The latest data from the Economic Research Service at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that 41 million people in the United States are living with food insecurity. 13 million of those are children. When children are hungry, it impacts their health. Poor health can make it difficult to learn. And a lack of education can trap another generation in poverty.
According to Megan Shea, co-founder of The Soulfull Project, “Food insecurity is more than just a number. It affects every community.”
In the past year, Megan and co-founder Chip Heim have traveled the country to see hunger first-hand. “As you get into each community you see, the one thing that is the same is that there is food insecurity everywhere. But, how and why each community is struggling with it is different and how they respond is different.”
Chip adds, “What I did not know when this started is, who uses a food bank. It’s not just people who don’t have homes. Most of the people who use food banks are the working poor…It really hit home, seeing who uses the food banks and realizing it could be me one day who needs a food bank. What kinds of foods would I want to eat?”
The Soulfull Project uses a buy-one-give-one model to reduce food insecurity. For every serving of cereal purchased, they donate a serving of cereal to a food bank in a local community.
The Soulfull Project launched last year with a pilot program. “We were focused on the area we’re in, right outside of Philadelphia,” Megan explains. “As the company has grown, we’ve grown our partners. We’re now partnered with over 200 food banks around the country.” They have set an ambitious goal for their new company of providing one million servings in 2018.A Broken Promise Leads to a Breakthrough Idea
In 2015, Megan and Chip found themselves in a neighborhood near Dallas, TX. As employees of the Campbell Soup Company, they were conducting ethnographic surveys, talking to people about what they ate and how they lived their everyday lives. “We were meeting with families that were in a higher income bracket,” Chip remembers. “Completely by chance, we ended up meeting this family that had no food in their cabinets, nothing in their fridge. For me, that was the moment, when we walked out of that home and realized the situation that family was in and that we might be able to make a difference and help families in need.”
“They were dealing with hunger on a daily basis,” Megan adds. “We made this promise that we were going to help them: more than give them extra food and money but help them in a really meaningful way. But, we never followed through on that promise. We had the best of intentions, but life just got in the way.
“We came back from this trip. We came back to our jobs and our families A day turned into a week, turned into a month. A year later, we had never done anything.”
About a year later, Megan and Chip were reminded of that promise to help. Chip tells the story. “Campbell has a warehouse in Camden, NJ. We were working late on a Wednesday night. A mom knocked on the door of the warehouse. She had three kids with her. She asked if we had any food because she needed food for dinner. We gave them food. And we came inside. We said, ‘You know, we never did help that family. We’ve got to figure this out.’”
Chip and Megan sat down then and for the next hour sketched out the idea that would become The Soulfull Project. Chip says, “It was the greatest thing to come up with this concept, but the scariest thing to try to figure out how to do it.”From Employees to Intrapreneurs
“Neither Chip nor I had ever set out to be entrepreneurs or social entrepreneurs,” Megan describes. “We had no idea how to start a business. It’s been a real learning process. Working inside Campbell, we did the most logical thing, and we didn’t tell anyone about it for a while,” she laughs. “We did this at night and on the weekends.”
Megan and Chip began researching the causes of hunger, the solutions, and how to shape a business model to make a difference. “Beyond the business model, we did a lot of research with our first giving partner, The Food Bank of South Jersey.”
Chip adds, “Honestly; our biggest nightmare would be to make something and donate something that people don’t need. So, we went right to the source.” When Megan and Chip approached the food bank, they were not sure what to expect. Chip says that “We’re not the most optimistic people…We weren’t sure they were going to like the idea. We presented it to them, and they absolutely loved it. Our four-grain hot cereal was developed with The Food Bank of South Jersey.”
With the business model, the input of the food bank, and the design of their first product, their side project started looking more and more like reality. Megan says, “We kept working on it until it got to the point where we were ready to go. We had our first three giving partners lined up. We went to our first customer in the Northeast, Wegmans, and asked them to partner with us on a test and they agreed.”
Finally, it was time to approach Campbell Soup Company and pitch their idea. “We knew that to build a model like this that is sustainable for both the mission and to continue to grow, it had to be approached just like any other business,” Megan explains.
As it happens, Megan and Chip had a meeting with the heads of finance and the divisions of Campbell Soup Company. Megan tells the story. “We had a long meeting with them one day in October. We showed them our day-job project. While they had an hour for lunch, we hijacked their lunch. While they were eating, it was the first time we showed them The Soulfull Project.
“We said this is the idea, this is the company, and this is what we want to do. I remember the President of the Americas said, ‘I don’t hear a question. It sounds like you’re telling us, this is what you’re doing.’ The reaction was immediate.” The executive team agreed to provide a small investment to start the company.
“It was a learning process for everyone,” Megan says. “I don’t think there are a lot of examples of startups operating within large companies.”
“What’s interesting about this company,” Chip says, “is that it came out of the need. We said, what is needed? And, let’s work from there out.”
Today, The Soulfull Project is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Campbell Food Company. To ensure outside scrutiny of their work, they went through the arduous process of becoming a Certified BCorp. They have an ambitious goal of providing one million servings of cereal to their 200 food bank partners.Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Megan Shea and Chip Heim:
“It’s more than breakfast for yourself.” @megandshea @thesoulfullproj
“They were dealing with hunger on a daily basis.” @megandshea @thesoulfullproj
“We made this promise that we were going to help them.” @megandshea @thesoulfullproj
“Food insecurity is more than just a number.” @megandshea @thesoulfullproj
“It’s been incredibly inspiring and eye-opening.” @chiph404 @thesoulfullproj
“We’ve got to figure this out.” @chiph404 @thesoulfullproj
“It’s been a real learning process.” @megandshea @thesoulfullproj
“I dusted off my old business school textbooks.” @megandshea @thesoulfullproj
“If you start your day with a donut, your whole day is shot.” @chiph404 @thesoulfullproj
“We didn’t know that much about cereal. It was the idea.” @chiph404 @thesoulfullprojSocial Entrepreneurship Resources:
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