Vancouver mayor's juice company moved to suburbs

Robertson describes himself as former small business owner

With smoothie flavours such as Lost Lagoon Mango and Sunset Beach Strawberry and a Vancouver post office box, Happy Planet Foods must be a proud local juice purveyor.

Think again.

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Mayor Gregor Robertson declared the City of Vancouver a fantastic place to do business in a Vancouver Economic Commission promotional video. But the organic juice company he co-founded and owns shares in and whose product labels bear his signature migrated to the suburbs a year after the Winter Olympics.

Maheb Nathoo, chief executive of Happy Planets majority shareholder Earths Own Food Company, said Happy Planets office in an East Vancouver warehouse at 950 Powell St. became redundant, so it closed last February. Happy Planet is now headquartered with Earths Own in an office building at 4190 Lougheed Highway in Burnaby.

We have expanded our facility in Richmond, we have a warehouse and soup manufacturing facility, our distribution, some of our offices have been consolidated over there, Nathoo told the Courier. Some of our administration staff we have relocated to Burnaby. What we are doing is leveraging the marketing and customer service network of the major shareholder.

Nathoo denied the move was prompted by the planned construction of the joint civic-federal Powell Street railway overpass.

We are very small, very focused organization, he said. That was not part of our consideration at all.

Happy Planet smoothies and juices are made at a plant on Annacis Island in Delta and distributed out of Richmond from giant UNFI Canadas 12757 Vulcan Way warehouse. UNFI Canada refrigerated delivery trucks also function as mobile billboards for Happy Planets juices, energy shots and soups. Nathoo said Happy Planet shares space with yogurt maker Liberte Natural Foods at nearby 2271 Vauxhall Place. We are all in the healthy foods [industry] and serving similar retailers, like Whole Foods, Nathoo said.

Robertson co-founded the company in 1994 with Randal Ius who, Nathoo said, is the key part of the organization.

His knowledge, background and understanding is outstanding. Im very delighted to have the founder continue that energy, Nathoo said. Gregor is a shareholder, but hes not involved.

Robertson introduced himself Tuesday at a Vision Vancouver fundraiser as a former small business owner. Robertsons nomination papers for the 2011 election indicate he has shares in Happy Planet Foods Ltd., Treedom Ventures Ltd., Ohana Partners Inc. and Glen Valley Organic Farm Cooperative.

One of Happy Planets earliest investors was Renewal Partners, the venture capital fund run by Joel Solomon and Carol Newell. Solomon is a financial contributor to Vision Vancouver and an adviser to the mayor.

Earths Own, which was called Soyaworld until February, took a majority stake in Happy Planet in 2004, the year before Robertson ran for the NDP in the provincial election and won the Vancouver-Fraserview riding.

Nathoo said Happy Planet sales are now worth 15-plus million dollars a year.

Requests to city hall and the Vision Vancouver campaign office for an interview with Robertson were not fulfilled. In terms of his relationship with Happy Planet and Earths Own, he has absolutely zero operational, administrative or any kind of decision-making power, authority or role, said Vision Vancouver campaign communications director Marcella Munro.

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