Kristen Bell Teams Up With Actors to Create a Snack Bar Brand That Feeds Starving Children
In this ongoing column, The Digest, Entrepreneur.com News Director Stephen J. Bronner speaks with food entrepreneurs and executives to see what it took to get their products into the mouths of customers.
After Ryan Devlin and Todd Grinnell, actors who have appeared in Brothers and Sisters and Desperate Housewives, respectively, witnessed firsthand the grim realities of severe malnutrition during a trip to Liberia in 2008, they felt compelled to do something about it.
The duo heard about Plumpy’Nut, a peanut-based base solution that is used to help malnourished kids get essential vitamins and nutrients. The two actors saw how effective the product was and began thinking up ways to get it to more children.
When they returned to the U.S., they pitched their friends and fellow actors Ravi Patel (Wrecked and Grandfathered) and Kristen Bell, star of The Good Place, Frozen and Veronica Mars. They decided to launch a snack bar company called This Bar Saves Lives. Following the one-to-one model popularized by companies such as TOMS, every time a customer buys a snack bar, This Bar Saves Lives donates Plumpy’Nut to a child in need.
Since its founding, the company says it has provided more than 3.5 million nutrient packets to children suffering from malnutrition, impacting more than 270,000 lives. This Bar Saves Lives, whose newest flavors are Dark Chocolate & Coconut and PB&J, is available in stores including Target, Starbucks, Whole Foods and Amazon.
We caught up with Bell and Devlin via email to ask them about their business and its challenges and how they get the word out.
The article has been edited for clarity and brevity
Can you tell me how you got into this business?
Bell: Ryan Devlin and I met on the set of Veronica Mars and became fast friends. When he approached me with the idea for This Bar Saves Lives, it was kismet. I had been searching for a way to give back on a global scale and I knew there was nobody with more drive and enthusiasm to team up with than Ryan.
How did you land your first big distribution deal?
Devlin: When we started the company, we listed three goals on our chalkboard that defined ultimate success. “Bars in Starbucks” was one of them (the other two were “Bars in space” and “Bars in the White House”). Starbucks puts a lot of emphasis on quality of product and social impact, so we knew we’d do well with them … if we could just get them to notice us. Since we didn’t have any direct relationships there, we got ahold of a high-level exec’s email address and just sent him a message, sharing a bit about our brand and mission, and asking if we could send him some bars to try.
Amazingly, he actually responded to us and said we could send him some samples. After that Kristen and I were invited up to Seattle to talk with the team that explores emerging brands. We were given a small test (150 stores). We engaged baristas at key locations, sent out field teams to educate and sample near stores and analyzed sales data continuously to ensure things were on track.
The risks and hustle paid off, as we've continued to expand with the retailer. Key takeaways: If you don’t have a way in, make one. And once you’re in, don’t relax -- that’s when the real work begins.
What is a big challenge This Bar Saves Lives has faced?
Devlin: There are too many to even count! But the way we overcome challenges -- whether it’s a production issue, unsatisfied customer, aid delivery issue or any number of other things we face regularly -- it’s all about transparency and proactive communication. Shit happens. People make mistakes. No company, or person, can bat 1,000 all the time. But if handled properly, those challenges can strengthen relationships. People want to work with those who are real, honest, humble and gracious. We have a very agile team that can usually work through challenges quickly and effectively. But we also see those situations as opportunities to engage our stakeholders and solve problems together, which tends to build even stronger relationships.
What marketing tactic has been the most effective for the brand?
Devlin: Dedication to our mission and transparency is core to This Bar Saves Lives. We stay as close as we can to our giving partners to listen and learn about the stories of the children we give food aid to. This way we can capture content from these areas and share photos, videos and stories with our audience. By sharing these children's journeys, we connect our audience to someone they would have never met or known about.
Entrepreneurs should understand what the real product is and what value it's providing in the marketplace, because it's often more than the product with the price tag on it.
Can you tell me something interesting about yourself that you think helped you launch and grow your business?Bell: I believe the escalation of the business is due to a genuine interest, from everyone involved, in helping others. The entire team genuinely believes in the cause, and it's a testament to the idea that the good you put out in the universe will make its way back to you. Giving back gives me an incredible endorphin release. Most people qualify helping others as selfless, but for me, it is actually selfish. I gain so much joy and esteem from lifting others.