grow, officially becoming North America’s largest organic cereal manufacturer in 1999 and becoming a founding partner of the non-GMO project verified label in 2010.

With a varied product line including hot and cold cereals, granola, waffles, toaster pastries and more, Nature’s Path is one of the top players on the organic breakfast scene.

The Philosophy

It’s perhaps no surprise, given its genesis, that Nature’s Path has a progressive brand philosophy that translates to everything the company does.

“Here at Nature’s Path we have big dreams beyond breakfast,” they write. “We’re committed to organic food and farming and work to ‘always leave the earth better than [we] found it,’” as Arran’s grandfather Rupert would say.

But it’s one thing to talk a big game – it’s quite another to practice what you preach.

In the case of Nature’s Path, the company has been at the forefront of organic since day one, even helping to develop the creation of the USDA organic seal used throughout North America in 2000.

“This was important to us because organic should not be confused with a ‘natural’ claim, which has no clear definitions, regulations, and oversight,” explains Jyoti Stephens, Vice President of People, Culture and Mission, and Arran and Ratana’s daughter.

“We are deeply committed to producing products which support the development and sustenance of organic agriculture,” she continues. “We aim to do this in a way that minimizes our ecological footprint while maintaining social, environmental and financial integrity.”

But if that’s not enough, Nature’s Path’s devotion to the organic philosophy has been verified by the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry’s biggest watchdog organization. In the context of its cereal scorecard, which compares and contrasts different cereal brands, the Institute awarded Nature Path its top score of 700 points and five grains for its organic, GMO-free, and agrochemical-free status.

Nature’s Path’s commitment to organic goes beyond its own products.

“Through our commitment to organics, we have been able to keep more than 52,000 tons of synthetic fertilizers and over 700 tons of toxic pesticides from our lands and streams since 2013,” explains Stephens, who also notes that the brand owns over 11,000 acres of farmland in Canada and the United States, where it is able to protect about 10 percent of its supply.

In addition, Nature’s Path requires suppliers to sign a strict code of conduct and regularly report on the sustainability of their supply chains. The Nature’s Path sustainability team makes a personal investment in sourcing particularly controversial ingredients, such as palm oil.

“Our palm oil supplier has a zero deforestation policy and meets the standards for IBD Certification, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Certification and EcoSocial Certification,” notes Stephens. “The farms we source our palm oil from – which are solely based in South America – meet the stringent environmental and social sustainably requirements of each certification.”

The Future of Nature’s Path

Selling prepared foods walks a fine line between convenience and too much processing, but Nature’s Path manages to continue to develop products that are both accessible and as “whole” as possible.

“At Nature’s Path we start with real ingredients with absolutely no artificial additives,” says Stephens. This includes, for example, all-natural sweeteners like molasses, honey, or fruit sweeteners.

Nature’s Path is also always on the lookout for new trends amongst health-conscious shoppers. The brand recently launched a category of superseed cereals, including a Qi’a cereal made with a blend of chia seeds, buckwheat groats and hemp seeds – and no added sugar or salt – to meet the demand for free-from breakfast products.

But Nature’s Path isn’t just looking toward the future of its own lines, but also the future of organic in general. An education program for new farmers allows even more people to join the organic movement every day.

“We believe this is critical as the average age of a farmer is over 60,” explains Stephens. “so as they begin to think about retirement, we are finding ways to make organic farming a sustainable career for the next generation.”

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco