As RIBUS Inc. celebrates 30 years in business, the company’s leaders are reflecting on the past and looking ahead to a bright future. The "Original Clean Label Ingredient Company," RIBUS (which stands for Rice Ingredient Business United States) supplies American-made natural and organic plant-based ingredients. Earlier this year, third-generation entrepreneur Alicia Peirce Kasch was appointed Vice President of the family-owned and -operated business, which was founded in 1992 by Alicia’s father Steve Peirce, her grandfather Jim, and scientist Neal Hammond. WholeFoods Magazine caught up with Steve and Alicia at Natural Products Expo West to discuss legacy, leadership, and lighting the way on clean label innovation.
On being a third-generation success story:
“When I first started with RIBUS, it was amazing and eye opening,” Alicia shared. “At my first trade shows especially, I’d stay as close to [Steve] as I could, because you’d hear a multitude of questions in an hour, and just hearing how he explains things makes it relatable. It clicked and it made sense to me… it has been really wonderful learning with him, learning from him, learning new things together, and tackling new obstacles and opportunities.”
Before Alicia joined the RIBUS team, though, she got a degree in journalism and worked with major brands on the marketing and communications side. That experience set her up for success at RIBUS. “One of the things I told both of my son and my daughter,” Steve explains, “is that I would love to have you in the company one day, but you have to go out and get five to 10 years of experience somewhere else, because business is rough. You would get a black eye, you would get a bloody nose, you would get a pat on the back, and I would not want to be the one giving my kids their first black eye, their first bloody nose in business, you know, their first ‘getting in trouble in business. And I’m happy to pat them on the back, but you gotta experience both the ups and downs to have a bearing on where you’re going.”
On RIBUS at 30:
“On one hand we seem like a family on business, with three generations that have been in it, but we actually have a small pool of investors, because we couldn’t do it on our own in the beginning,” Steve explains. “So it’s a combination of that closely held company, but investors as well, so we walked down both sides of this street at the same time…We’ve got a wonderful organization of 15 members that all are very skilled in their own position, and it’s that gentle hand on the tiller, as a sale boat racer would say. You want just minor adjustments so you can get the most value out of the wind that’s blowing.”
Alicia, he says, has the right approach to manage. “I see a lot of me…the things that she has picked up. But I see a lot more refinement in certain areas than [I had] at her age.” At the end of the day, Steve adds, “I’m pleased with where we are, I’m excited about where we’re going. We’ve got new products in the pipeline, and we’re focused on taking care of current customers, and current employees, and growing the business.”
On the mindset that fosters success:
“You can’t cross a bridge until you get to it, so don’t worry about what’s ahead. Prepare for it, but you can’t deal with it until you get there,” Steve shares, of the thinking that helps him navigate his days as President of RIBUS. “Another motto that I use very frequently right now: Communication in advance is free of charge, after the fact, it gets very expensive.”
For Alicia, a driving focus is action and accomplishment: “Make it happen,” she says. “Of course there’s strategy, and everything to get to that point, but there’s something that needs to get done, then do it.”
On women in leadership:
“I’m a WIN [Women in Nutraceuticals] member,” says Alicia. “I just love that there are those groups, and there are so many women that want to plug in, and want to have the support, emotional, physical, professional… It’s nice to have a group for support, and to bounce ideas around.”
The industry is so strong with women, Steve adds. In fact, RIBUS 60% women run. “You see women much more so in the food and supplement industries than you do in many of the other industries I was in prior to coming here. So it’s nice to see organizations and networks forming.”
On innovating post COVID:
“The big things we have happening are related to products that were right on the cusp of coming out right before COVID,” Steve says. “Everybody’s heard this story…things took a couple of years off, and if they didn’t, everybody’s mind took a couple of years off, and we had things to deal with at home, and in person. One of the products we’ve got is Nu-SORP.” Nu-SORP Oil is a fine, free-flowing powder that offers superior oil retaining performance in high-oil systems, Steve and Alicia explain. It provides the proper oil holding capacity necessary to produce capsules, tablets, powders, and food products. Also from RIBUS: Nu-SORP Water, which is a fine, free-flowing powder that offers superior water retaining performance in high-moisture systems. “So similar concept, but instead of adsorbing oil, it’s adsorbing water,” Alicia explains. (Learn more about these ingredients and more here.)
“Also, as Alicia and her team are managing the existing business, my focus is bringing that next generation of technology,” Steve shares. “We’ve already brought in the next generation of people, now I would like to give them another generation of technology. We’re on our third one, now we’re looking to that fourth generation of technology.
On the future of clean label:
“We didn’t know what clean label was going to be, and some people said ‘You’re ahead of your time,’” Steve says. “That was not by design….25 years ago, nobody cared about it, but we’ve hung on, we’ve grown as clean label hit. So we’re the original clean label ingredient company, and we are pretty proud of that.” Learn more in this episode of The Natural View featuring Steve Peirce.