Employee Empowerment Key to Califia's Growing Success

Greg Steltenpohl

Greg Steltenpohl built Odwalla, his first company, on the idea that business can change the community that surrounds it. He created partnerships with farmers and growers who were more than suppliers. They were an integral part of the value-add that the company delivered to its consumers and communities where they did business. Greg also empowered employees regardless of their title, so that together they could deliver the healthiest, most sustainably produced juice possible. For example, he encouraged his delivery drivers to create relationships with their customers and define the routes that enabled them to provide great service. In just over 10 years, Odwalla became one of the largest fruit juice companies in the country before investors sold the company to Coca-Cola.

In the years that followed, Greg consulted with natural foods companies and social entrepreneurs, including SVN members, who helped keep him going. “Since the day I joined, SVN has brought me deep and lasting relationships that are among my most important connections.” In his heart, the serial agri-entrepreneur yearned to work directly on the land and with people who share his sustainability values.

Today, Greg is helping to drive a plant-based beverage revolution as CEO of Califia Farms, which he founded as a joint venture with a farming co-op in 2010 in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The company’s mission is to innovate delicious “plant-powered” foods for mindful nourishment. There, he engages directly with family-owned farms to share their bounty through plant-powered, dairy-free drinks: almond milks and creamers, specialty citrus drinks and new cold-brew coffee products. He works side-by- side with his employees, farmers, transportation partners and retailers—sharing his ambitious vision for integrating sustainability and healthy nutrition, and tapping their ideas about how to grow their collective impact.

His hands-on, relationship-driven approach is working once again. Califia Farms is one of the country’s fastest- growing natural beverage brands, and is also the leading brand in the natural products RTD coffee drinks category. With the launch of over 25+ plant-based beverages and cold brew coffee-based drinks in 2015, the Company doubled revenues, and increased distribution to 18,000 storefronts across both natural and conventional channels. Also, in 2015, the company was recognized as a ‘Top Ten Challenger Brand’ by consultancy firm Seurat Group, one of eight ‘Beverage Breakout Brands’ by Beverage World magazine and “Brand of the Year” by BevNet. Greg also received the Specialty Foods 2016 Business Leadership Award.

At its own manufacturing plant, Califia uses artisanal processes that are energy efficient and Greg Steltenpohl CEO, Califia Farms sustainable—recycling more than 90 percent of its post-production byproducts.

Looking ahead, Greg is focused on continuing to grow Califia as a lasting venture whose values and products foster connections between agriculture, plant-based food and consumers. In 2016, he will relocate some of the co-op’s operations to Los Angeles’s Arts District, a creative urban hub that Greg believes will help him and his team bring new collaborators into the sustainability movement.

This story is part of our Bold Leadership series. Every day and at every stage of their businesses, SVN members exercise courageous, values-driven leadership inspired by the ideas and support they gain through the SVN community—and in doing so, demonstrate that there's a better way of doing business.

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