Students at Wesleyan have perhaps single-handedly shod thousands of children worldwide through their penchant for TOMS™ shoes, so many may choose to take that philanthropic spirit one step further by picking up a Two Degrees food bar the next time they are at Weshop. Benjamin Firn ’14 and Christopher Law ’14 have brought the TOMS model of “buy one give one” to campus in the form of an energy bar business.
The concept, Law explained, is simple.
“For every single bar that is purchased in the United States, we send a medically formulated meal to a malnourished child,” he said. “It started out just in Eastern Africa, primarily in Malawi, spread to Kenya, and now we’re working in India as well.”
Unlike TOMS, however, which donates one pair of the same type of shoe to a child in a developing country for basically every pair purchased, Two Degrees distributes a different product to those in need than the one it sells in the United States. Customers purchase a fruity, nutty health bar, while the children suffering from malnutrition receive a ready-to-use therapeutic food pack (RUTF), without which they would face starvation.
The RUTFs, according to the International Malnutrition Task Force, contain a nutrient-rich paste that is highly effective in facilitating rapid weight gain. The paste is made from peanuts, milk powder, vegetable oil, sugar, potassium, magnesium, vitamins, and minerals. Because it does not require cooking or the addition of water, it can be effective even in regions where water is unsafe for consumption.
“Three [RUTFs] per day over the course of a month will cure acute malnutrition,” Firn said.
When Firn heard about the project through a family friend, he immediately contacted CEO Will Hauser, who informed him that Two Degrees was looking to get as many college campuses involved as possible. At that point, it was a fledgling company. Now, Two Degrees has branches on 66 campuses—and it doesn’t stop there. As of this past Wednesday, 293,000 nutrition packages have been committed through the one-for-one company.
“Last summer we had a national rollout of the bars in all Whole Foods stores across the country,” Firn said. “They’re also in the corporate offices of Facebook, Cisco Systems, as well as over a hundred other independent retailers.”
Upon bringing the initiative to Wesleyan and Middletown, Firn and Law immediately began developing sales plans. They originally targeted only the Main Street area and successfully sold the bars to Brew Bakers, which continues to be one of their best sales to date. Last semester, they met with Bon Appetite Resident District Manager Michael Strumpf and arranged for Weshop, Pi Café, and the Usdan Marketplace to carry the bars as well.
“As soon as you walk into Weshop, one of the first things you see is a big cardboard display with all the information about our mission and twelve caddies of the bars,” Law said.
The health bars come in four different flavors: chocolate peanut, apple pecan, cherry almond, and chocolate banana (the last of which is coming soon to campus for those students with nut allergies). Each gluten-free, all natural, vegan bar contains 170 calories.
Barr Hogen, the product developer for Two Degrees and former creative chef at Odwalla, incorporates grains and seeds such as quinoa, millet, and chia—all of which are grown internationally—to symbolically represent the global scope of malnutrition. However, Two Degrees gets it’s ingredients from California, Oregon and Washington.
The use of such grains, however, might have adverse effects, as Marissa Schnitman ’14, the founder of Wesleyan’s new branch of Oxfam America, an international confederation that works to solve problems of poverty and injustice in over 90 countries, warned. The high demand for the grains grown in developing countries has made them unaffordable to many of those who grow them.
“The huge amounts of money flowing into commodity markets is one of the chief drivers of the recent food price surges that have caused so many more people to lapse into hunger and poverty,” Schnitman said, speaking on behalf of Oxfam America.
She also added that while Oxfam America is concerned about the international food price crisis, it does not have a specific stance on the use of chia, millet, or quinoa in domestic products, such as the Two Degrees bars. However, Two Degrees gets their grains domestically, and doesn’t have a hand in international food prices or the high demand for grain in developing countries.
Despite their differences in methodology when fighting global hunger, both Oxfam America and Two Degrees are part of a growing effort on the University campus to think critically about food consumption and its effect on the world at large.
Firn and Law are counting on this interest in ethical food systems to market their product. Though they have successfully secured retail space for the bars in the University’s dining spaces, they are still working to popularize the initiative and increase awareness.
“As soon as we got the bars into food service, we turned more from a sales team to a marketing team, in that our job wasn’t so much pitching anymore as it was getting the mission out, getting people to buy the bars, and getting people to know what it’s about,” Law said.
Marketing strategies thus far include flyers, sampling events, online media, and an informational movie. Firn and Law have also partnered with Shining Hope for Communities to throw two fundraisers at Brew Bakers, where 10% of the proceeds went to SHOFCO. Future plans include demo events at Weshop, Psi Upsilon (where Law is a brother), and Usdan. Yet one of the quickest and easiest ways to spread awareness about the product, Firn and Law emphasize, is by word of mouth.
“Anyone can help out just simply by spreading the word,” Law said. “Tell your friends that the bars are over there, and that they do this great mission.”
Firn and Law recommend that students replace their morning Special K or Clif Bar with a Two Degrees bar as a pain-free way to contribute to ending global malnutrition.
“We recognize there’s the problem of millions starving children in the world, and we want to feed and help as many of them as possible,” Firn said. “The whole point of the company is that it allows people to give back and help a bigger issue such as world hunger without writing a check or donating money. This model where people can help out by consuming delicious products.”