Shortly after completing his B.S. in chemistry at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, Mike joined the staff at Natural Plant Products. In 2010, he assumed the position of CEO for both Natural Plant Products and its parent company, OMG, a cooperative of Oregon farms. In this capacity, he is responsible for all operations from crop production to finished product distribution in the personal care industry. In addition to his studies in chemistry, Mike completed an MBA at Willamette University with a focus on strategy and sustainability. A native of Seal Beach, CA, Mike is now proud to call himself an Oregonian and has adopted the requisite habits of running, the pursuit of pinot noir and the habitual avoidance of umbrellas.
For those not familiar with Natural Plant Products, the company markets meadowfoam oil and other specialty oils to the global personal care and cosmetics industries. Meadowfoam oil is derived from the seeds of Limnanthes alba, a winter annual that was commercialized in Oregon’s Willamette Valley during the 1980s. Though native to California, the crop filled a critical rotational role in Oregon’s grass seed industry. Both Oregon State University and the USDA-ARS were instrumental in the development of meadowfoam as a specialty crop. This unique oil is known for its high oxidative stability relative to other seed oils. The stability stems from the unique C20 and C22 fatty acids that compose the oil. An internet search can provide more detail or visit www.meadowfoam.com.
What do you wish you would had known when you first started?
The financial models that exist for specialty oils are different than those for familiar commodities like soy, palm and cotton. For example, meadowfoam’s value is concentrated almost entirely in the oil (99%+), as usages for meal and cake are restricted by pesticide and feed regulations. As I have gained understanding of the markets for oils such as cotton, almond and canola, I have been able to apply those fundamentals to our current operations and integrate them into our strategic planning.
What is the most challenging issue that you have personally faced in oilseeds?
Consolidation within the oilseed industry has reduced the number of plants available for toll processing. The advances in technology allowing for ever larger plants has further reduced the number of plants that are of reasonable size for specialty seeds that trade exclusively in the cosmetics space. Our cooperative farms in a region with high land values and a climate not suited to most oilseeds. The identification of oilseeds that would interest cosmetics brands and identifying a secure path to manufacturing has been the largest challenge I have faced in the past decade.
What is the biggest challenge you see in oilseeds today?
From my perspective in the cosmetics industry, logistics and costs are causing massive disruptions to normal operations. Ocean freight shipments are often delayed by weeks, and it is increasingly difficult to secure bookings for both imports and exports. Domestic freight costs for our materials have tripled on some freight lanes, while steel, energy and labor costs are increasing rapidly. We’ve always planned for and assumed costs will increase over time. The problem is the pace of change. I don’t think these challenges are unique to the specialty oilseed world.
Any final thoughts you would like to share?
Our company has noted an increased customer interest in supply chain transparency and sustainability. I think this provides options and challenges for both specialty and commodity oils producers. For smaller entities, securing the resources necessary to quantity environmental, social and financial impacts across a supply chain will be challenging. For larger producers or food companies, I imagine the challenge of creating identity-preserved supply chains for raw materials sourced on a global basis is top of mind. Our industry will need to drive collaboration and education, so we are prepared to answer our customers’ questions regarding impacts from seed through packaging.