A profile on James Norton – Owner of Multiple Health Stores and Former Leinster Rugby Player
You are the third generation of a family fruit and veg business. What was it like growing up surrounded by healthy food?
My family have been in the fruit and vegetable business since 1936 so we always had plenty of fruit and veg in the house, which was great for keeping us healthy. It wasn’t the greatest house for our friends to call around to if they were looking for sweets and chocolate though.
When did you first become interested in health and nutrition?
As a professional rugby player with the Leinster team I had to stay in good shape for maximum performance so nutrition was a big part of that.
What is your educational background?
I have a commerce degree, a diploma in psychology and a diploma in physical fitness and conditioning and I plan to embark on a diploma in nutrition at the Irish Institute of Nutrition and Health.
You took over the family business when your dad retired and reinvented and expanded it. Tell us a bit about that.
I took over the store when I retired from rugby in 2006 and I also took over the neighbouring butcher shop, which become the Punnet Health & Beauty Store. We sell fresh organic coffee, fruit juices, protein shakes, wheatgrass shots and smoothies and organic soups, as well as a range of natural skin care products, environmentally friendly cleaning products and diet sensitive foods (wheat, dairy and gluten free pasta, flour and biscuits).
What did your dad think of the new direction you’ve taken the business in?
Dad was always a great businessman so he was very open minded and willing to change.
You were one of the first “Juicers” in Ireland. How did you first become interested in juicing?
I watched a documentary called “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” by Joe Cross. I wasn’t sure that a juice only diet was a good idea at first but myself and my brother tried it for ourselves and were very impressed with the results. I introduced juicing in the shop and it took almost a year to take off.
Things need to be big somewhere else before they really become popular in Ireland and juicing was huge in America at the time. It became really popular with customers of all ages, both male and female, and once people tried it they were keen to keep doing it so we got a lot of repeat business.
You launched a Juice Cleanse Programme in 2013. How does this work?
Customers get five bottled juices per day for three or five days in place of food. The program is designed to cleanse your digestive system with fresh vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants and minerals for a full body detox.
What are the effects of this Juice Detox?
The main purpose of the Juice Detox is to cleanse your system. It’s not designed as a weight loss product; it’s more about health. You do lose a bit of weight too but that’s not the main goal. Weight loss takes time and I have some longer term plans for that.
You also offer “Life Transformation Plans”. What do these involve?
Life Transformation Plans give people the opportunity to completely change their lives. I draw up diet and exercise plans for weight loss and weight gain, which include all your health food, nutritional advice, gym membership and professional training all in one plan. These plans are unique and the first of their kind and the results so far have been amazing.
You have recently launched “Punnetrition”, a range of clean treats. Tell us a bit about that.
I launched “Punnetrition” with my friend Addie Croke, who is a great cook. We wanted to create a range of healthier treats for people who were looking for better snacking options. I came up with some ideas and she started cooking them and “Punnetrition” was born. Punnetrition Protein Balls have fast become the most sought after clean treat on the market and are proving very popular with athletes and fitness fans. We have developed 9 more healthy treats and have 9 more on the way. They contain no sugar and no additives. We use only the freshest raw, unprocessed, nutritional ingredients in our products, which are handmade by Addie and her team of helpers. They are being sold in Independent Irish Health Foods stores nationwide and are also available in many top Dublin cafés and restaurants.
You have a big following on social media. What role do you think this plays in your success?
I’m big into IT these days and I’m much more aware of it now than I was even two years ago. We post on social media every day now and people really interact with us.
What is your personal nutrition philosophy?
My nutrition philosophy is pretty simple – eat fruit and vegetables, organic where possible.
Fruit and veg are the most important part of your diet and also the part that most people skip. Simply eating enough fruit and veg will really benefit your health. People often ask about the sugar content in fruit. Yes, fruit has sugar in it but I’ve never heard of someone’s health suffering because they have overindulged in fruit.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in living a healthier lifestyle?
Nutrition is number one and joining a gym is number two. For optimum health you need a combination of both nutrition and exercise.
What do you do to keep fit?
I do CrossFit, which is a strength and conditioning programme that incorporates a strength warm up, lifting and a variety of circuits, which change regularly. It’s great for social interaction and is one of the few workouts that is equally popular with men and women.
Who inspires you in the health and nutrition world?
In the juicing area, Jason Vale, in sport, the rugby guys and in business, my dad.
Your stores are hugely popular and you are expanding at a rapid rate. As well as two stores in Glasthule, you opened a third store on Mount Street, you have just opened a fourth branch on South Richmond Street and you’re already thinking about a fifth… What do you think is the secret to your success?
It’s all about loving what you do and living what you do. People come into our shops and they say they’d love to work there. There’s a great atmosphere and we’re always eating our own food too. People appreciate something different and the fact that we’re not afraid to try something new.
So, what’s next for you?
I’m planning for shop number five and I have another top secret idea, which will involve an expansion linked with something from the sports world.
You were one of the first to get involved in the juicing craze. What do you think will be “the next big thing” in nutrition?
I might just have that up my sleeve. Ask me again in three months time.
What advice would you give to someone embarking on a career in the area of food and nutrition?
Think about what you want to get out of it. When I first went to college to study commerce, I did it to do a course but I had no idea what I wanted to be doing at the end of it. I think that if you know what you want to achieve it makes the journey easier.
You are taking the Nutrition and Health Coaching Diploma course with the Irish Institute of Nutrition and Health yourself next year. What is your motivation for going back to college?
I have a business qualification, I have a fitness qualification and now I want to cover all angles with a nutrition qualification. I already know a lot about nutrition but I want to learn about nutrition in a broader sense, especially in terms of how it affects people with illnesses or allergies. This will ensure that I can offer my customers the best possible service tailored to their needs.
If you could sum up your approach to food and nutrition in just one sentence, what would it be?
Nutrition and exercise are the most important things for a happy life.