Kai Paine: So you’ve just sold the 200,000th 2 Degrees bar. That’s really exciting. What was it like when you sold the first bar?
Will Hauser: That’s a great question. It was a big deal to sell the first bar. Of course the 200,000th is a big deal – but that first bar was a really big deal. There was an incredible amount of work that went into just getting this project to the point of launch.
KP: So getting from 0 to 1 is a much bigger step than 199,999 to 200,000?
WH: Yeah I think it is. And, it was an only an idea first – what’s so crazy about all of this is that 2 Degrees was just an idea only a year and a half ago. It’s not that long ago that Lauren [Walters] and I came together and decided that we wanted to make a difference, to fight childhood hunger. And what we came up with was this business model, this one-for-one food company that supported the distribution of meals in developing nations. That was it. We had no food background; we didn’t have a name, a logo, a brand, or anything. So it all came together very quickly. So, yes, that first bar sale was a huge deal.
KP: Do you remember what day it was?
WH: Oh yeah, of course. It was November 18th, 2010. Leigh Firn. Online. Made a purchase of a couple caddies of bars. He lives outside of Concord.
KP: Did he know he was going to be the first?
WH: He didn’t. And then he emailed us later that day and asked if he was the first customer and he in fact was. It was pretty exciting for us both. He and his family have been huge supporters of the bars from, literally, day one.
KP: When did you know 2 Degrees would become a reality, not just an idea?
WH: It really started to come together when we met our chef, Barr [Hogen], the former chef for Odwalla. It was clear from our first conversations with Barr that she had both the vision and experience to develop great products for us. That’s when we started to realize that our idea could become a reality.
KP: How did you find Barr?
WH: Like so many instances with our team, Barr was a two-degree connection. On a trip to New York, Lauren stayed with Barr’s mother and told her about the idea – because, as I mentioned, 2 Degrees was just a mission-driven idea at that point. Lauren asked Barr’s mom if she knew anybody who would be helpful as we thought about developing these bars. Coincidentally her daughter was the former head of product development for Odwalla– and, coincidentally her name was Barr. I think it was fate.
Your question was when we knew this was going to become a reality. The whole company, from the start, stemmed from the mission and from our desire to give away millions of meals to hungry children, but we knew the only way that was going to happen was if we developed a really phenomenal product. There was a turning point in product development around the summer of 2010. Things really clicked in Barr’s kitchen in Boulder, Colorado. We were just blown away by the samples she was sending us and we thought, “wow this is an amazing bar”. That was it – that’s when we knew.
KP: You said that when you and Lauren were first talking, you decided to focus on bars. Why bars?
WH: I think there are 2 reasons that I’d highlight. The first is that there’s a certain elegance of the model of selling a bar and giving a nutrition pack. The first meals that we donated were ready-to-use-therapeutic-foods (RUTF), which are nutrient-rich packets of fortified peanut paste for severely malnourished children. When you look at the 2 side-by-side, they look similar, even geometrically. It’s a connection that a consumer can easily make that might not be as strong if we started with, say, a gallon of milk for a nutrition pack. So that was number one. Number 2 goes back to a point I made earlier: we felt that bars, while they are in a very crowded market, afforded us a wide range of sales and marketing opportunities. We sell in a huge range of retailers because of the nature of bars are a convenience item. There are not many food products that can span the gap between clothing stores and grocery stores. Bars happen to be one such product.
KP: You said earlier that you wanted to start a food company that began with bars; does that mean that maybe you’ll be expanding into something beyond bars?
WH: Absolutely. From its conception, 2 Degrees was a food company with bars as our first product. We’re starting to think about what the next products will be and we’ve begun product development on those products. Supporters of 2 Degrees can look forward to both new flavors in the bar category and also new products, all of which will match the quality standards that we’ve set. It’s a standard that we set when we were first developing our introductory line of bars: that if we took away the mission side of the company – the story, the brand – that the product alone would be competitive on the shelf. No matter what product we launch, that will be the standard it adheres to.
KP: What is your personal favorite bar flavor and has it changed over time?
WH: Oh wow. That’s like asking me to choose between my children. Yes, it changes over time. Right now, today, it is Chocolate Peanut. I have a 2 Degrees bar every single morning before I work out. I started out being all about Cherry Almond and then our Operations Director Matt Gregory turned me on to Apple Pecan, but now I’m on a Chocolate Peanut binge.
KP: I know you and Lauren were both living on the East Coast. What influenced the decision to move west and how has the move influenced the growth of 2 Degrees?
WH: We thought San Francisco was a really good starting market for 2 Degrees. We thought SF had a huge concentration of people who are both health conscious and socially conscious, and that’s the intersection we were looking for. That intersection exists in many places in the country, including the East Coast, of course, but we think it might be a bit stronger here on the West Coast.
KP: Yeah I think it probably is too. Now, let’s talk sales strategy, I know that 2 Degrees has been extremely lucky to work with large corporations, like HP, and alternative retailers like Barnes and Noble College. This is a pretty unique approach, especially for such a small company. What made you decide to use these outlets to help 2 Degrees grow at such an early phase of the company and not just stick to traditional retailers and partners?
WH: One thing that we realized early on is that 2 Degrees, both as a product and in our mission, appeals to a very wide range of people. That realization has been carried through our distribution efforts – we try to reach ‘wide’ to get in front of all kinds of people. Today we sell in an incredible range of retailers: we sell in coffee shops; we sell in yoga studios; we sell at Whole Foods; we sell at big corporations like Microsoft, Cisco, and HP; we sell in museums; we sell in small natural food stores; we sell on college campuses; we sell online. That’s a big range and one that allows us to reach a diverse array of supporters. We sell in some places that have never before sold a food product. So I think that our unique business model has allowed for this alternative distribution strategy that doesn’t just cherry pick a couple of traditional retailers.
KP: And it’s good for a lot of people; like you said, 2 Degrees sells in places that have never sold a food product because 2 Degrees is more than just a food product, it is a mission as well, and that is something that a lot of people can get behind.
KP: So since the company launched in January what has been the biggest challenge thus far?
WH: I think that the biggest challenge is one that any new brand faces, and that is a challenge of awareness. We were carried by Whole Foods very early on, and we all celebrated. It was only natural; it was an incredible feat to have a national deal with Whole Foods just four months into our company’s launch. But I think we quickly realized that as a new product on a crowded shelf there are big challenges.
KP: Right. It’s hard to be a small fish in a big pond.
WH: Exactly. And especially a new small fish in a big pond where consumers walking into the doors wouldn’t immediately pick your bar up off the shelf because your brand doesn’t yet have recognition. I’d say the biggest challenge has been in supporting the tremendous traction that we’ve received from Whole Foods, from college campuses, and from corporations. We didn’t expect it to all happen this quickly. As a result, we’ve been extremely proactive about getting the word out, doing tastings, and whatever else we can to ensure that people know who we are, so that they recognize us in any of our 750 retailers.
KP: What’s your personal favorite food?
WH: My favorite food? Wow. These are really hard questions. I think I’d have to say a 2 Degrees bar.
KP: [laughs] It’s interesting that you guys use fruit and nuts and even though they’re gluten-free, you also use these heritage grains in all of the bars. What’s the significance of these? Why did you choose these grains specifically? They’re not really grains that you see in a lot of other bars- they’re pretty unique to 2 Degrees.
WH: Yeah, so our chef Barr Hogen had a real vision in creating this product. And her vision was of an all natural, vegan, and gluten-free bar. It had to be a bar that you could pick up and turn over and be able to pronounce and understand every single ingredient. What that’s meant for us is that there are fruits and nuts and whole grains – and that’s about it. What’s so great about these ancient grains, and the reason why Barr from the very start had decided to use chia and millet and quinoa in the bars, was first that there was an interesting tieback to the regions where we are giving. These grains are traditional to African and to South American countries. These are unfortunately regions where malnutrition is often prevalent. So we thought that was an interesting tie-in and secondly, these heritage grains are extremely nutritious. The labels on our bars read strongly from a nutritional point of view. And that’s without any fortification and any additives, which is due in large part to the nutritional value of those heritage grains.
KP: And I know that it’s an interesting tie-in as well that you support economic development of the countries where 2 Degrees donates. For instance, that the RUTF packs from in Malawi are made with a lot of ingredients from that region. Can you talk a little bit about the first drop that you did in Malawi and what that was like?
WH: To start, I would say we have 2 criteria for our giving. The first is that, wherever possible, we purchase nutrition packs or meals from local producers. To-date we’ve donated nutrition packs in Malawi made in Malawi by our partner Valid Nutrition, and we’ve donated nutrition packs in Haiti that were made in Haiti by Partners in Health and Zanmi Aricole. Now this is a really positive development story. In Malawi, the production facility hires local labor and they source almost all ingredients from local farmers. The same is true in Haiti.
Secondly, on the distribution side, we work with extremely experienced NGOs; experienced in delivering these critical treatments to malnourished or hungry children. The handful of groups that we work with are Partners in Health, Relief International, IMA World Health, Action Against Hunger, the Akshaya Patra Foundation and Shining Hope for Communities. What that means for us is that when we purchase these nutrition packs or meals and then donate them to these organizations, we feel confident that they’re going to get to the kids in need in the ‘right way’.
In February, members of our team went to Malawi, Kenya, and Ethiopia. At that time, we had sold 10,800 bars; (so again right now 200,000 bars sounds incredible!). But at that time 10,8000 was quite a big number and it allowed us to deliver 10,8000 nutrition packs in Malawi to Partners in Health’s clinic in Neno. I think I speak for all members of our team who went on that trip in saying that it was a life-changing experience. It was an incredibly sobering and humbling experience. We arrived in Neno, Malawi, a village on the southern border of Mozambique. It’s a village of about 100,000 people and prior to Partners in Health establishing operations there, there had been zero doctors in this village. Malnutrition is rampant there. You see it everywhere. And it’s a monoculture as well – they live on corn and that’s basically their only crop. You see extreme protein deficiencies, and hunger is especially devastating during a bad crop yield when there’s only one crop that the community relies on. It was a really sobering experience to see it first hand. Sobering, that’s the word I keep coming back to.
Some memories stuck with me, like the experience of seeing a malnourished child. It’s both really alarming and really saddening. But I think what was equally shocking to me was seeing adults in the village who were either stunted physically or mentally because of malnutrition. We really saw the range of hunger from child to adult. We saw children suffering form what’s known as severe malnutrition, that is, children who were at risk of death from malnutrition, and then we saw adults suffering from the results of a lifetime of chronic malnutrition. Men and women who had grown up malnourished and, as a result, were physically and mentally stunted; irreversible changes for the rest of their lives. Seeing this all firsthand…we came back to the States with all the more motivation, all the more passion and desire, and to say now that we’re on track to deliver 250,000 of these really critical treatments in early 2012…It is a huge accomplishment. And now we know what that means firsthand.
KP: Yeah, I think it’s probably great to have the experience and therefore to know exactly where those donations are going. So I know that you decide on countries for donations based on “where the need is greatest.” How do you assess that need exactly? And can you talk a little bit about the expansion that 2 Degrees has done from just Malawi to other countries as well?
WH: So, unfortunately, there is great need in many parts of the world. There are 200 million hungry children in the world; that’s a shocking number. The decisions that we make about where to donate are really driven by our non-profit partners. We work with some of the most experienced, most credible, most respected non-profit partners in the world. These groups really give us insight into where there’s need and insight into where we can help bridge that gap between supply of food and the children who need food. We started by working with Partners in Health in Malawi and we’ve since expanded to now work with Relief International in Somalia, with Shining Hope for Communities in Kenya, and Partners in Health in Haiti.
KP: If you could tell me about your favorite day working at 2 Degrees what would it be?
WH: Favorite day working. . . I think that my favorite day working here was this past summer when all of the interns got here. We had just moved into our new office in South Park on Bryant Street. Before, we had really been a virtual team: Barr in Boulder, me in San Francisco, my partner Lauren in Boston, and that was difficult; Matt Gregory, who’s now our operations director was in New York. So this was one of the first days that everyone was together in the office and then we also had this influx of six interns. And just the week before, or a couple weeks before, a couple of new team members had joined as well. I remember walking into the office and the energy level was just palpable. Everybody on the team is motivated by the mission. They care about the mission and they joined the company because they think it’s a really interesting model and because they want to make a difference; and it was just buzzing! Bringing a group of people together that day (about 12 people) was really incredible. So that was probably my favorite day.
KP: That’s awesome. Well my last question is: If there were to be a movie made on the story of 2 Degrees who would you want to play you?
WH: Haha, wow I think probably Matt Damon. Yes, actually, definitely Matt Damon.
KP: Ok great. Great answer. So is there anything else that you want to add?
WH: Actually, yeah. I wanted to just say something else on the topic of us having hit that 200,000 mark. It’s just an incredible number to think about. We’re all so focused here and rarely do we take a step back and actually pat ourselves on the back and reflect on how far we’ve come. But, we’ve come an incredible distance in such a short amount of time.
KP: Yeah and exponentially too, if you think about November to January was zero to 10,800 and now January to December 200,000. That’s incredible!
WH: Yeah, absolutely. I think back to just a year ago in October 2010 and we were in the midst of our first production run and we produced 75,000 bars. I remember we stayed up almost all night going through this production. I remember just seeing the massive quantity bars coming off the line and getting packaged and getting boxed and just thinking “wow this is an incredible number of bars. How are we going to get through all of these?” And as it turns out, that number is just a drop in the bucket now. Our production runs now are far, far greater. To reflect back on that experience gives an interesting perspective on how far we’ve come.
I’m glad you brought up the trip because I think that everybody who went on that trip got that incredible experience of seeing the impact first hand and I think that’s what drives us. Seeing the results of our work – seeing a child going from near death, almost unrecognizable, to happy and healthy in a short period of a couple weeks through these incredible treatment packs of ready to use food – that’s what it’s all about. I’m so grateful to have had that experience and I’m so grateful to all of our customers who have gotten us to this 200,000 mark, and who have made it possible for thousands of children across the world to have one more meal.