By Andrew S. Ross, San Francisco Chronicle
Ten years ago, John Roulac was fighting the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration over a banned shipment of hemp seeds he needed for his embryonic health food business in Sebastopol.
This week, Roulac is moving into a 200,000-square-foot building in Point Richmond to accommodate his fast-growing company, Nutiva, which sells hemp-infused protein powder, shakes and seeds, plus non-hemp coconut oil and chia seeds.
"Being in the heart of the organic food industry in Northern California is desirable," said Roulac, citing the new space's proximity to highways, railroads and ports.
Hemp, in its non-psychoactive cannabis form, has long since entered America's food chain, and Nutiva's products are on store shelves all over the Bay Area, including Whole Foods, Safeway and GNC's chain of vitamin shops. Its Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil ranks No. 8 on Amazon.com's list of best-selling grocery and gourmet food items.
Helped by praise for its nutritional benefits from Dr. Oz and Martha Stewart - "enjoy hemp seeds lightly toasted," Stewart recommends - the hemp-based food market was estimated at $40 million in 2010 (excluding sales at chain groceries such as Whole Foods and Safeway), according to Spins, a firm that analyzes the natural products industry. Hemp is "one of the fastest-growing trends" in natural food, Errol Schweizer, Whole Foods' global grocery coordinator, told Bloomberg in March.