Since launching at the end of 2016, The Soulfull Project has expanded from a small venture in Philadelphia backed by Campbell Soup Company with a goal to help three area food banks feed those in need to a certified B Corporation with national distribution that donated 100,000 servings of its 4 Grain Blend hot breakfast cereal to food banks across the country.
“We are really blown away and excited by the growth,” co-founder Megan Shea told FoodNavigator-USA. “When we launched The Soulfull Project, we really wanted to find easy ways to connect people back to their local communities … and the response we saw from people was overwhelming.”
She explained that she and her co-founder Chip Heim helped raise awareness for the brand at a national level by traveling across country to volunteer at more than 80 food banks where they also donated the same number of servings of their hot cereal as were sold in the surrounding region.
By making their mission simultaneously national and hyper-local, Shea says she and Heim saw “the same desire in every community to help a neighbor with your everyday purchases and to really know that you are helping someone in your region who is struggling with putting food on the table.”
The endeavor’s local focus also created a sense of deep consumer loyalty that in turn fueled a successful word-of-mouth campaign that helped the startup raise brand awareness with a limited marketing budget. This was supplemented by a strong emphasis on digital marketing, including working with influencers who could transfer their followers’ loyalty and inspire more people to do good in their communities.
“The response has been great not only from consumers, but from food banks, too. As we have visited these food banks … to learn what their struggles and challenges are and then talking about the ways we can help,” we have seen connections forged between the food banks and people in the community that were not there before, Heim said.
In this sense, the campaign helped create an echo effect in which the food banks and The Soulfull Project’s mission and product portfolio were reinforced with consumers and community members.
Choosing The Soulfull Project’s products to help feed those in need “is an easy way to start to get involved, and once you start it becomes something you want to keep doing and I think people are seeing that,” Heim said.
The opportunities and challenges of scaling quickly
But with the good fortune of increase demand, came the same pressures of scaling that all startups face, including ensuring sufficient cash-flow, securing ingredients and meeting production demands, Shea said.
The young company was able to meet each requirement, thanks in part from the support of the employees at the Campbell Soup Company, Shea added.
“This project is something that people at Campbell Soup really leaned into to help us. We are a very small team on The Soulfull Project, but people at Campbell’s have raised their hands and stepped forward to say we can help you. We can help you with the books. We can help you ship and procure ingredients. And we have really been able to scale up a lot faster because of all the individuals at Campbell’s who want to help to see us scale,” Shea said.
Becoming a certified B Corporation
While many startups may struggle simply to stay afloat or start to scale in their first year, The Soulfull Project not only did both by simultaneously became B Corp certified.
“Our mission drives everything we do, but we wanted that B Corp certification – which did not come easy, it is a lot of paper work – because we know that for a brand like this, trust is everything. And we wanted to make sure that people could trust that when we say we are doing this, then we are doing this, and we have to prove we are making the donations and living into this mission with the B Corp certification,” Shea said.
The decision also plugged the young company into a broad network of other B Corp certified companies that were able to help The Soulfull Project by sharing advice and lessons on how to make it the competitive food and beverage industry, Shea said.
New product innovation
As if this all were not enough, the company also spent the last year innovating and expanding its product portfolio.
“We are continuing to focus on breakfast and hot cereal. We launched initially with four cups of hot cereal and then added the larger bags, but this month we started shipping new cartons of individual packets of hot cereal and we are really excited about it because it continues to really focus on the promise of The Soulfull Project, which is wholesome, healthy food that you feel really good about for yourself and that can fit into your life in a really easy way,” Shea said.
Continuing to build on that, the company also launched Irish Oats as a new variety, Shea added. She explained that steal cut oats are extremely nutritious but because they take 30 minutes to make some people might feel discouraged. With The Soulfull Project’s Irish Oats though, consumers can have steal cut oats in just three minutes by adding hot water or microwaving the product, she said.
“When we look at all our products and blends, we said if we had all the time in the world what would make. And a lot of people are making great breakfast that requires prepping overnight or mixing and creating, like our hearty grains and seeds blends, and for us, we really want to make healthy as easy as just adding hot water,” she said.
In the coming year, the company has no plans to slow down, but rather hopes to expand exponentially so that it can donate 900,000 more servings of its hot cereal over the next two years to reach the one million donation mark.
“Imagine if every day, whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, you can help your community. It would be amazing, and that is what we want to help make happen with every purchase made of our product,” Heim said.
Shea added, “We spend the past year building up a mission driven company that is focused on making feeling good, eating good, doing good for yourself and helping your neighbor really easy. And we want that to continue.”