Super pumped to have our dear friend Andrew Hebard on the show. Andrew is the founder of Natures Crops International, the manufacturers of Ahiflower. In this episode we get some really great insight into supply chain influence, how to get creative in business, advice Andrew has for the 20 something him as well as discussing a bit on Ahiflower of which we distribute for Natures Crops.
Welcome back to Stratum Nutrition's ingredient for success podcast. I'm Andrew Rice and today we're here with Andrew Hebard. President of nature's crops international, the producers of Ahiflower, um, of whom is an amazing ingredient partner of ours. So thanks for coming on Andrew. You're very welcome. Great to see you guys. It's good to see you as well. So before we got started talking business or some of the content that we've got prepared here for the podcast, I wanted to just say that. Andrew is probably one of the best storytellers that I have ever met. And he's got some phenomenal stories. Uh, so in some of those stories, uh, Mo a lot of those have to do with fly fishing or traveling, traveling around the world. And so I thought we'd start by just asking you what, being a fly fisherman myself. Um, I love them. And even if they're, even if some of the audience isn't into fly fishing or fishing, uh, your stories are amazing. So, uh, I would like to just start off with asking of all of your travels. Uh, what is your favorite fly fishing trip you've ever been on? Oh, gosh, Andrew. Well, I'll tell you what if you asked me to tell a story and I can try to keep this in less than two hours. You'll be, I'll be doing very well. And I haven't had enough to drink. It's only 10 o'clock in the morning. So tell you the really good stories. Um, there was no such thing as a bad days, fly fishing, as you know, they'd always go drew out, but, uh, one instance comes to mind in Canada. When I cut, I'll cut straight to the chase on this one, but, uh, I managed to hook a debt, the minister, uh, salmon fishing twice in the same trip. In the face with a big fly hook and the whole thing kind of deteriorated quite rapidly after that. But, uh, um, that was a splendid day out on a big river in new Brunswick called the mirror mushy. And, um, after that we became great friends. Awesome. Awesome. Sounds like fun. Um, and one of these days, maybe we'll, we'll do some fly fishing together. Well, you keep promising me. These invites Andrew and you're right. I am socially distancing on a farm in North Carolina. Yeah, I know when we could be social distancing out on, uh, out on the white river or something here, uh, doing some fly fishing. So, um, well let's, let's just get into it here. Um, so I was thinking it's fun. We always like, kind of remembering back about. When, you know, when I, when I start, I like, you know, it's always good to kind of reflect on where we started and how we started. And I think it's always fun to just kind of remember like what it was like and what the surroundings were and what, what, what you were doing when you heard yeah. This apifany or this aha moment or decided to, to, to venture. You know, into one of these big moments in our lives. So, um, can you describe a little bit like environmentally and just kind of mentally and emotionally? Like where were you when you decided to. To begin Ahiflower. Well, wouldn't it be great. Great. If I could start, I got hit by a bolt of lightning and that's where it came to me, but I thought it wouldn't be quite the truth. So my background is I've always been out in nature. I've always grown fruit and vegetables for myself. I've always loved farming. I've always loved the natural world. Um, my grandmother was a florist. I studied agriculture. I just wanted to be a farmer. And, um, when I graduated, I ended up as a. Commodity buyer, farm, farm quality buyer. And I was useless at it, absolutely useless at it. And, um, but in visiting a lot of farmers, I saw some of the great crops that they were trying to pioneer for the first time. And one of them was evening Primrose. And, um, that was being sourced from China for, uh, the central fatty acid market. And it just struck me that what a great opportunity there was to think about pulling some of these wildcrafted crops, uh, herbals botanicals into well managed agricultural, uh, contract arrangements with farmers. So, you know, I started to think, how can we do this and move away from commodity agriculture, which obviously is fine. I mean, it's an essential facet of. Uh, food production, but I was always interested in about delving, deeper into it, the science, the health attributes, the environmental attributes, and that kinda got me on that path. And, you know, here I am 35 years later, still trying to figure it all out. Cool. Thanks. Thanks for sharing Andrew that's uh, um, it, it, I, I don't know. I enjoy remembering back and reflecting on, on those times. So thanks for sharing that. Um, Yeah, thank you. So going back 35 years, um, what would you tell yourself your 20 something self at the time? Just starting into the natural products industry and with AKI flower. Yeah. So that's a really good question. Um, gosh, again, I could talk for hours on this, but a few things that come to mind through throughout my career, I've probably learned, and now I tried to share this, uh, with other people. Ask as many good questions as you can from people around you. There's so much to learn. Um, and, uh, what's the saying, go learn. Like you're gonna live forever. You're going to die tomorrow. Um, I think you can learn so much from people around you. So I always try to ask good questions. Um, Being very fortunate to have sort of worked my way through an organization. And now I'll be the CEO, uh, you know, us eight types. We think we know everything. It always has to be my way and whatever. And the more I sit back and realize everybody has a different way of doing things and. It's okay. To do things differently. What really matters about is where you're trying to get to. And there was a time my life and I thought, Oh no, I've done it. I know the answer now. I'm I was like, actually, no, I learned from my team, I learned from people around me that there's probably a lot better ways of doing things. And, um, you know, as long as you know, what your destination is and you know, it's giving an example, maybe your destination is a set of GPS coordinates, and you say, this is where we're going towards. Some people would like to take the scenic route. Some people like to get on the interstate and go as fast as they can. Some people I'd take the dangerous and the edgy route. Um, and that's all good. It's really about, you know, the experiences you have along the way, and I've really come to value the diversity of how people go about problem solving and getting on the, um, And we're getting, getting on edge on is so what does that really mean? You know, calm down a little bit, relaxed. People have different ways of doing things, but the outcome can be quite good. So that would be another, another lesson, um, and also work with people that you really trust and really like your careers right along there. And we spend so many hours. Hours days, weeks, weekends, traveling and meeting, and you put your life into these things. You've got to do it with people around you that you really trust and trusting people in good times is easy, trusting people in bad times and things like that. It gets harder. And you know, I'm feeling really comfortable with that when you can be really honest with people about the good things and the painful things, the hard things. So, yeah. Trust openness. Um, you know, sounds a bit, a bit extreme, but being prepared to take a bullet for some of your team members, when things get really tough, um, that's the sort of people that I like to run because we make a better team. Thank you for that. I think, um, anyone who is starting up in the natural products industry would really benefit from lessons that you just gave. I know that. I wish you were around when I was 20 something to give me some insight, but thank you. Yeah. Thank you for sharing. Yeah, I do. I, I think it's, yeah, I think we all look back and wish we would've had, you know, those types of words of wisdom. I know as we grow as people and as we grow as professionals and, um, I think, I think part of that growing is understanding that. Um, every personality and everybody that you work with, um, and, and live around, um, they have so much, they have so much to give because of their different perspective. And, and I just think it's important to value, to value that different perspective, personally. Yeah. So you mentioned about fly fishing and, uh, I've been fortunate enough to travel to some beautiful places, some very remote places. And I've learned an awful lot from the people I fish with the guides, the locals, and you only do that by engaging with them and asking questions. And, uh, I think it's, you know, you can look at your hobbies and your pastimes and learn, apply a lot of those lessons to business as well. But I do think asking people around you, learning from them and accepting that there are many, many different ways of doing things and you find the way that you feel comfortable, comfortable in your own skin doing. Yes. Yes. Totally agree. Yeah. Thanks. Thanks, Andrew. Um, so what, what would you tell, you know, whether it be the actual entrepreneur themselves or other individuals within a startup company, but a company just starting out, um, in the ingredient side of our industry, what, what, what, what are some things you would specifically tell that startup. You know, CEO or even other people members of that company. So I, the ingredient businesses is a very broad spectrum. We, we service, uh, ingredients for many, many different industries, but the industry that we're really most focused on is health and wellness within that Dottie supplement. So it's probably easier if I sort of focus in on natural products for health and wellness and. What I've really come to understand is that we have an essential role providing products to customers that they have very high expectations from. And invariably people take a supplement or a health and wellness product to correct compensate, uh, counteract to have an effect on something that is either lifestyle related, diet related health and wellness related. And therefore there's a high expectation that goes with that. And. These things often come with a fairly high cost, you know, maybe 20 to $50 a month, uh, cost associated with them. So there's a high expectation. I think we should carry that on anybody that's involved in this industry should carry that responsibility on their shoulders very seriously, because if you don't, you get branded with the sort of snake oil category and that's that's. Damaging to a whole industry. So be proud of your products, be proud of the quality, be proud of the science, really strive to provide something that is really meaningful to a consumer. Um, I think that's something that really should be almost in the DNA of people supplying that industry. Um, again, because I think. We have to provide something over and above nutrition. We have, we're providing something to correct something or create, you know, to offset an imbalance or what have you, and maybe pull it increasingly. We're looking to health and nutrition and diet to, um, avoid medical issues. You know, the, the sort of growing old gracefully, we don't want to be burdened with. Health issues as we get older, the medical costs associated with that. So yeah, all of that flows into providing a quality product, a safe product and efficacious. Um, and then beyond that we can, and it also influence the communities around us, not just in our own industry, but where we buy from who we supply to, you know, we, we provide, uh, I think a little bit of a. Forward insight into where mainstream nutrition can get to in a few years time. So by defining the standards that we associated with, that the qualities and the supply chain, um, structure of that. Can then have an impact on broad stream agriculture, bloodstream, food production, for example. So don't look at this industry as quite peripheral and small. I think this is actually really quite sort of, uh, insightful to where industries can go. The, you know, food and nutrition industries in years to come. We it's through it's through health and wellness. Uh, and the supplement industry that a lot of has created, I think the movement towards healthier food products, and they're looking at clean labeled stuff that where ingredients come from functional, functional foods, that sort of thing. So, um, really, really understand the bigger universe that you're operating and not just the, so that your own microcosm. All right. Thanks Andrew. Um, I know, I know we talked about a similar topic before and even. You know, as we were kind of going through the, the agenda for this, um, I know you, one of the things that you do tend to always hit on is just, um, not sacrificing your core motives and why you use, uh, as you grow and as your company gets bigger. And I, I, I definitely, um, find that very important as well. So, um, Yeah. I'm yeah, I'm pretty sure I appreciate your comments on that. And I do keep in mind, you said that several times in conversation, and I remember it and you said the other day, and it's something I, I, I definitely believe into just, uh, we have a, um, Uh, six core values that we live by our business. And we set out when we set up the company, um, and we said, these are our core values. And one of them, for example, there's profit with integrity. Um, and it's good to go back and look at those, you know, look at them every day, but they should become part of your, your DNA, your team's DNA that you can look at and say, don't lose sight of these. This is, this is what. Motivate us. This is what inspired us all those years ago. And they're still true today as they were 10, 20, 30 years ago. So yeah, don't, you know, don't compromise on what it was that gave you that burning desire to go and find your true North. Um, and th the other thing is actually that I sh I should have said already, and it's just sort of coming to me is. Also think about, uh, this is a really good friend of me, of mine told me this probably 25 years ago. Um, so I was a little bit of a frustrated artist in fact, by the use of Sophos, useless, useless musician, but I'd love to be. And he said, well, you can be as creative in business as you are in art and music. Just think about how to apply that creativity, but use a different tool. Yeah, you can, you can use those tools in so many different ways, how you manage your team, how you do your marketing, how you motivate the team around you, how you plot your strategic path forward. Um, and I think that's also something I would encourage people to think about in, in business as well, never lose sight of creativity. If you can be as creative in business as you can iMusic and arts and sculpting and that sort of thing. Yes, I, I do. I do like that, that approach, uh, on creativity, Andrew. Um, so I'm going to combine a couple of things here. Um, if you could just give a brief background of kind of major crops history, um, where you all are today with. Augie flour. And just a little bit of information about ADI flower. I really love you to do that. Okay. So, uh, well, we're based here in North Carolina. Uh, I'm from, I'm a Britta originally and moved over to the U S uh, gosh, uh, nearly 20 years ago. And, uh, it was quite a, uh, quite a journey really, other than just the transatlantic flight. Um, the rest of it has been quite a journey. Um, I came over as the CEO of a subsidiary of a very large multinational AgriFood business, and often being here for just 12 months realized that our. I suppose our longterm, uh, values and strategic direction, um, and, and probably aspirations weren't aligned. So within a year of, of having conversations with them, I organized a buyout of that very small piece of the business. And my management team came with me and we did a management buyout and the business grew. And we focused initially on building supply chains for specialty crops, especially crop ingredients, basically looking around the world to grow things that had inherently problematic supply issues. And the business grew. We brought in some investors from private equity group and the business continued to grow. And now just going back, um, the last two to three years, We kind of did a full cycle and I bought the manager of the private equity group back out again and took the business completely private. So, uh, we had a full sort of cycle over that 20 year span. And, um, now we're a little bit sort of like we're in startup mode again, having, uh, uh, just a very motivated team. It's nice not to have, um, sort of other investor stakeholders that might have, um, Yeah, uh, different, uh, objectives. So, um, we're now starting a, uh, kind of like a bit of a new journey. So Andrew, in our previous conversation, we learned a lot that you were, or that you are passionate about the supply chain. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that for us? Yeah. So, um, I guess a large part of this is just my, um, Interest in primary production, agriculture horticulture. Um, I've always tried to be connected to nature. Uh, you know, I love playing in the dirt and swimming in the oceans and that sort of thing. And therefore where food comes from, um, who it comes from, how it comes from different locations is, is really important to me. And I think also it's highlighted over. My career, how important it is to look back up the supply chain and be engaged with primary producers. And again, going back to my comment about learning from other people, learning from farmers around the world, some of the challenges that they faced can all build better supply chains, but ultimately a supply chain has to address many different things. And one of the key things is risk. And I see a big part of our job is risk mitigation throughout the supply chain, particularly the more specialized your ingredient, the fewer players there are out there. The more you have to really understand the integrity of your supply chain. If you sell. Soybeans or corn or sugar, there's always whole list of them people you can buy from, but in the case of our he flower and many of the other ingredients that we grow and the indeed ingredients that you're involved with, um, there may have just be one or two producers globally, and therefore really making sure that you understand how robust your supply chain is, where risks can possibly come into it and how you mitigate that risk is really important. And I think. A lot of businesses tend to look down the supply chain downstream of them. They're thinking about packaging, distribution, um, marketing logistics, which are our Olin essential functions. But I also think we can learn a lot more and actually have a great influence looking over our shoulders, back up the supply chain and, you know, try to engage with the people that are growing things, moving raw materials around. Um, particularly in the dark she supplement industry. There's been a lot of concerns over things like adulteration and authenticity and origin and comments like that. So again, we have to be engaged further up the supply chain, some of the initiatives, for example, the, uh, groups like the council for responsible nutrition. I think they're doing great jobs at leading a movement to make us aware of how. Strong all supply chains need to be how authentic they need to be, how safe they need to be. And as a industry where we're buying stuff, that's usually premium priced souls from around the world. Um, well, purity and quality are essential. We can play great parts in building those supply chains. And I think, um, maybe not everybody has understood. Just how much leverage they can have on the supply chain when they look back up at it and say, well, I might not be demanding this from my supplier, but I'm going to meet my supplier and ask you that as possible. I'm going to meet this farmer and say, I know you do it this way, but could we do it this way? And on a good case in point. It's all of our crops now that we grow around the world and that's a relatively small Lake Ridge is about 10,000 acres, but very highly specialized crops. We're now transitioning all of those to regenerative agricultural practices, which goes one step beyond sustainability. And we work with the farms to say, how can we make your. Um, uh, crop production, regenerative, and then from an environmental point of view. So we're looking at, uh, the cost of production, the inputs that they use, whether they, um, can do things to improve biodiversity, um, all of those things that ultimately benefit. Every one of us as a, as a planetary stakeholder, we're all sort of living on this planet together. We all share the same environment. Therefore, the more that we can do to sort of enrich that or make it a better environment, the better and our in our business is very small. So we don't have a huge effect. Our industry is a little bit bigger, but it's still quite small in terms of global, um, uh, impact. But it has ripples. We have ripple effects and, uh, I think we all got to do our little bit and we can make it a far more impactful movement as time goes forward. Yeah, I totally agree with that. And, um, I think, I think we, we can all, um, do a lot for our industry and, and our consumers by just almost demanding, um, that integrity out of our supply chain, um, to speak to what you're talking about there, Andrew. So I appreciate, I appreciate everything that you've said. Sharing your story, uh, giving some advice for other industry professionals and, and taking your time to join us today. Oh, you're so welcome. I, I love getting together with you guys. Thank you for the opportunity and, uh, just keep that six foot distance between you. Yeah, I know, right? Like what at six foot, wait, six foot. Is it bad breath or w what is that? So, yeah. Well, thanks for, thanks for coming on Andrew. Uh, it's a, it's a pleasure as always, and we'll, I'm sure we'll talk to you soon. Okay. Okay. Thanks. Have a go have a great day. Bye.