January 26, 2009 / 2:33 PM / 10 years ago

Former juice firm founder promotes localism

LONDON, Jan 26 (Reuters Life!) - The founder of Odwalla juice, Greg Stelenpohl, was ousted from the board shortly before the company was sold to Coca-Cola for $181 million (130.3 million pounds) in 2001 and now spends his time thinking, eating and investing locally.

The founder of Odwalla juice, Greg Stelenpohl, was ousted from the board shortly before the company was sold to Coca-Cola for $181 million (130.3 million pounds) in 2001 and now spends his time thinking, eating and investing locally. In this April 25, 2008 file photo an aircraft (R) leaves a vapour trail as it flies over a California Bay Laurel tree grove on the Big Sur coastline in central California April 25, 2008. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi (UNITED STATES)

Since he pocketed a decent sum for his five percent stake in the company Stelenpohl has focused on localism — the movement sweeping the United States but particularly strong in California where Stelenpohl still lives.

“In California we call it ‘Locavores’ - trying to eat from where we are,” Stelenpohl said. “In our local business and in our investment, I try to look at 100 percent ways to invest in the future solutions for the environmental problems we have.”

Most recently that has included Adina, a fair-trade, health-drinks company with sales of $4 million, which recently concluded a $10 million funding round from a new breed of “triple bottom line” venture capital companies including Good Capital and Pacific Community Ventures which take the ethics and social contribution of the business into account as well as its sales potential.

Stelenpohl, 54, was an Environmental Science student in Santa Cruz — “a fairly progressive community,” where he “was exposed to all the variations of a California lifestyle that your imagination would probably take you to.”

He now lives in a small coastal village just south of San Francisco and maintains a vegetable garden that provides majority of his vegetables in the summer.

“We have fruit trees and a bio-intensive vegetable area. We try to make as much of our diet from locally produced food as possible,” says Stelenpohl.

If “local” is one key to Stelenpohl’s philosophy, the other is “slow.”

He is extending the warehouse where he lives and works into a “regional slow food centre” serving the Monterey Bay area. But that is just the most visible part of his activities.

“Out of a portfolio of $3 million, most of the individual investments are in the smaller $100,000 range,” Stelenpohl said.

He cites a herbal medicine company, a sustainable industries publishing house, a developer of software for non-profits, and an eco retreat centre.

Apart from Adina, his two commitments of over $1 million are the slow living centre and Interra, a new kind of loyalty card which aims to give small local businesses the same infrastructure to offer customers loyalty incentives as major brands such as Starbucks already have.

“By increasing the density of local interactions we stimulate small business job creation and the recirculation of local dollars,” he said. “This creates more efficient energy and transportation dynamics and more rewarding social lives as well.”

In his investing strategy, Stelenpohl is most interested in “slow money,” he says.

He said that when investors come into food enterprises or agriculture - it’s not appropriate to expect venture capital rates of return nor to put a lot of pressure on how quickly the money can be turned over and recapitalized.

“We are creating a community of investors who are looking for much smaller rates of return but much steadier,” he said.

Stelenpohl said the ironic thing is that with most portfolios down 40-50 percent this year, it is a fair question to compare that to a steady 4 percent rate of return on this kind of land-based investment.

“It’s certainly a lot less stress on the system, and there are ways that people can relate to their investment through their senses a lot better than a world of derivatives.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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