Feed a starving child.
That’s the simple idea behind a startup company called Two Degrees. For every bar the company sells, Two Degrees will through its nonprofit partners give a nutrition pack to a hungry child in Africa or Haiti.
Fighting malnutrition is “why we started the company,” Lauren Walters, the CEO and co-founder of Two Degrees, told me during a recent visit to Washington. Lauren, who is 60, is a former lawyer, U.S. Senate staff member, consultant and real estate developer. His co-founder Will Hauser, who is 25, is a Harvard grad who spent a year at Goldman Sachs before choosing to go into business for himself. They knew one another because Will’s father is one of Lauren’s friends.
You can think of Two Degrees as inspired, in part, by TOM’s Shoes, Newman’s Own and Clif Bar. TOM’s is the company that gives away a pair of shoes for every pair it sells. Newman’s sales of salad dressings, popcorn and the like have generated $300 million for charities since 1982. And Clif, of course, made nutrition bars into popular (and guilt free, sort of) snacks.
It was, in fact, when Lauren heard a speech by Blake Mycoskie, TOM’s founder, that the idea for Two Degrees took root. (Mycoskie’s new book, fittingly, is called Start Something That Matters.) He subsequently took a trip to the Congo, Zambia, Rwanda and Burundi with Partners in Health, where he’d been a donor and where his son worked as an intern. He saw lots of malnourished children, and learned that those kids under three who suffer from “severe acute malnutrition” who are fortunate enough not to die instead can suffer long-lasting damage. Nutrition packs can save lives and enable the brain to develop properly.
“We want to give away millions of these, tens of millions of these,” he said. What’s more, if the bars are successful, and the brand becomes known, there’s no reason why Two Degrees can’t expand into other food products, he said.
The concept for Two Degrees came together in 2009, and the company launched earlier this year. Most of the nutrition packs they give away are made by Valid Nutrition, a nonprofit started by a Irish physician named Steve Collins. It produces its ready-to-use food packs in Malawi, Kenya and Zambia, using local ingredients where possible and creating jobs. Which is cool.
Two Degrees uses contract manufacturers to makes its “healthy, all-natural gluten-free” nutrition bars in three flavors: chocolate peanut, cherry almond and apple pecan. The aptly-named Barr Hogen, who concocted the recipe, joined the company after working as top chef and director of product development at Odwalla.
The company sent me a sample, and they’re good. (Like most nutrition bars, they’re a bit too sweet for my tastes, no surprise since the first ingredient is brown rice syrup, i.e., a sweetener). They sell online for $19.95 for a box of nine bars.
More important, because most people won’t order nutrition bars online, Two Degrees is distributed nationally by Whole Foods Markets. This is a coup. With $9 billion in annual revenues, Whole Foods can make (or break) new products aiming to get noticed in the ever-more-crowded natural and organic food categories.
Even so, Two Degrees–which raised money from family, friends and angel investors–will struggle to stand out from a crowd of brands including Clif, Zone, Luna, PowerBar, etc..
“It’s an incredibly crowded space,” Lauren admits. “What distinguishes us from every other company is our potential to make a difference.”
The one-to-one model should be especially appealing, since it doesn’t depend on the company’s sales or profits. Giving away a percentage of profits doesn’t mean much when a company has a bad year. Buy a Two Degrees bar, and you can be sure that a child in need will benefit.
“People, given a choice, want to help other people,” Lauren says.
His story is proof of that.