Greg Steltenpohl 1954-2021
Best known for the successes of Odwalla Juice Co. and Califia Farms, Greg was a pioneering leader of the natural and organic food industry, living a mission-driven career that prioritized environmental sustainability, employee empowerment, creative corporate culture, and authenticity as core drivers of business success.
In 1980, with long-time friends Jeannine Bassett and Gerry Percy, Greg purchased a $200 restaurant juicer and some oranges and delivered fresh-squeezed juice to the first Odwalla account in Santa Cruz. It was the beginning of a fresh-juice revolution that led to “Superfood” green smoothies becoming available across the nation. Although Odwalla originally was founded as a means to finance the friends’ passion for playing music, Greg’s vision for a sustainable company combined with his talent to galvanize people around a common goal fostered a creative and inclusive culture that was itself a work of art. He nurtured a strong dedication to Odwalla’s mission of “nourishing the body whole” with stock option benefits to employees at all levels, a free family style meal program for production line workers and opportunities for all staff to engage in creative endeavors including employee talent shows. More than a few Odwallaians purchased their first homes thanks to Greg’s generous and visionary spirit.
In 1996 a batch of contaminated fruit was attributed to numerous consumers falling ill and the death of a child. The tragedy was an affront to Greg’s vision of spreading health and while Odwalla’s response and turnaround became a business school case-study, the need for new investors led the company to be sold to Coca Cola in 2001.
Greg continued to experiment with socially and environmentally minded-ventures. Under the guidance of Visa founder Dee Hock, he co-founded The Interra Project, a loyalty program to encourage local spending and support non-profits. He also co-founded and led Adina for Life, a fairtrade and organic juice and coffee company. However in 2010 Greg found his second act.
Greg co-founded Califia Farms as a direct-from-farmers juice venture with the producers of California grown Cuties (tangerines). Greg’s creativity soon extended the brand into another local crop - almonds. When paired with the brand’s iconic bottle, Califia Almondmilk was an instant success. Innovation with oats and coconut led Califia to become the leading premium brand in the U.S non-dairy milk category and was emblematic of the rise of modern plant-based eating. Greg retired as CEO shortly before his death in 2021.
Those who know him might argue that the industry loved him not only for what he stood for — an idea that an outstanding experience could also be one that does good for the world — but because he’d survived the entrepreneurial hardships that inevitably come when you’re forging a new path.
At heart, Greg was a builder of tribes, a force who pulled people toward him to create great things – a champion of the environment, workers, women, wonderfully diverse groups of people, and progressive ideas – with an instinct for harmonizing human energies to generate new solutions. He believed in the future and engaged with the present to address the troubles of the world.