Mike Fata’s Hands-On Sales Approach is Gaining Recognition, and More Important — Customers
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada — Six years ago, Mike Fata was a 22 year-old pressing oil from nutritious hemp seeds and selling it to four local health food stores. With hemp agriculture just emerging from a long prohibition due to its misunderstood and distant relationship to marijuana, the odds for economic success may have seemed a stretch and the need for consumer education was daunting. Fata’s ability to overcome many business challenges has earned him a full-page write-up in the current April 2005 edition of Entrepreneur Magazine.
The Entrepreneur article, in the “SELL” section, features Manitoba Harvest’s knack for using upbeat product demonstrations to drive sales. With a readership of more than 2 million, Entrepreneur offers business leaders real-life solutions for technology, money management and marketing. With no real market for hemp food when they started in 1998, Fata and his partners at Manitoba Harvest, Alex Chwaiewsky and Martin Moravcik, invested heavily in direct interaction with customers through consumer shows and in-store demos. “Once people learn about the incredible nutrition profile of our products, and then taste it on the spot, they’re hooked,” says Fata, “Educating consumers about the health benefits of hemp foods and the fact that health foods can be delicious has been our focus from day one,” he says.
Fata and his partners have overcome legal and regulatory strife, international marketing challenges and all of the usual headaches a start up company endures to become a leader in the rapidly growing natural product marketplace. “When we first started the business and I told my family I was going to sell hemp seed oil for a living, all I got was laughter around the table,” says Fata. “But by about our fourth year of business, people started saying, ‘wow, you guys are going to be really successful,” he adds.
Now that regulatory uncertainty in the U.S. has been resolved in favour of hemp food companies, business is booming, with sales growing more than 50% per year. A fledgling business that earned less than $50,000 in sales in its first year of 1998, sales at Manitoba Harvest jumped to $1.4 million in 2004 and are on track to explode to $2.5 million in 2005.
Business experts are taking note of Manitoba Harvest’s success. In October, co-founder Mike Fata was presented with the Business Development Bank of Canada’s (BDC) 2004 Young Entrepreneur Award. More recently, in February, the company’s meteoric sales growth was recognized with a 2004 Business Achievement Award from the Nutrition Business Journal — a leading natural product trade publication. In March, Natural Foods Merchandiser, another leading industry trade publication, featured Manitoba Harvest in an extensive article on the growing demand for hemp foods.
Hemp foods are gaining more and more recognition from nutrition experts due to their high concentration of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids, strong digestible protein profile, soluble and insoluble fiber content, and their host of vitamins and minerals. “Products that offer omega-3 and omega-6 EFA’s are hot right now and as the medical evidence touting their benefits continues to mount demand is going to go through the roof, “ notes Fata. Chefs and consumers are seeking hemp seed oil because of its pleasant nutty flavor.
Manitoba Harvest? Hemp Foods & Oils is the largest integrated manufacturer of hemp foods in North America. Dedicated to quality from “seed to shelf,” Manitoba Harvest? contracts hemp seed production on more than 4,000 acres by 20 farmers who are shareholders in the company. The raw seed is processed into hemp seed oil, shelled hemp seed, hemp seed nut butter and hemp protein powder at the company’s 6,000 square foot kosher and certified organic processing plant in Winnipeg. It is then distributed throughout North America to over 1,500 health food stores and the natural food sections of mass-market grocery stores. Their products are also sold in bulk to manufacturers of bars, cereals, cosmetics and other products.
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