Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Ending Hunger, One Health Bar at a Time

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” If that’s true, social entrepreneur Joey Grassia of San Francisco, CA is really starting to live. Launched in October 2011, his health-centric buy-one + give-one company KUTOA, has lifted off with it’s signature line of completely natural ready-to-eat bars that aims to distribute 200,000 nutrition packs to hungry children in 2012. From their 100% recycled packaging, to their U.S. grown ingredients, to using pre-existing USPS shipping routes to reduce delivery-related emissions, these bars are pretty much great for everyone they come in contact with, and even those they don’t! Now available online and around San Francisco, they’re also slated for distribution in select Whole Foods locations around the country, starting this spring. The 25 year-old socialpreneur harnesses the power of ‘Like’ to build a movement that promotes KUTOA’s core mission, which is to empower change through the most fundamental need for happiness and prosperity – our health.

A lifelong entrepreneur (starting a successful event company before high school, and a nutritional supplement and athletic trainer consulting company during and after college), Joey was scooped up by Facebook right after graduating from UCLA—a dream job for many Gen Y-ers. While successful at the company, he itched to go to work for himself again. Luckily, his time at Facebook offered invaluable insight into the idea of give-centric businesses and the power of building a social network of consumers who care about your core beliefs. This shaped Joey into a different kind of entrepreneur. Additionally, having networked with great people at TOMS shoes and other socially-driven companies, Joey was intrigued by the kinetic energy of a one-for-one business model. His first discovery, the margins are slim. His second, the rewards both in our own communities and all over the world, are substantial. It was two much more personal experiences, however, that ultimately provided the inspiration necessary to birth KUTOA.

Ending Hunger, One Health Bar at a Time While studying at UCLA, Joey traveled abroad a semester to Southeast Asia. While there he experienced the kind of stark existence of want and starvation that we rarely see in the United States—the kind of poverty he believes will stick with him and form the basis of his world view for the rest of his life. He felt moved, so he did what many of us will do, and researched. Everyday, world wide, 1 billion people are disenfranchised from thriving in our global community because either their families, their government, or their economy can’t or won’t provide the most basic of human needs—health. More than being hungry, children who grow up malnourished and lacking vital micronutrients aren’t able to mentally develop correctly. Thus, they go through life perpetuating the inability to provide or contribute. This is why our health is everything, he thought. He had seen young children languishing on streets in Cambodia and Vietnam where poverty and malnutrition were the norm. At that point, he didn’t know what to do about it. As Steve Jobs would allude, he had not “connected the dots”.

Skip forward to August of 2010, when Grassia was admitted to the hospital after experiencing weeks of short, sudden migraines and excruciating chest pains. As someone who considered himself well versed in nutrition, and an avid gym-goer, he was blown away by the health scare. What the doctor revealed to him was, again, life changing. The pre-packaged “healthy” foods that he had been eating en-masse had collectively been chock-full of so many sodium-rich preservatives and additives that they had thrown his an entire body out of alignment. On the road to recovery and searching for a better alternative to healthy food on the go, the idea dawned. Domestically or abroad, if we have not our health, we have nothing.So from that “aha” moment, KUTOA (Swahili for “to give”) was born, and its mission?To empower change by spreading health–the most fundamental necessity.

A one-for-one company had been born. But what did that entail? Along with the usual hurdles that a startup entrepreneur faces, Joey was set with the task of finding a giving partner. Research led him to The World Food Program USA, and KUTOA has now partnered with them to distribute nutrition packs all over the world. Originally available only online, selling in mass quantities was difficult. As anyone with a product knows, channeling it to the general public means catching the eye and the interest of major retailers. Couple that with the fact that when it comes to selling a one-for-one product, both your brand image and your retail outlets must be squeaky clean, and you’ve reached another daunting task for an up and comer to overcome. As the KUTOA helmer will tell you, a network of people who believe in your vision and ability is paramount to success. Thanks to a compelling mission and story, the eyes of Whole Foods buyers were caught and as mentioned, the bars– so far in Blueberry Almond, Cherry Cashew and soon–Banana Walnut— will be a welcome addition to your shopping cart in select Whole Foods Markets soon. Even considering the steep learning curve faced in starting KUTOA, with everything from packaging to production to ingredient selection, clearing the distribution hurdle has been Grassia’s most challenging barrier to date. Choosing a grocery outlet that is consistently well regarded by KUTOA’s customers across the nation is tricky, and getting them to sit up and take notice of a new venture with lofty goals will test any entrepreneur’s patience.

What has the KUTOA helmer learned through it all? Persistence in all aspects of the company. Thanks to the lessons learned from his father, the young CEO knows that whether its keeping a watchful eye on the use of his branding and product in the social networking realm, or most importantly, making sure that every decision made adheres to the true mission of the company—to empower people through health—persistence is key.

Ending Hunger, One Health Bar at a Time Armed with that mission, KUTOA employs the use of all relevant social networking platforms to help connect with customers and gauge feedback regarding quality, taste, and demand. Additionally, they use their Facebook and Twitter pages to build the community of support and awareness essential to any one-for-one business platform. Observes the young trep, “Social media is fantastic for building a community of people who have common values, and, as we spread health around the world, it is important to relate and communicate with people at the ground level.”

As a young entrepreneur blazing a trail in a brand new industry, Joey receives a lot of questions about KUTOA and requests for advice about starting up your own company. His number one recommendation? “Ask yourself, ‘what change do I want to make?’ Being able to convey that well to other people so that they want to get involved. The first thing is to find out exactly what is your core, your mission and passion, then, let people know this is more than a company, it’s part of a greater movement towards awareness of consumption and need patterns throughout the world. You want to build a community. Stories are the best way to do that because people relate them.” Finally, he reflects, have a clear picture in mind of the goal you want to achieve, and realize that everything else must come second to that goal. Long hours, the ability to multi-task, and a steep learning curve are all the joys of running your own start-up. But the rewards can be substantial. For him, they range from financial independence to the ability to build a greater partnership with WFP and Covenant House. The more you sell, the greater the good done in your community and your world—that’s what appeals to Grassia about the whole idea of one for one. “It’s an amplification, a leverage mechanism, where as you figure out how to give more people access to your product, you figure out how to give more people access to empowering change with health.”

So what’s on the horizon for KUTOA? In addition to the partnership with the World Food Program USA,KUTOA has enthusiastically come alongside a fantastically giving organization called Covenant House Outreach, based in New York but with substantial presence on the west coast, to make an in-kind donation for every bar sold. This organization takes in runaway and abandoned kids and young adults and from a shower and a shave, to a GED, rehabilitates them so that they are able to get another shot at life.

When talking to Grassia, the excitement when discussing his company is nearly tangible. He’s thrilled for the future, but taking every day as it comes—head on. The support of friends and associates has been astronomical, a phenomena he attributes to the noble goals of his endeavor. He most looks forward to volunteering with Covenant House on the ground, and what it will feel like when that first bar is sold at Whole Foods this spring. “Every day is a challenge,” he notes, “but without it, how would I ever be able to appreciate the success?”

Joey Grassia

Founder & Chief Empowering Officer

KUTOA Health Bars

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