By Steven Hoffman
Mike Fata, founder and former Chair and CEO of Manitoba Harvest – and one of the original founders of the hemp food industry – is celebrating the 25th anniversary this month marking the beginning of his personal journey to health.
In 1995, Mike was, as he said, “an unhealthy and unhappy 18 year old who weighed 300 pounds. I became sick and tired of being sick and tired, and decided to do something about it.”
Along the way, Mike learned a lot about nutrition, a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. He lost 125 pounds, regained his health, and … “the journey to health got me to see the value of hemp seed,” he said.
Inspired by the superfood potential hidden in the hemp seed, Fata in 1998 founded Manitoba Harvest. Today, the award-winning company is a widely recognized global hemp food leader, with lifetime sales in 2020 surpassing $500 million.
After successfully selling Manitoba Harvest in 2019 to Tilray (NASDAQ:TLRY), a publicly traded, vertically integrated cannabis company based in Canada, for US$318 million, Mike is no longer involved on a day to day basis with the company. “It came to the point where the business was going that it was best to have a classically trained CEO leading the company,” he observed.
Yet, having carved out a significant entrepreneurial legacy in hemp and the natural and organic foods industry, Mike has future plans to mentor and invest in companies and brands that are committed to improving health, the environment and the quality of people’s lives.
“My passion is health and my purpose is to share it with the world,” Fata said. “I’m starting to diversify and help other founders fulfill their mission in the natural products space. I’ve made a couple of investments and got involved on the board level, and am involved actively in a couple of businesses.” Mike cites, for example that he’s become involved with Om Organic Mushrooms, an emerging natural supplements brand.
Mike also is committed to helping the hemp industry and natural products industry grow in Canada. “Giving back has been a big part of my work for my whole career; I’ve done 25 years of nonprofit board work,” he shared. Currently, Fata serves as Chair of the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), and during his tenure, the organization has been supportive of removing restrictions on CBD sales in Canada.
Currently, there are no legal means to bring non-prescription CBD health products to the Canadian marketplace, said CHFA in a statement. However, the association this past month released a report identifying CBD products as an opportunity for economic recovery in Canada that could create a niche market valued at more than C$1 billion.
“CHFA has been very outspoken in favor of hemp and CBD in the last couple of years,” said Fata. “Currently, to buy CBD in Canada you have to go to a licensed dispensary. We’re trying to change it so natural food retailers in Canada can sell these products.”
In applying what he’s learned leading the growth of Manitoba Harvest, Fata said, “At the end of the day, if you have a great product and you put the right capital and great people together, good things can happen. However, he noted, “The hemp industry is missing strong strategy and planning because it’s still a new industry. Also, more innovation has to happen,” he advised.
Fata also believes that “extracts aren’t the cure all and end all for the hemp industry. People rushed in; it will take years to work out.”
However, Mike notes that there is huge potential for hemp food and hemp fiber. “There is tremendous value in the seed and the fiber 10 to 20 times over where the industry is now,” he said. “For now, we have hemp hearts, but we need more innovation. Look at the advancements in soy protein, pea protein, for example. “Hemp is just scratching the surface. We’re just getting started on being a superfood.”
While Mike admits he is currently under a noncompete agreement in the hemp market as a result of the sale of Manitoba Harvest to Tilray, “I am a super hemp consumer and am super passionate about it, from genetics to market. So, stay tuned.”
The best way to reach out to Mike Fata is via LinkedIn.
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Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic, sustainable and hemp/CBD products businesses. Compass Natural serves in PR and programming for NoCo Hemp Expo and Southern Hemp Expo, and Hoffman serves as Editor of the weekly Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, published by We are for Better Alternatives. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.