An Interview with Will Hauser: Two Degrees Food CEO
The concept is simple: for every delicious nutrition bar purchased, a nutrition pack is provided to one of two million hungry children in the developing world. Based on the famous one-for-one social entrepreneurship model that took off a few years ago with a then-little-known shoe company called TOMS, Two Degrees Food was founded by Will Hauser, an energetic Harvard graduate, and Lauren Walters, family friend and life-long political activist/entrepreneur. What is remarkable about Two Degrees, now officially available at your neighborhood Whole Foods, is the fundamental principle it stands for: provide your customers with quality products and add value within the very foundation of your business. Not only are the Two Degrees bars delicious (trust us), but the bars are also a remarkable vehicle that drive the economy of local producers and provide a life-saving solution for malnourished youth.
I must start out by saying I’m a bit disappointed! I went to Whole Foods for lunch and couldn’t find any of the Two Degrees bars…
Will: [laughs] That’s because they’re not on the shelves yet. The national rollout started about a week and a half ago, and it should reach each region on a different schedule. If I were you, I’d check back next week. That said, this has been an extremely fast ramp-up since we launched retail mid-January. To have a national distribution at Whole Foods is extremely exciting. Give me your address, and I’ll send you a few bars for you and your readers right after this interview.
My first question might be a bit unusual: when did you first become acquainted with the concept of malnutrition? What is your oldest memory of being confronted with inequality and poverty?
Will: My parents are both doctors, and that has affected me greatly growing up. They’ve inspired a certain motivation to do good, as cliché as that sounds. I was actually going to be a doctor and follow their footsteps, if you can believe it… but that was before I studied biology in school and discovered that it definitely wasn’t my favorite subject. [laughs]
As an aspiring social entrepreneur myself, I always like to know whether the passion for business or for the development world came first.
Will: During my time as an undergraduate, I led Harvard Student Agencies, which employs five hundred students and generates six million a year in revenues. It’s an umbrella organization under which a lot of businesses thrive: from retail clothing stores around Harvard Square to a publishing arm that puts out and edits travel guides. Running this huge company my junior year was a great introduction to the business world. I joined Goldman-Sachs for a year right after graduation, but I missed my experience at Harvard student agencies. I loved the idea of running my own business, being an entrepreneur… Additionally, I couldn’t get rid of the idea that I also wanted to reconcile the positive concepts that my parents had taught me. This came into play when I decided to leave my job in August 2009, when I made a big leap by starting a food company with no experience in that industry.
The story of what Two Degrees does is widely available, but I’m interested in how you eventually got started.
Will: My partner Lauren and I knew that we wanted to do something about childhood malnutrition, and we also wanted to have a sustainable business. We knew about ready-to-use foods – nutrition packs as we call them – that are extremely effective yet grossly undersupplied treatments. We came from the perspective of, “there is something out there that works and saves lives, but there’s just not enough of it.” The question became how to get more of these nutrition packs to children in need, and that’s when we decided to apply the one-for-one business to food. We both were familiar with TOMS and the tangibility of that model being a powerful motivator from the consumer standpoint.
Alright, let’s get practical. I understand that one bar bought here in the U.S. means one nutritional pack in the developing world for a child. Who makes those, and who distributes them?
Will: We work with extraordinary partners who help us to deliver on our mission. Our giving happens on a quarterly basis: based on the number of bars we sell here, we place a purchase order for the corresponding amount of nutrition packs with a local producer. It’s important for us to support local communities, so our first order back in February was through Valid Nutrition - a non-profit with a manufacturing facility in Malawi - for 11,000 packs. We then make donations to trusted NGOs with deep experience - in this case, Partner in Health – so they could properly deliver them to children in need.
Tell me about one travel experience, when you were on-site, that had a profound impact on you.
Will: We spent some time at Valid Nutrition’s factory, seeing firsthand the economic impact resulting from the local production of nutrition packs. We saw it also in the farms surrounding the production facility; we visited a nearby peanut farm whose crops are sourced for the production of nutrition packs. Lauren and I also followed Partners in Health at their clinic in a village called Neno. The experience was incredibly moving and gratifying – it’s hard not to talk about it in clichés. To see the impact firsthand is incredible, and our customers who made it all possible feel the same way. It’s extremely important work: millions of children die every year from malnutrition and many millions more suffer permanent physical and mental disabilities as a result of growing up malnourished.
Playing devil’s advocate for a second, aren’t you afraid that you’re only providing short-term solutions that aren’t sustainable?
Will: The reality is that there are two hundred million malnourished children in the world. Many are at serious risk of death. What we’re giving away in these nutrition packs is a life-saving treatment. The scale of the problem is enormous: six million children die each year from malnutrition, and that’s not acceptable, even more so when we know that there are treatments that work.
How can readers contribute to your success?
#1: Try our bars, because if you try them, you’re going to be a life-long customer.
#2: “Like” our Facebook page to stay updated with our work.
#3: This is a specific call out to college students. We have a big campus program, as college students are a core demographic. We’re looking for more campus directors across the United States. If you are interested, email email@example.com.
Online at twodegreesfood.com.
Interview by Gary Goldman. Photography by Eva Kolenko. Originally appeared on Daily BR!NK.