By Amanda Allie
April 26, 2012
The oldest natural and organic food company in North America just added something new - a store featuring more than 300 Eden Food products and the only retail location in the world to carry 100 percent of Eden’s entire line of natural, organic, ethnic, gourmet, specialty, macrobiotic and kosher foods.
With Clinton, Mich.-based Eden Foods being a leader in the organic food industry for more than 40 years, we talked to Michael Potter, president since 1970, to find out his secret to success. He was on hand for the opening of the new retail outlet in Clinton. But first, some background.
Eden Foods began in Ann Arbor in the late 1960s with friends sourcing natural food, according to its website www.edenfoods.com. They were motivated by a study of macrobiotics: Eating a diet of whole grain and seasonal local plant foods that are not nutrient depleted and without toxic chemical adulteration.
In 1972, Eden opened its first warehouse and established relations with artisan Japanese traditional food makers. Imports of sea vegetables, teas, miso, shoyu, umeboshi plums, kuzu root starch, rice vinegar, rice bran pickles, mirin and more followed, and this solidified Eden as an important natural food source for the United States and Canada.
In addition to being the oldest natural and organic food company in North America, Eden Foods is the largest independent manufacturer of dry grocery organic foods.
In 2008, Eden completed a 70,000 square foot Michigan warehouse addition at its headquarters in Clinton. In 2009, Eden Foods was selected as the best food company in the world, and the third best company overall by The Better World Shopping Guide.
Eden Foods has annual revenue of $44.7 million, according to Hoover’s Inc. Eden’s subsidiaries include American Soy Products, Eden Organic Pasta, New Meridian Canning, and Sobaya. In the 1980s it became the first major distributor of soy milk in the U.S.
Focus has been key to Eden’s success, Potter told Corp!
Corp!: It is obvious that you have been very successful. What would you say has been your best business decision thus far?
Potter: To focus on dry grocery has been critical. At first it was a big debate, but that decision has served us well over the years. Some food producers sell spaghetti that tastes like cardboard. Our spaghetti is true spaghetti - amazing, delicious, and smooth as silk. I have found it surprises people.
Corp!: Is there a quality you carry as an individual that has been a driving force in the success of your company, and your relationship with employees?
Potter: Persistence. Persistence is a quality that is very important, and good to establish early on. I am always persistent with my employees and letting them know where they stand. Time and time again I have heard, “You always know where you stand with Michael.” There is no mystery with me.
Corp!: What is your ongoing goal?
Potter: My ongoing goal is simple: survival. My main focus is purity in our foods. We have over 300 food items, and I am proud of every single one of them. They are each special in their category.
Corp!: What is the best advice you can give to others?
Potter: Be sure you’re right, and then go ahead. Things will constantly dissuade you from getting where you want to go, and in my business you have to constantly adjust to economic and environmental changes. If you don’t adjust, you can’t move forward. You must also understand that success comes with the blessing of a lot of help, luck, and good fortune.
Corp!: What was your very first job? Did it relate to your job today?
Potter: My first job, coincidentally, was a stock boy in a grocery store. It carved the fundamentals of merchandizing and basics of food retailing for me.
Corp!: What is the last best book you read?
Potter: “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered,” by E.F. Schumacher. It was an interesting book about economics.
Corp!: How do you like to spend your spare time?
Potter: I like to spend my spare time with my six children. I have two bookend girls with boys in the middle, and it would be an understatement to say they are my pride and joy. I also enjoy sports and being outdoors.
Corp!: Last, but not least, do you have a favorite food?
Potter: My favorite food is anything whole grain. I am very fond of brown rice and, as mentioned, I really like our spaghetti.