Vita Health's John Holtmann
We could fill all the pages of this issue to pay proper tribute to John Holtmann. Suffice to say if you knew John – if he was a friend or colleague – you'll agree.
John passed away on December 3 with his family by his side after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 61. Over 500 people (standing room only) attended his service in Winnipeg, which was a testament to how much John was loved and respected by all who knew him.
John is probably best known to many as the owner of the award-winning Vita Health Fresh Market retail stores in Winnipeg, although prior to that, he spent almost 30 years in various positions with Vita Health Products, a manufacturing company founded by his father-in-law, G. W. Seier. John joined the company in 1970 as a summer job.
In the late 90's, after all of Vita Health's retail and manufacturing interests were sold to Leiner, the Holtmann family purchased the retail portion back and John embarked on a new career path, turning a chain of supplement-focused stores into a food-focused business. He derived great pleasure and satisfaction from guiding and growing the business, teaching and mentoring his young team. And he was very proud to have his son Mathew join him in the business.
Along with overseeing the growth and changes at Vita Health, John was very active in the industry. He played a key role in the formation of the United Health Merchants – now known as the Health First Network – in 1999, helping to pull retailers from all parts of the country under the UHM umbrella. And he also spent time as a director of the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), even serving a term as the board's chair.
I recall the great sense of pride John exhibited when he had the opportunity to play host to the HFN annual meeting in Winnipeg in 2009. It was fitting given his important role in the group's formation 10 years earlier. He was proud to show visitors his stores, meet his team and tour them through his hometown.
In 2010, John received one of our industry's highest honours when he was elected into the CHFA Hall of Fame. In the spring of 2011, John announced his retirement from Vita Health – the same year the company was celebrating its 75th anniversary – and dozens of industry friends, colleagues and family made the trip to Winnipeg to surprise John with a dinner to recognize his many contributions to the industry.
John loved people. He had friends everywhere. It didn't matter if you were a supplier or a competitive retailer. I recall being in Winnipeg two years ago visiting a small health food store. The owner told me it was the norm for John to occasionally pop in, see how things were going and wish them well.
John's influence on the natural health industry and the many people he worked with and knew will be felt for decades to come. • Bruce W. Cole