By Natalie Singer
“…Ruth and Zoey have a very strong bond. They still have plenty of family dinners where, try as they may to keep it social, they inevitably end up discussing business.”
For the Shamai family, the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep.
At a time when most women stayed home to raise a family, Ruth Shamai’s mother April became the first female President of the Toronto Real Estate Board in 1966. April’s sister Dorothy, a successful business woman herself, taught the first business class for women at George Brown College. With this type of lineage, it is no surprise that both Ruth and her daughter Zoey became pioneers in their own right.
Ruth is the namesake and founder of Ruth’s Hemp Foods, which she launched in 2000. A veritable trailblazer in the hemp movement, Ruth successfully lobbied to have it legalized in Canada back in 1998. Her introduction to the highly functional plant came in 1993, when she added hemp apparel to her environmental mail order business the Natural Order.
Decidedly ahead of her time, Ruth discovered the numerous health and nutritional benefits that hemp could offer, and set about to develop unique and innovative consumable products. With virtually no competition, and hemp illegal in the US, Ruth should be credited for bringing the edible plant to the North American market.
Zoey Shamai has learned well from her mother. She was raised in a health-supportive family where nutrition and respect for the environment played major roles. Her introduction to the yogic lifestyle came when Zoey was studying at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
When she decided to move to New Mexico to pursue studies with Yogi Bhajan, her mother – a once intrepid traveller herself – offered her blessing. It was in New Mexico in 2005, that Zoey began to drink Kombucha, a fermented beverage made of tea and bacterial cultures. The wide array of health benefits including live enzymes, beneficial bacteria and liver-cleansing acids so impressed Zoey, that she began to make her own teas, which she eventually branded Tonica. Like her mother did with hemp food, Zoey was instrumental in bringing the beverage with a 2,000 year old history, to the modern Canadian consumer.
As mother and daughter, Ruth and Zoey have a very strong bond. They still have plenty of family dinners where, try as they may to keep it social, they inevitably end up discussing business.
With many traits in common, one that stands out is authenticity. Whether it be a commitment to work, family or community, their core values are evident in the way they both conduct themselves professionally. For Ruth, these values include sustainability, a conscientious supply chain, and Canadian grown ingredients without the use of GMO’s, refined sugars or anything artificial.
With a nod to the raw food movement and her yogic training, Zoey’s tonics are a reflection of her true nature. They are made locally in Toronto of exceptionally high quality ingredients and are certified by Canada Organic.
Extending beyond her core line of hemp products, Ruth has been a driving force in bringing yet another superfood to market. With Chia, Ruth has found a nutritionally robust seed with many creative applications. The product that is garnering the most well-deserved attention is Chia Goodness – a raw breakfast cereal combined with hemp, that has the consistency of oatmeal when a liquid is added. The nutritional benefits are impressive – more calcium than milk, more Omega 3 than flax, extremely high in fibre and protein, low-glycemic and gluten-free. Although Ruth was first to market this concept, it was swiftly copied.
When one is an innovator, the imitators are sure to follow. This is a fact of life for both Ruth and Zoey, as they lead the way in the natural health world. Challenges continue to face both of their companies, since they compete with industrial giants that have extensive marketing budgets.
But challenges aside, the future looks substantially bright for Ruth’s Hemp Foods and Tonica. They see that the natural health industry has been embraced by the mainstream, and as more retailers stock these items, more opportunities unfold. The consumer has also evolved over the past decade, with rampant obesity and multiple health issues, people are looking for products that can deliver. An educated consumer can be the direct result of a committed retailer, and with the power of knowledge, we all win in the end.
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Natalie Singer is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist with over 16 years of experience in the natural health industry.View the article