Organic food leader shares secrets of success with Nevada County Cannabis Alliance members | TheUnion.com

Organic food leader shares secrets of success with Nevada County Cannabis Alliance members

Michael Funk has been called a visionary and an organic food industry leader. The founder of Mountain People's Warehouse in Nevada County in the 1970s transformed his organic food distribution into the largest natural foods distributor in the Western U.S.

Funk rarely makes local appearances. But on Tuesday, he was the featured speaker at a social mixer and ribbon cutting with the Grass Valley and Nevada City Chambers of Commerce. In a testament to the strides being made to legitimize cannabis business in the community, the event at Foothills Event Center was hosted by the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance.

"This is actually amazing," said board member Jonathan Collier, reminding alliance members that their first meeting was held in the funky below-ground level space of Haven Underground.

"Two years ago, we were facing a ban," Collier said, adding that cannabis growers and entrepreneurs are at a pivotal point in being seen as legitimate.

Alliance Communications Director Maria Herrera introduced Funk, calling him an inspiration in the quest to create a niche market for cannabis products.

Funk, who founded Mountain People's Warehouse in 1976, spoke about the similarities he saw between the organic food market of the 1970s and the burgeoning cannabis industry of 2018. Funk detailed his humble beginnings as a "long-haired hippie vegetarian" and the road that led to forming United Natural Foods and going public.

Recommended Stories For You

"We're now the largest wholesale distributor of natural foods in the world, a $10 billion company with 11,000 employees," he said. "It's beyond anything I could have imagined happening … It's been a wild ride."

Funk drew roars of appreciative laughter when he detailed how in those early days, Mother Truckers was a favored client — because they would tip with "local agricultural product."

According to Funk, supply and quality control were huge issues in those early days. Funk built brand loyalty by going where the competition didn't go, by controlling expenses and through the authenticity of his brand.

"You have to understand what you're selling," he said.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.