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The Leadership Podcast

The Leadership Podcast

Why do we do this?

We interview great leaders, review the books they read, and speak with highly influential authors who study them.

How we do this?

#1 We interview great leaders.
#2 We review the books great leaders read and write.
#3 We have fun!

Jan 11, 2017

Co-hosts Jan Rutherford and Jim Vaselopulos interview Justin Gold, the Founder of Justin’s Natural Foods Company, which produces organic and natural nut butters and peanut butter cups. From their humble beginnings at local farmers’ markets to launching a national brand, Justin’s is now one of the country’s fastest growing natural foods companies. Justin’s has received numerous local and national accolades and ranked in the top 15 on the Inc. 500 and 5,000 Fastest Growing Companies List, in the Food and Beverage category, two years in a row.

Jan and Jim speak with Justin about innovation in sustainable food and reduced packaging, and  how entrepreneurial and academic mentors guided Justin in his business start.  They also discuss how taking an innovative risk led to becoming an industry thought leader, and how Juston worked out a plan with an acquiring organization that allows him to continue his innovative ways.

Listen in to learn more about how leadership and sustainability can support profitability.


Key Takeaways

[5:24] In a Twitter exchange with musician John Mayer, Justin accepted the challenge to produce the world’s first Chocolate Almond Butter with Cookie Dough. John put a photo of it on Instagram, and wrote, “Thanks Justin. You've ruined me for all other of life's awaiting pleasures.”

[9:27] Justin believes in walking the talk. If we’re going to support sustainable food ingredients, and reducing the packaging on our products, then we should be really mindful of the origin and disposal of everything we use, not only in the company, but in our lives. Their products are actually making a difference to people, with healthier food, and less packaging.

[11:02] Justin challenges his team consistently to question the way it’s always been done in the past. People in companies fall into a rhythm, and keep sustaining this rhythm, because it’s easy. We lose track of how we got into this rhythm in the first place. Whether in packaging, product, or consumer engagement, keep looking for better ways to work. Always question everything.

[12:59] Justin didn’t hit his home run until he moved out of the form factor of jars. After years of really not succeeding with jars, they had the idea of the squeeze pack, and it was a category disruptor for nut butters. Then they tried the peanut butter cup, which led to the snack pack. If he hadn’t started with jars, he would not have gotten to the squeeze pack and beyond.

[14:50] Tips to get momentum: get validation from someone you admire; have the attitude that anything’s possible. When you’re positive and you’re excited, that energy is infectious, and it will draw the right people to help you. Positivity attracts positive people.

[18:37] Justin did not foresee being a thought leader. He sought out early as much help as he could from other entrepreneurs, and they were all open to help him. He made note of that, and realized his obligation and purpose to pay it forward. Knowledge gained can really help a young company. Justin gets inspired by opportunities to share knowledge that did not come easily.

[21:48] Justin got help from the U of C Leeds School to write a business plan. Looking back at his first plan, Justin laughs, because he had no idea what he was talking about, but it was important to get it on paper and declare to the world, this is what I want to do. After a professor’s critique, he rewrote it, and it was spot on. He was able to execute it successfully.

[26:01] Justin’s first hire was a roommate, but his biggest step to success was hiring
Lance Gentry, who became a business mentor and hero. Lance raised investments, saw them through the 2008 downturn with expertise, and landed them Whole Foods and Starbucks national orders. Lance passed away suddenly, and Justin necessarily carried on to become a leader.

[32:54] Justin talks about Hormel. Finances, commodity supply, and manufacturing capacity, required partnering with a big company to provide top quality at the quantities needed, without creating conditions for a food recall. Hormel and Justin inspired each other with their visions of the future of food, so they came to a deal. Justin’s goal is to impact change at a larger scale.

[43:23] Justin loves the Whole Planet Foundation’s Microloan a Month program. It gives beginning entrepreneurs the ability to start a company, which gives people jobs, a sense of importance, and the opportunity to earn money to buy their own food, while building a local economy. Justin’s also sends products to relieve conditions after natural disasters.


Quotable Quotes

“If we’re going to support a healthy lifestyle, then we should be engaged in a healthy lifestyle.”

“When they see me doing it and they see the other leaders ... do it, it gives them permission and a sense of motivation.”

“A lot of times, with technology, or with science, there are new ways to engage consumers or to solve an end-use problem.”

“What I do know, is, if you don’t start with your idea, then it ends right now.”

“Your mission as a business evolves as you grow and become more successful and more powerful.”

“Positivity attracts positive people.”



Justin Gold is a passionate entrepreneur, who encourages others to follow their passions, and never stop asking questions along the way. In 2013, Justin was recognized as Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the Mountain Desert Region. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and children, finding his work/life balance by enjoying an active lifestyle there as an avid trail runner, mountain biker, skier, and backpacker.

Justin is a founding member of the Whole Planet Foundation’s Microloan a Month program that supports microfinancing institutions across the globe. Justin is passionate about pollinators, sustainable sourcing, mindful packaging, and children’s education.