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Back when The Herb Room was just a produce stand on the corner of Laurel and Mission streets on the west side of Santa Cruz, Linda Kahler was a young store manager immersing herself in the growing health conscious community.
In the early 80s, buy local campaigns, traditional medicines and environmentally sustainable practices were still mostly just adjuncts to the mainstream economy.
“That kind of consciousness was starting to bubble up,” says Kahler.
She soon joined a tiny startup named Rainbow Nutritionals that would eventually become a leading manufacturer of nutritional supplements and a trailblazer in a multi-billion dollar industry. She was drawn to the rich community of people involved in personal and planetary health and in 1989, Kahler bought the company through a management buyout. She stayed at the helm for three decades, despite selling the company in 2002.
“I can’t say I ever particularly imagined myself running a company or being a strong women’s business leader,” Kahler says. “I was just exploring opportunities within an area of interest. I had the awareness and care for the planet.”
Under her leadership, the company spearheaded several campaigns that fundamentally altered the industry such as introducing food-based supplements, environmentally sustainable packaging and an early corporate philanthropy program that has provided an estimated 40 million supplements to people in developing countries. The company created new top-selling supplement categories for different stages of life
“As long as we were doing good work and able to touch more people and hear from consumers about the benefits they were getting from our products and expand that ripple effect of doing good in the world, it’s been satisfying.” Kahler says.
Last year, Kahler received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Business Journal. The previous year she was inducted into the Hall of Legends by New Hope Natural Media.
“The business of Rainbow Light was able to contribute, to bring people together in a mission-driven business, to build health,” Kahler says. “It helped to cultivate a connection with employees and customers and trade partners. It helped to build a stronger state of health. It was never was just about a bottom line.”
Last year Kahler become chief strategy officer for the Florida-based parent company, Wellnext, which is refocusing its organization around a growing portfolio of brands. Although she continues to consult with the company, Kahler stepped down in March to start Opal Lane, a private consulting agency.
“I came to place where I wanted to be based truly out of Santa Cruz,” Kahler says. “A big part of last three decades has been spent in airplanes. I wanted to do something a little different, a little more personal.”
In her new business, she intends to help companies instill a sense of community within their performance culture.
“I find everything is more fulfilling if we can share it with a community—a shared vision, a shared passion, and a shared accomplishment—whether personally or professionally,” she says.
This article was published in Special Sections at the Santa Cruz Sentinel website.