“Steve encouraged him to think outside the box and to see the moment as an opportunity for innovation and progressive thinking and not as a failure,” said Eli Steltenpohl. “That certainly gave my father the fire he needed to get through.”
Odwalla never fully recovered. With the company on the brink of bankruptcy, its founders had to sell a majority stake in private equity firms.
The Coca-Cola Company acquired Odwalla in 2001 for $ 181 million and closed it last year. In doing so, Coke cited the need for business efficiency and a consumer preference for less sugary beverages, although Steltenpohl told The Times in 2016 that Coke had never maximized the brand’s potential.
“This is not what my father imagined for Odwalla,” said his son. “But that made the success of Califia all the sweeter.”
In 2010, Mr. Steltenpohl planned to found another juice company, but changed gear when he saw the coming wave of non-dairy milk alternatives made from nuts, coconut, oats and soy. While he was recovering from his liver transplant, the hospital gave him a protein drink; he found it so uncomfortable, he told the Times, that he was inspired to do better and he was soon producing premium almond milk, ready-to-drink coffee and barista blends.
He named the new company after Queen Califia, a character in a 16th-century Spanish novel who became the spirit of colonial California. After learning hard lessons from Odwalla, he insisted on strict quality control, less sugar and more nutrition, and an independent ethos. Until 2017, California’s bottled coffee was number 1 in the US.
Greg Andrew Steltenpohl was born on October 20, 1954 in Homestead, Florida. His mother, Benita (Desjardins) Steltenpohl, was a culinary entrepreneur and cook. His father Jerome was a civil engineer who moved the family to Southern California in the 1950s, where he worked for defense companies. Greg grew up in the San Bernardino area.