Intelligent Nutrients for Intelligent Beings: An Interview with Horst Rechelbacher

Moving trucks block the parking lot as strong men carry statues and other art into the former Aveda warehouse on East Hennepin Avenue. They carefully maneuver through glass doors into the high-ceiling showroom floor just days before Intelligent Nutrients opened to the public, only to be guided another direction by the hands-on founder of the company, Horst Rechelbacher.

His Austrian accent lingers in the air like incense, essential oils and dark chocolate. He directs this piece to be taken there, and that piece to be placed here. He politely excuses his interruption of the conversation as he undertakes his first major corporate undertaking since creating Aveda Corporation 27 years ago.

“I forgot how difficult it is to start companies,” he says. “This is a totally new start-up: new business, new employees, new this, new that. I used to have more patience! (laughing). But this is fun.”

He is smiling as he stands in a building deemed the “flagship destination” of IN, Intelligent Nutrients:

  • Global Apothecary — A unique organic retail store offering nutraceutical supplements and vitamins, organic teas and coffees and other healthy products like organic chocolate that are produced and showcased first in the world at this shop. It also includes books, music and artwork reflecting cultures from around the world.
  • IN Wunderbar, an organic restaurant/deli and bar that serves healthy, earth-friendly fare.
  • IN Education, a space that will offer events and seminars from health experts, environmental leaders and wellness practitioners.

Consumer education underlies all that is done at Intelligent Nutrients. The goal is to share the value of using plant-based nutrition and encourage lifestyle changes that are most beneficial to the well-being of an individual, while at the same time promoting global wisdom and environmental sensibilities.

Rechelbacher, 61, sold Aveda to Estée Lauder seven years ago, and since then he has been developing what has become Intelligent Nutrients.

“People are interested in what Horst is going to do next,” says Brigid Ryan-Ling of the local Intelligent Nutrients staff. “He’s ahead of his time in terms of the various nutritional delivery systems.”

Will IN be duplicated elsewhere? “I definitely will do one in New York and probably in Tokyo,” Rechelbacher says. “We will do a few. I know we will do one in Korea. We will do this around the world, there is no doubt. How we are going to do it, I don’t know yet. I never thought Aveda would be what it is today. It was not my intention. My intention was to make good stuff. I loved to design it and to make it. We’ll see.”

With dozens of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed “solemn sprite” statues (originally created by Italian sculptor Alfonso Ianelli and reproduced by a Stillwater, Minn., artist) on the façade of the building and holding a peaceful energy inside, Horst sat down and spoke with Edge Life about creating Intelligent Nutrients and about his passion for living in harmony with the planet.

This is the original Aveda factory, where you created the Aveda products?
Horst Rechelbacher: When we created Aveda, this was our first headquarters, where we actually made products, like we do today. We’re making quite a few products here, in our food lab, kitchen, chocolate-making facility. This is small scale right now. This, for us, is like our small test food lab, where we test products with the local community: seeing how they react and how they respond, getting feedback. It’s perfect for us, so we can learn.

I understand that Intelligent Nutrients was started in 1995.
Rechelbacher: It was, but no attention was given to it. I was pretty much in negotiations to sell Aveda, which I did a couple years later, so Intelligent Nutrients was given no energy or financial infusion. At that time, we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do in the future. I have been pretty occupied during the past six years with Estée Lauder, to be honest.

I just started focusing on Intelligent Nutrients about a year ago, creating what it always was intended to do. It’s a company that makes smart products digestible. Nothing should be used anywhere that is not edible. We should not clean our house with substances that are toxic carcinogens. It’s not necessary. There are anti-bacterial agents, and antiseptic agents, that are non-toxic. That’s really our focus, and my personal focus: to make consumer goods that don’t just smell good, but taste good, and can be used to anoint one’s self and also the environment in which you are living in.

Why did you choose the word “intelligent” in your business name?
Rechelbacher: Because nature is very intelligent. Our nature is intelligent. In fact, everything is intelligent. [Organic matcha green tea in soy milk is served.] Intelligence for me is information. Information is intelligence. And then there is information driven by energetics. And the energetics is operated by the matter, which has manifested here. This is where you and I come in. The human body is matter. Plant material, and this tea I am drinking, is matter.

We have an estate up in Darjeeling, India, where we buy our green teas from. It is grown biodynamically. [definition: “Biodynamically grown” food comes from farms designed to be self-contained sustainable ecosystems that bring together the complex interrelationships of plants, animals, and soil, with the warmth of the sun, the seasonal energies of the earth, and the rhythms of the cosmos. It is a special type of organically grown food that meets or exceeds all organic growing standards. Biodynamic concepts were introduced by philosopher Rudolph Steiner more than 60 years ago.]

Four thousand people live up there in this special community of Buddhists, Hindus, Christian, Moslems and another sect of Hinduism. And they all live up there. They have their own schools, their own teachers, little temples, health-care facilities. They have everything. And they grow green tea.

And that’s what we do here. We only focus in on the best. I don’t want to sell merchandise here that is not pure and active. I’m interested in active plant constituents.

Your question was, “Why do you call it intelligent?” Activity is intelligence. We follow our information systems and we use our energy to get it done. And that’s caused by a byproduct called matter. That’s why I call it “energetic matter.” And it’s chemical matter. We are chemistry. This tea I drink is pure chemistry, and so is everything else. But chemistry can be highly active with nutrients, it could be not very active and empty of nutrients or it could be a toxic, polluted substance. That’s what interests me as an environmentalist, because I think we should only produce the purest, finest things. Then there would be no toxic side effects. There would be no wastes, because everything would be used responsibly.

The market for only the most pure and fine is very limited at this point?
Rechelbacher: Availability of the best also is limited in our culture. And it’s also extremely expensive. It’s ridiculous. A kilogram of rose oil costs me very much. By the time it is shipped here and we pay tariffs, how much more do I have to charge the consumer? And then who could afford to buy it? That is why people sell synthetic rose and end up poisoning themselves. It shouldn’t be that way.

Unfortunately, not everything is that bad. You can create substances with other naturally grown substances and you can synthesize beautiful bouquets of flowers without spending an arm and a leg, using the citrus fruits, which are much more affordable than flowers, because you need so many flowers to create the essences. In this country, there is not a traditional science of making it. The Native Americans never did it. They bundled the sage.

But the Native Americans understand the intelligence of plants.
Rechelbacher: All indigenous people do.

By nature, we are a plant-based intelligence — not just our exhale, which plants inhale, but they are my food chain. They are my medicine. I cannot live without plants. They are part of my life support. And this is why plant species need to be preserved. We are clearcutting virgin forests around the world, and 95 percent of species in the clearcut zone have never been studied. So we clearcut a part of the virgin forest and now part of our ecosystem has been wiped out. Some of it may grow back, and some of it won’t. We don’t know. What’s sad is that nobody knows the constitution of the ecosystem that has just been destroyed. Is it an important future food? Is it an important medicine? What can it do for future generations — or present generations?

We know petrochemicals are not going to be the foods of the future, because they’ve never been the foods of the past, only the foods for the cars that drive us around. And in the next 20 years, we’re going to run out of petrochemicals on this planet. There is no doubt about it. It’s only 20 years from now. It’s going to humble us. And then we’re going to learn that we can make sustainable substances — or else we will cease to exist.

This is the century where we’re either going to make it as a species or not make it as a species. It’s going to be up to our intelligence. And our intelligence needs to be self-less, driven by chemistry that is sustainable — which is hydrogen, which is carbohydrate, which is solar, and which is wind. That’s all we have.

Whoever does it first is going to lead the process.

And still there is a lot of chaos as the old systems fall apart and try to hang on to what they have.
Rechelbacher: That’s the sad part. The majority of companies on this planet are publicly driven engines. They’re always the last ones to change. They’re not only the biggest polluters, but they’re the biggest providers of services for the consumer. Government itself is one of the biggest polluters on the planet. The U.S. military pollutes the planet more than most other entities.

I think it is going to get really rough. I look at my grandchildren and how sheltered they are. Our younger generation is so sheltered, because we have more than we’ve ever had before and we are passing it down to the kids. Those kids are so protected. And I wonder what they’re going to do when we’re not here to shelter them.

That’s exactly what we’re all confronted with. We’re all sheltered: “Oh, we’re fine. The politicians tell us everything is perfect.” And it’s not.

I think that small business has a great opportunity to educate consumers in a way that has never been done before.

I’m not doing this company for the money. I’m doing it as part of my environmental mission. Since I sold Aveda, a lot of things came clear to me. I either have a choice to be silent and be really pissed about everything — because it’s clear to me that we’re not doing anything to fix things for the future — or I take some of my non-profit venture money, which I was giving away anyway, and put it to work. That’s what I’m doing with Intelligent Nutrients. I’m funding a new business with money I would have given away in the first place. And I’m starting a responsible business and I’m educating the consumer about chemistry that is totally sustainable — not just from a production point of view, but it also helps sustain the human psyche and physical body — based on informational, energetic matter.

What does cultural creative mean to you?
Rechelbacher: It refers to people who are proactive in their lifestyle. A majority are women, because women are more proactive. By their nature, they’re genetically designed to nurture their offspring. Men have always been the hunters in their society. But it’s changing. Women are now doing two things: They’re building companies and they’re giving birth to kids. Boy, is that a hard job or what? And now some men are staying at home with the kids. A new partnership has evolved between men and women that is much different than it was in the ’60s.

That’s what I call the cultural creatives. We are taught to reinvent ourselves all the time. And nature is teaching us. What is necessary for us to do to create sustainability? There’s a shift that has to take hold in our thinking, and it’s hard to know when it’s going to click for the larger percentage of us.

When I came to this country, I started taking seminars on organizational skills and listened to all the motivational business people. They all said the same thing, no matter which seminar I went to. The law of averages says that 20 percent of people do 80 percent of the work and 80 percent of the people do 20 percent of the work. And I could relate to that. I had to chase the mediocrity all of the time. The minority who get the work done, you take them for granted. It’s the other ones that you really had to go after. So I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a company with 80 percent of the people doing 80 percent of the work?” And I can say within Aveda, I sort of managed to see that. We did it through activism. We did it by educating ourselves about why we are doing the work. We’re doing it for the future of ourselves, and here’s a product that can help us do that.

That is an important entity, because if I don’t have something productive going for my psyche, I would probably get very depressed. There’s only so much painting you can do. There’s only so much golf you can play. I think our nature wants us to be productive and useful. I think if we are witnessing ourselves as incapable of doing that, I think we get depressed, as a byproduct.

So I think one of the best antidotes for depression is to look around and see what you can do to help out — to make a difference — for now and the future. Now is the future, for what I do right now is the future. For what I am doing right now is already affecting tomorrow.

We are such a small company that I don’t even have time to educate our people.

From your experience, what will somebody experience when they walk into Intelligent Nutrients?
Rechelbacher: I have no idea. It’s going to be a learning experience, for all of us, the staff and the public.

Tell me about the “Solemn Sprites,” the Frank Lloyd Wright designed sculptures that line the front of your building and stand in the corners inside of the space.
Rechelbacher: It adds a certain energetic to the space. I like angels. These give a sense of worship and they are meditative. I like it. So I thought, “I have this ugly warehouse and now I need to use it as a business. We have about 15 big ones and about eight small ones. You can never go wrong when you use good art. [A personal touch: Horst’s personal paintings and photographs are on display, intermingled with wood-carved angels from Brazil and other decorative accents that relate the global connections that are present.]

Is this the dream you’ve always had, this Intelligent Nutrients space?
Rechelbacher: My mother used to work in an apothecary in Austria, and I used to go there on a daily basis, because nobody else was home. It was across the street from where we lived. And she made remedies. I always thought it would be great to own one of those apothecaries. And it’s coming together. We have an herbal apothecary here.

Apothecary of the future — now.
Rechelbacher: It’s a new alchemy. Old alchemy rediscovered — and preserved. It really needs to be preserved.

Is there a danger of it not being preserved?
Rechelbacher: Definitely. Species are being wiped out every day. Do we want to live with this or don’t we? That is really our choice. And I think that human beings, by nature, want to preserve themselves. But right now, we’re so preoccupied by other stuff, and we’re not addressing the issues, which are our priorities.

Intelligent Nutrients is located at 983 E. Hennepin Ave., in Northeast Minneapolis. Call (612) 617-2000 or visit



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