A familiar sales strategy is put to good use generating revenue for meal programs across Canada and the Lower Mainland that work to eliminate youth hunger
As cousins growing up in Calgary, Andrew Hall and Jeremy Bryant often sat around the family dinner table lamenting the arrival of the brussel sprouts, brussel sprouts that the adults assured them starving children elsewhere in the world would be more than happy to eat.
Initially the cousins thought perhaps they could simply send the brussel sprouts to those children and solve youth hunger that way. “That didn’t come to fruition,” Hall laughs years later. Nevertheless, the message that many children go without left an impression.
A NON-PROFIT IS BORN
Both cousins studied business in university and ended up working for Big Four accounting firms. While discussing their relative paths and where they’d ended up, the two realized that neither was satisfied. They wanted to give back to their community. They wanted careers that mattered. “We started asking ourselves what people needed,” says Hall. “Looking for root causes. Basic needs and education. And then we asked what’s the most basic need?”
Food stood out immediately. “It’s always struck us,” explains Hall. “And it’s easy to see how hard it is to work or to go to school when you’re hungry.” With youth hunger as their cause, they put on their business hats and asked themselves how they could make it easy for people to give. They looked at typical sales strategies and approaches that other non-profits had used. What stood out was the “buy one, give one” tactic, an approach similar to the ever effective “buy-one-get-one-free.” It was a tried and true method for encouraging a purchase, and non-profits like Toms Shoes had used the buy one, give one strategy to great effect. But could it be applied to food?
INTRODUCING THE MEALSHARE CONCEPT
Realistically, they couldn’t convince restaurants to give away food for free, and patrons couldn’t walk into a restaurant, purchase a meal, and expect that exact same meal to be reproduced for someone elsewhere. So Andrew and Jeremy came up with a simple and innovative way to fulfill the buy one, get one promise.
Using the Mealshare logo, restaurants would mark an item on their menu as a Mealshare item. The restaurant would donate $1.00 to Mealshare each time the item was ordered, and Mealshare would forward funds to a partner charity that would provide a meal to a youth in need. Since meals provided locally would cost more than $1.00, Mealshare would also provide support to charities overseas where meals cost less to balance the equation.
To heighten the impact of the program, “We wanted to always be working with charities who are somehow working towards ending the pattern of poverty and hunger,” says Hall. “Charities that surround food with education, job training, shelter, whatever else people may need in that community. If you’re providing meals at a school, then you’re providing a more effective morning or afternoon of education.”
Early reception of the idea was positive, but adoption was slow. “Initially it was pretty tough,” says Hall, who refers to their start-up days as the dark ages. “We had some good head nods early on, but we really hadn’t done B2B sales before. We hadn’t pitched restaurants; we didn’t realize how busy they were.” Most were reluctant to become beta testers. When Mealshare launched in 2013, it launched with Andrew, Jeremy, and just four partner restaurants willing to take a chance on the project.
WORKING WITH SVP
Once restaurants began to see the efficacy of the Mealshare approach, recruitment became easier. Mealshare approached SVP in 2016 for help with further expansion and were granted $47,500 over two years. This enabled Mealshare to hire a community leader whose job was to focus entirely on enrolling new restaurant partners in the Lower Mainland. SVP Partners also gave assistance and expertise in a variety of areas, including the enhancement of Mealshare’s marketing and communications collateral.
Hall is grateful for the Partners’ work and dedication, as well as the lasting relationships that have emerged from working with SVP. “Our first Lead Partner Andrew Jones, and later Nick Bedford and Jill Johnston, played a big role,” he says. “Geoff Howard has now actually joined our board of directors, and Shafim Diamond has helped us a lot with funding.”
WHERE THEY ARE NOW
Mealshare graduated SVP in spring of 2019. They now employ 18 people and work with 73 partner restaurants across Metro Vancouver. What are the most popular Mealshare restaurants in Vancouver? TUC Kitchen is by far the leader. Serving farm-to-table comfort food on Cordova, they’ve shared 54,589 meals to date. Other popular Mealshare locations include Tap & Barrel, Milestones, Café Medina and CRAFT Beer Market.
Mealshare is also now in Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Hamilton. South of the border, they’ve established operations in Austin and will be coming to Los Angeles in the fall of 2019.
The charities Mealshare supports, which in Vancouver includes KidSafe, the Breakfast Club of Canada, and the Boys and Girls Club of South Coast BC, have been able to spend less time fundraising for their meal programs and more time working with their clients and developing other services.
Looking to the future, Hall says, “We’re part of a bridge to get to a place where in the future there’s no youth hunger. It would be great to work ourselves out of a job. If that wasn’t the goal, we’re probably in the wrong line of work. In the meantime, we’ll help to feed the kids who are hungry today so that maybe they can have a better future and break the cycle. We hope we’re part of the conversation, part of inspiring people.”
Interested in learning more about Mealshare and their mission? They’ll be participating in our upcoming Alumni Investee Panel at the SVP Fall Mingle 2019.