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A heartfelt request from a salmon lover in Kalamazoo, Michigan, led to a fine-seafood business with fans worldwide.
“Her name was Helen. She really wanted some wild salmon,” recalls Vital Choice founder Randy Hartnell.
The year: 2000. The place: Kalamazoo, Michigan. This moment would lead to the founding of Vital Choice 20 years ago, in August of 2001.
Hartnell, an Alaska fisherman, had seen wild salmon prices collapse due to a new product: cheap farmed salmon. Nearly broke, he and a friend were touring the Midwest cooking wild salmon to sell to natural-food store patrons.
At one such event, “A woman, Helen, comes up and says, insistently, ‘How can I get this when you guys are gone?’”
“I said, ‘I’ll send you some.’” Hartnell says, “though I had no idea how to send frozen salmon to Kalamazoo or anywhere else. I figured it out and sent it.”
Back on the West Coast, Hartnell happened to catch a TV program featuring Dr. Nicholas Perricone, who was recommending eating salmon “several times a week” for robust health.
Hartnell hatched a plan. “I sent Dr. Perricone a letter telling him I wanted to start shipping salmon nationwide. He promised to put us in his book. We had six months to create a company.
Then the orders started flowing.”
The early product line was “pretty thin,” recalls Dave Hamburg, a fellow Alaska fisherman who is now company president. “We had some sockeye, some halibut, some smoked salmon and lox.”
Gradually, the product line expanded, orders grew, and two more prominent physicians, Andrew Weil, M.D., and William Sears, M.D., partnered with Vital Choice to help promote the products.
Before long, Vital Choice became known as the nation’s premium source of quality home-delivered seafood.
Vital Choice continued its strong growth trajectory this year, but the principles behind its founding remain the same: give customers anywhere in the U.S. the opportunity to purchase the best quality wild seafood and fish oils, and organic products such as premium beef and pork, soups and berries.
The company has been a Certified B Corporation since 2014, which means it meets the highest standards for social and environmental performance. Vital Choice commits from two to five percent of its net profit to environmental protection groups.
“We look forward to continuing that commitment,” said Hartnell.