If anyone can get a 6-year-old child excited about trading sugary cereal for a bowl of whole grains, it’s Maddy D’Amato. The co-founder of Love Grown Foods bounds into a classroom with bags of her signature granola and cartons of yogurt and positively banishes thoughts of doughnuts and soda with her enthusiastic accolades of healthy eating. Soon, a classroom full of first graders are gleefully talking about brown rice and avocados and what a nutritious, be-smart-all-day breakfast looks like. D’Amato is overflowing with excitement, and the energy in the room is palpable. Later that afternoon she’ll be sharing that same enthusiasm with a grocery store buyer; but, for now, her focus is fully on one of the many classrooms she’ll visit this month.
The classroom visits stemmed from a belief that she and her co-founder (and boyfriend) Alex Hasulak share that for-profit companies have a responsibility to make big change — the type of change we might more commonly associate with non-profits. Love Grown Foods’ passion is making healthy eating accessible to everyone, and they work toward that with their two core initiatives: creating healthy products at affordable, accessible price points and bringing healthy eating education programs into schools.
But doing good is also big business: Just four years after starting Love Grown Foods as college students, their lines of granola, oatmeal and on-the-go breakfasts are carried in almost 8,000 stores like Kroger, King Soopers, Safeway and Whole Foods. The company has become a multi-million dollar venture. We talked with D’Amato about why having a social mission is good for you and your business — and how any entrepreneur can creatively impact the world.
It’s a chicken-or-egg conundrum: Which comes first, the company or the cause?
Alex and I didn’t start Love Grown Foods with a particular social cause in mind. We knew we were going to tie something in, but we let the business shape what that would be.
We’re both big believers in healthy eating and living, and that translated into the Love Grown Foods mission. The three things we’re really passionate about are [making it] healthy, delicious, affordable. That last one is especially important — being affordable means being accessible. Everyone always talks about how eating healthy is expensive, and we believe in changing both the reality and perception. We’re first and foremost a for-profit company, but we also believe we have a responsibility to lead the change toward healthier eating — for everyone, everywhere. So we’re adamant about our price point. [Their products never go above $4.99, even when similar items on the shelf sell for $1 to $3 more.]
How does being a change-leader actually play out from a business perspective?
Our margins aren’t as high as you’d normally like — we’re constantly facing margin struggles. So instead of compromising on ingredients or price, we work really hard to create efficiencies in our operations and supply chains. For example, our first three products all were oat-based because when you buy oats in extreme bulk, you get better deals.
We also develop products and flavors that appeal to a mass market. We can’t make change unless we create a brand that speaks to everyone, and not just high-end or adventurous consumers.