Nature Nate’s CEO On Turning A Honey Hobby Into A Business

Nature Nate's honey CEO Nathan Sheets
Honey started as a hobby for Nature Nate’s CEO Nathan Sheets and has turned into an international business. He talks with Chief Executive about using community impact as an inspiration for growth and the challenges he faces in the food industry.

What are some of the big challenges in the food industry that you guys are dealing with right now?

Food sourcing is always a challenge, especially with honey. When you have shows like “Rotten” on Netflix, where they highlight people that are nefariously importing honey from around the world and then trans-shipping those honeys. They’ll bring in honey from China, where those honey

are banned in the United States, and bring them into someplace like Malaysia, and all of the sudden the country who’s never produced any honey has gotten train loads full of honey that they’re ready to deploy around the world.

I think the heightened interest in food safety, the heightened interest specifically in honey and then the bee issue of colony collapse disorder and people’s awareness of that. There’s been a slow and steady decline of the U.S. honey supply over time. And so that’s been a challenge. There’s also challenges with pesticides, glyphosate and different pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and antibiotics that you’re always having to test for to ensure that your honey’s not tainted at all.

Then there is the larger challenge in the food industry where consumers are demanding “better for you” alternative products. People are wanting to get away from high-fructose corn syrup and processed sugars. So in the food industry, that’s of great concern, we view it as an opportunity for success. So when we talk about competing here at Nature Nate’s, we don’t compete with other honey companies. Our competition is sugar. So we really focus on that.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I would describe my leadership style as inspirational [and involved]. I was in the bathroom the other day, the toilet was dirty and I just got underneath the toilet and got a bunch of cleaning stuff and cleaned the toilet. I’ve got to be the first one willing to do any job here and not think that I’m above anything. I think that the girls down on the line grabbing the bottles and making sure that they’re not sticky and they’re sealed properly are just as important, if not more important, than the things that I do.

And so we don’t have a real hierarchical company. Even temporary employees I tell them, “Hey, my door’s open. You’re welcome to walk into my office and sit down and tell me your story.” So we’re highly relational, we’re very familial. I always talk about the things that separate us. We want to focus on faith, family, and fun.

And so culturally here, you don’t have to be a Christian to work at Nature Nate’s, but we try to inspire people to treat each other in ways that honor each other and create an environment that we’re all very proud of, and everybody loves to come to work here. Because it’s just a great place. And so we’re all responsible for the environment that we have. And everyone works really diligently to create a great space to work in.

What advice do you have for your fellow CEOs?

I would encourage all CEOs to look at the people that you have working for you as your greatest opportunity to make a difference in the lives of families, and perhaps even in families for generations to come. And people spend more time in the office, waking time, than typically that you’ll spend at home during the week. So be as purposeful and intentional to build into people so that when they do go home, that they’ve been equipped and resourced and challenged to go home and make a difference where they spend the second most amount of time, and build into their families.

And money isn’t always the main object that you need to focus on. You’ve got to be profitable. If you’re not profitable, you can’t be in business. But once you’re profitable, then just recognize that you’re a steward of not just the money, but also the people. And they’re a responsibility that you have to make their lives better, not just your own.

Read more: Chipotle’s Leadership Has A Significant Trust Problem

  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events