Can changing the status quo be as easy as enjoying a quick, healthy bite? Will Hauser thinks so. The activist, entrepreneur, and co-founder of San Francisco-based Two Degrees Food has made it easy (and tasty) to give back: For every bar purchased, the company donates a nutrition pack to a child suffering from malnutrition.
oSF:How did you arrive at the idea for Two Degrees Food?
Will Hauser: There are 200 million malnourished children around the world today. My business partner, Lauren Walters, and I found the sheer scale of the issue shocking, especially since there are treatments that work really well. Two Degrees Food started as an answer to the question, “How do we get ready-to-use foods to children in need?”
oSF: How did you go about assembling the Two Degrees Food team?
WH: It was not an easy task because we started from the social side and then decided to create a food company. Since neither Lauren nor I have food backgrounds we needed to identify and involve people who had that expertise.
We were luck to get our bar guru, Barr Hogen, who was head chef at Odwalla for a long time. She has exacting standards, is deeply connected to the food industry, so Lauren and I gave her created control, and she masterminded these really phenomenal bars.
oSF:What are they like?
WH: Barr came up with great flavors: chocolate peanut, cherry almond, and apple pecan. They are all-natural, gluten-free, and vegan. Barr kept it simple, so that customers can recognize (and pronounce!) every single ingredient. And since we’re also conscious about sustainability, all ingredients are sourced from small farms, and our wrappers and boxes are 100% recycled.
oSF: How did you decide on Malawi as the initial location for distribution of the nutrition packs?
WH: We started out with distributions in Malawi, where there is a major need right now. We have partners there who help with the creation and distribution of nutrition packs. At the end of every quarter, we tally up bar sales and donate the equivalent amount of nutrition packs to our distribution partner, Partners in Health, which has a clinic and hospital in Malawi. When mothers bring their kids in, they receive a certain number of packs, depending on the severity of the child’s malnutrition. Then local community health partners oversee the treatment of the kids to ensure the proper dosage is followed. The nutrition packs are made in Malawi. We worked with Valid Nutrition to establish a facility in Lilongwe, the capital, and we source the ingredients from local farms, which is good for both sustainability and economic development.
oSF: What was it like distributing the nutrition packs?
WH: Lauren and I both went out to southern Malawi in February for the first delivery of 10,800 nutrition packs. I don’t want to be cliché, but the experience was incredible. Moving. Motivating. Fulfilling.
Seeing the malnutrition firsthand motivated everyone on our team to work even harder. It’s really distressing to see a malnourished child, but equally sobering are the village elders, because childhood malnutrition stunts physical and mental growth for the rest of one’s life.
oSF: Can you explain the composition of the nutrition kits?
WH: The nutrition packs are “ready to use foods” (RUFs), a medical treatment that has been around for a while and is endorsed by the World Health Organization. They contain peanut paste, vegetable oil, micronutrients, sugar, powdered mlk, vitamins, and minerals. And because they don’t require refrigeration and don’t have to be mixed with water, they have a long shelf life and can be eaten right out of the pack.
oSF: Do you have plans to expand donations beyond Malawi?
WH: We’ll continue making donations in Malawi, but as business expands in the U.S. we’ve been able to extend distribution to Kenya and Somalia. In Kenya, we’re partnering with Shining Hope for Communities, operating out of Kibera, in Kenya, and we’ll be working with another world business in Somalia. We’re also actively looking to reach out to other areas, like Southeast Asia and South America, where malnutrition is prevalent.
oSF: What are your plans to make your bars more accessible in stores?
WH: In July, we launched national distribution in Whole Foods, and now we have our sights set on other big retailers. We’ve also had success in cafeterias at big companies like HP, Cisco, and AOL.
oSF: I feel obligated to ask, were you inspired by, or did you draw any ideas from, Blake McCloskie of Toms Shoes?
WH: Toms was absolutely an inspiration. The company has done a lot of great things and has proven the model for a consumer, with very simple and tangible benefits. It’s different—and much more compelling—than, say, a “5 percent goes to charity” model.
We distinguish ourselves from Toms by encouraging consumers to develop daily habits of giving. Since you need to eat everyday, it becomes about habitual giving.
oSF: What is the college ambassador program?
WH: College students are our perfect demographic—they are socially conscious and want to get involved, and because they’re on the go bars make a lot of sense. Our campus director program helps entrepreneurial undergrads manage a Two Degrees business on campus [by getting bars into various retail outlets]. We’re currently in 40 schools, and launching a test run in 250 college Barnes & Noble branches.
oSF: And what about non-college students? How can they get involved (beyond buying bars)?
WH: In addition to buying food bars, people can help the cause by gifting “virtual bars,” to their Facebook friends. Virtual bars cost $.99 each, and each one results in a nutrition pack donation, just like the food bars.