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The Soulfull Project seeks to ease food insecurity and equalize access to nutrients

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By Elizabeth Crawford

14-Mar-2017
Last updated on 14-Mar-2017 at 18:34 GMT2017-03-14T18:34:03Z

The Soulfull Project seeks to ease food insecurity and equalize access to nutrients

Chicken soup may be good for the soul, but hot cereal can fill it, and those who are food insecure, at least if it comes from The Soulfull Project – a startup that launched this summer with a mission to wipe hunger off the map.

The young company, which is a fully-owned subsidiary of The Campbell Soup Company but operates much like a startup, was created last year after four Campbell Soup employees saw firsthand the hardship of food insecurity.

“When we were working at Campbell’s we met a couple of families who were really struggling to put food on their tables. They had an awareness of how to eat healthy because they watched Dr. Oz. So, they knew all about ingredients like kale and quinoa, but they couldn’t afford to buy even the less expensive unhealthy things to put on their table,” let alone nutrient-dense foods which often cost more, Megan Shea, head of business & operations of The Soulfull Project, told FoodNavigator-USA.

“When we left them we made a promise that we would do something to help,” she said. But that promise was delayed by regular life until one day when the team was working at a Campbell’s Soup Co. warehouse in Camden, NJ, and there was a knock on the door.

“It was a mom with three kids and we gave her some extra food, she was looking for something to put on her table that night. And it really reminded us about that promise we had yet to fulfill. So, that night we came up with the idea of The Soulfull Project,” Shea said.  

She explained that the company is based on the model made popular by TOMS shoes of buy-one, give-one. So, for each serving of its wholesome, nutrient dense and clean label cereals sold in convenient cups, family-sized bags and soon-to-launch boxes with single-serving pouches, purchased, the company donates a serving of its 4 Grain Blend cereal, which comes in family-sized bags.

Equalizing access to healthy nutrients

At first blush the company’s decision to donate a different type of cereal than what necessarily was purchased by consumers may appear to go against its second mission of “equalizing access to healthy nutrients,” but Shea says the bagged cereal was a better way to serve the food banks.

She explains that initially the company donated the cups of oatmeal to food banks, which were grateful for the support, but which noted family-sized bags would be more useful. The food banks also advised the company that it would be better to donate product that wasn’t sweetened with sugar or had mix-ins such as dried fruit or nuts because so many people who are food insecure also struggle with diabetes. In addition, if someone in the family doesn’t like or can’t eat nuts, then they might go hungry that day if the hot cereal already had nuts added.

Shea also noted that the bagged cereals are not of lesser quality than the four SKUs that come in clear cups. In fact, she said her young children prefer to eat the bagged options. But for those who want flavors and trendy superfoods, the cup line adds to the basic blend of rye, oats, quinoa, flax and chia a blend of either tart cherries, brown sugar and pecans, cinnamon spice or dried blueberries and almonds.  

Each clear cup, which allows consumers to see the whole ingredients before they buy them, also comes with a heartfelt message – sometimes handwritten by the company founders – on the lid that thanks consumers for buying the product and encourages them to help others in any way they can.

A unique social media campaign

To support the launch of the hot cereal in August, the company co-founders committed to 100 acts of volunteerism in 100 days as a way to show those who want to do good how to become involved in their communities.

Shea said the campaign was physically and emotionally exhausting as the founders were still trying to get their startup off the ground. But it also was effective as it led to the young brand’s Facebook fan base growing from a mere 300 to 19,000 in just three months.

“A large part of The Soulfull Project’s mission is not just donating food, but showing people how they can give back to their community – whether that is very easily by purchasing something you want to eat, or taking an hour to volunteer with your local food pantry or participate in a food bank drive,” Shea said.

The company continued to use social good to raise awareness of the brand – and the extent of food insecurity in America – by running a Facebook campaign in February asking fans to “show love for Valentine’s Day,” by purchasing the company’s products so that it could donate 5,000 servings of food on Feb. 14 to those in need, Shea said.

The idea for that campaign came after the founders discovered that many food banks run out of donations from the holidays around late January and they then enter a dry spell for donations, Shea said.

At Natural Products Expo West, the company got attendees directly involved in the mission by promising to donate a serving of its cereal to a food bank for every serving sampled. The startup even had a giant map of the US where participants could place a pin to mark where they wanted their serving to be donated.

By the end of the event, the company received 2,729 pins, or donations, on the map, which means The Soulfull Project will donate 5,458 servings of its 4-Grain Blend Hot Cereal to more than 200 foodbanks across the country.

The company hopes to continue to build on this momentum so that eventually it can expand into other food categories and help even more people who are hungry and unable to provide food for themselves.

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