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The following is a conversation between Matt Smith, Director of PepsiCo’s Food for Good program, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.
Denver: When we get to this time of year, I always look to do a segment about food. So I looked around in search of a good story… for someone who is really making a difference in getting healthy and nutritious food to those in need, and doing so on a consistent basis. And I found my answer when I came across PepsiCo’s “Food for Good” program. And it’s a pleasure to have with us tonight, the Director of that program, Matt Smith. Good evening, Matt, and welcome to The Business of Giving!
Matt: Thank you for having me.
Food for Good is a purpose-driven initiative within PepsiCo that tries to use our expertise as a company to fight hunger in communities across the United States.
Denver: Give us a brief overview of Food for Good and what the objectives of the program are.
Matt: Thank you, first of all, for having me and for this platform that you do here with The Business of Giving– to give an opportunity to hear from others and learn from others about how they’re trying to do good. I think business has a huge role in doing that and trying to solve problems in our communities. And that’s what we’re trying to do with Food for Good. Food for Good is a purpose-driven initiative within PepsiCo that tries to use our expertise as a company to fight hunger in communities across the United States.
Denver: And this started back in 2009. How did it come into being?
Matt: It started with a group of employees that looked to take our company’s “Performance with Purpose” vision and really start with” Purpose.” And we said, “How can we start by trying to address real needs in our communities, but create the business to address those needs?” We wanted it to be something that could generate revenue, cover our operating costs, and continue to scale indefinitely. So we started by sitting around conference room tables in community centers with a number of community leaders and asking them that question – “What would it look like if PepsiCo tried to partner together with you to address the needs in your community?”
Performance with Purpose is essentially saying that it’s important for us to understand as a company that we are stewards of the work that we get to do, and it’s not just about the money that we make. We have a responsibility to make money as a company, but it’s how we make the money.
Denver: And you just said PepsiCo’s “Performance with Purpose” vision. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Matt: Sure. Performance with Purpose is essentially saying that it’s important for us to understand as a company that we are stewards of the work that we get to do, and it’s not just about the money that we make. We have a responsibility to make money as a company, but it’s how we make the money.
We have three platforms at Performance with Purpose: the products that we make, our impact on the planet, and empowering people. A lot of the work that we’re doing with Food for Good really falls on that product side of making sure that we are helping to create healthy products for everyone, but also making sure, in particular, to get healthy food to the underserved.
Food insecurity… it’s a technical term essentially that means hunger… and families that may not know where their next meal is coming from.
Denver: Great. Well, I know numbers can be a little numbing, but they do sometimes help provide a bit of context. So, tell us what they are around food insecurity, and what that picture for children is around the United States.
Matt: Food insecurity is, and for those who don’t know that term, it’s a technical term essentially that means hunger… and families that may not know where their next meal is coming from. Across the country, it’s one in five children that are food insecure, and it’s higher or lower in different parts of the country.
If you think about it in terms of meals in a child’s point of view, it’s: Where can they know that they’re going to get a meal each day? Schools are a great place where they know that they can get a meal. About 10 to 11 million kids every day get a school breakfast each day at school. About 22 million kids every day in the United States get a free or reduced-priced lunch at school. But when they’re not in school – after school, weekends, summertime – there aren’t great options for them. Oftentimes, they may live in a “food desert” where there is no access to a grocery store. And maybe that family doesn’t have a car to be able to get to a grocery store. That makes it really difficult for that family to have good, healthy options to eat meals in the evenings, on weekends, and have three consistent meals a day.
Denver: Talk a little bit more about those families. I know when you started this program, you did try to get beyond those numbers and have them come to life. And teams from Pepsi went out to some of the poorest neighborhoods around the Dallas area and spoke to people about this issue. What did you hear?
Matt: We try to do that ongoing– every day, every week that we can. We think that’s an incredibly important part. If we’re going to do this work well, we need to be spending a lot of time in these neighborhoods. One of the first stories that really stood out to us in Dallas was a woman who very generously was very honest and vulnerable with us to tell us about a doctor’s visit she went to. She had some diet-related illnesses – hypertension, obesity – and her doctor said, “You know the prescription for this is pretty simple. It’s to exercise and to eat healthy.” And she broke down in the office with him and said, “That’s not easy. Not in my neighborhood. In my neighborhood, the sidewalks aren’t kept up. There aren’t streetlights. It’s incredibly unsafe in my neighborhood, so I can’t exercise outside. And there are no grocery stores, I don’t have a car. I work a job that takes two bus rides away. By the time I get home, I pick up my kids from their after-school programs. It’s very difficult for me to get healthy food to my kids. I want to be a good mom. I know I want to provide healthy food for them, but that’s hard every day. So oftentimes, we have to go to the drive-through and get something quick at the end of the day.”
And I think as a society, in these businesses, we failed that mother by giving her those options. We need to give her and her family, her kids better options so that she can be a good mother, so that she can have healthy food each day.
Denver: Yeah. That story really brings it home. Well, tell us about this program and how it operates – the food you serve, how you get it there, where you go… those sorts of things.
Matt: We provide summer and after-school meals primarily through Food for Good. It’s a part of government-funded programs from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). We partner with local nonprofit organizations in each of the different communities that we serve, and we’re making sure that we’re meeting and exceeding the USDA’s nutritional requirement. So there’s a set pattern of whole grains and protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables in every meal. It’s important for us to make sure that we have fresh fruits and vegetables in each of our different meals. We provide hot meals in some of the cities that we serve.
We work closely with each of those nonprofit organizations in the sites that we serve to create a menu that works in that particular market. An example would be a turkey sandwich, an apple, baby carrots, and milk. We will source that bread locally from a bakery; we’ll make the sandwich in our kitchen, source the apple and carrot from a local distributor, and the dairy from the local dairy, pack those together in our facility, and deliver those out to sites.
Denver: In terms of cities, what cities are you operating in currently? How many?
Matt: Currently, we’re in 14. We started in the Dallas/Fort Worth area where the Frito-Lay headquarters are. When we first started, it was a couple of Frito-Lay route drivers trying to see essentially: How do we get food to kids when they’re not in school? And what we saw was: At school, kids are at a place where food comes to them. But when they’re not in school, we needed to take the food to the kids.
As we piloted this concept of taking food out into their neighborhood, we have built it from Dallas to be able to grow across Texas. We’re in a number of cities across Texas — Austin, Houston, San Antonio… expanded to Rio Grande Valley just last year. We’re in Little Rock, Arkansas; several places in Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations; Denver, Colorado; Nashville, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; and Detroit, Michigan.
Denver: How many meals a year are you serving? And how many have you served since the inception of the program?
Matt: We’ll do about 3.5 million meals this year. We are at over 8 million, almost 9 million in total. Servings is another number that we’ll use, and we’re over 45 million servings since we started the program.
Denver: Getting healthy food to children speaks for itself. But are there any other ways you try to measure the impact of this program?
Matt: Absolutely. There are so many different aspects to make sure that we are reaching these families in a comprehensive way. Number one, when we first sat down with those community leaders in 2008/2009, they told us there are really two needs in our community: jobs and access to healthy food. So, from the very beginning, we set out to make sure that we are addressing both. We seek to hire from the communities that we’re serving. We’ve created 150 jobs from this program currently. And as we grow in recreating a business model to reach these families, it gives us great opportunities to create entry-level jobs to make sandwiches, pack meals, manage a warehouse, run a warehouse, drive trucks, supervise those drivers. We’ve had incredible opportunities to bring folks through Food for Good to go on and win awards as Route Sales Rep of the Year within Frito-Lay, and to build careers within PepsiCo. So creating those jobs are really an important part of what we do.
It’s also really important for us to make sure that we’re giving kids an opportunity to engage as kids, and have fun, and to get physically active. We know that there are challenges with issues like summer learning loss during the summer because kids are not engaged in enrichment activities and in school. By partnering with nonprofit organizations– programs like the AmeriCorps program have been absolutely instrumental to making it possible to provide enrichment activities for kids when they’re not in school. A number of these kids are in the President’s Active Lifestyle Award during the summer. They come out, play with their friends, play soccer, get a healthy meal. They’re able to go back to school, and they’re ready for the new school year.
Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation…
We really want to make sure we’re respecting the dignity of the families that we’re serving. It’s not about charity from our perspective. This is about earning that kid’s participation each day.
Denver: I know you do this program year-round, Matt, but let me pick up a little bit on the summer piece of it. I think a lot of people wonder what happens to these kids who are in school, are part of the public school lunch program. Then summer comes around. Tell me how you try to fill in the gap during that time of year.
Matt: The summertime is a really unique challenge. As some of our partners say, “Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation.” If you think about it from the child’s point of view: A child, as I said earlier, really looks forward to that school breakfast, that school lunch. Mom has a routine during the school year where she goes to work; she knows her kids are in a safe place where they can get food. During the summertime, that routine is disrupted. Mom still has to go to work, but there may not be an option for the child—Maybe the child is not in summer school; maybe she can’t afford child care. Oftentimes, you’ll have the 7-year-old looking after the 5-year-old and 2-year-old at home. Those are the ages of my children, and I can’t imagine them staying at home by themselves each day, fending for themselves each day… feeding each other from what’s in the pantry, if anything. So that’s oftentimes what’s happening during the summertime.
We realized this gap of reaching so many children that really depend on those school lunches required us to get into these neighborhoods, make the meals within walking distance essentially for a lot of these kids – get into the apartment complex, into their park, Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, church – and make it accessible for them. Partner with those local community leaders that they already know, so that we can make the healthy food available for them during the summertime. That way, they know that they can come and get a couple of healthy meals– breakfast and lunch every day during the summertime– and play with their friends.
And it’s important for us to also emphasize that aspect. It’s tempting to use terms like a “feeding program” with this type of program. We try not to use those terms. We really want to make sure we’re respecting the dignity of the families that we’re serving. It’s not about charity from our perspective. This is about earning that kid’s participation each day. We want to make sure it’s delicious food; it’s fresh, healthy food, that they want to come every day. And it’s, most of all, about having fun with their friends. And by the way, you can get a delicious, healthy meal.
Denver: Wonderful point. You know you mentioned earlier about the “food desert” and I think the USDA estimates about 29 million people–those are people who just don’t have the ability or access to healthy food. And you recently placed retail farm stands in some of these underserved communities. Tell us about that.
Matt: The farm stands are really a personal passion project for me. It started with the Stanford Design School. We learned a lot from the folks there about human-centered design, rapid prototyping essentially. So we spent a lot of time in these neighborhoods asking, “When you say you want access to healthy food, what does that mean? What in particular?” Oftentimes, the answer was fresh fruits and vegetables… fresh foods.
There are a number of corner stores that sell all kinds of different products. Sometimes the term “food desert” is used, sometimes “food swamp” because there are a number of liquor stores, but not great healthy food. And as we started to understand, we went grocery shopping with a woman named Miss Fanny. Miss Fanny is in her 70s and lives in an apartment complex by herself. For her to get on a bus and go to the closest grocery store miles away, go grocery shopping… the kinds of groceries that she’s able to carry home with her, and the fact that she has to pay for the bus in the first place… starts to really change her food-buying habits– what she can have in her home. So she’s going to that corner store on a regular basis to fill in.
As we heard these kinds of stories, we started to brainstorm: How can we make healthy food more accessible to purchase? I started working with community centers and YMCAs to say, “There’s an existing traffic flow of community members that come through these healthy spaces in a community, an asset that already exists in this neighborhood. What if we created a pop-up farm stand to sell fresh fruits and vegetables?” And we, to be fair, piloted a number of concepts that did not work. They were bad.
But by learning from these families, not asking them: “Do you want to buy healthy food?” but “Would you buy this healthy food?” In piloting that concept and learning, what we saw is by creating essentially a dollar store for fresh fruits and vegetables in a YMCA, now it deconstructed–If you think about going to the grocery store produce aisle, and you’re shopping on a fixed income. You have $20 left on your SNAP card. If apples are $1.69 a pound, you have to be excellent in mental math to know exactly how much that’s going to cost you if you pick three apples. And when you go through the rest of the store, there are times mothers have told us about having to give something back at the register, and how embarrassing, undignifying that is.
By changing that slightly, and saying: It’s three apples for a dollar, now that mom knows exactly what the value proposition is. If she wants apples, it’s a dollar. If she doesn’t, she can look at the bananas, or move on. And that’s been a really exciting way that we’ve seen that fresh fruits and vegetables can be sold in some of these low-income neighborhoods.
We’ve had to be very intentional about listening to make sure that we are community-led, so that we’re hearing what community members are saying that we need to do… so that we can bring our strengths of how we know how to move food into every corner of the country…. so we can bring our strengths of taste and nutrition and logistics, but to do it in a way that’s relevant for each community.
Denver: Yes. The importance of human-centered design cannot be overstated… getting that in-context observation, and then just prototyping and iterating and prototyping until it actually works. So many people just do it in their conference room, thinking they know the answers, and they don’t know the answers. That’s for sure.
Matt: That’s right. And I think that’s a trap that as a corporation, we can very easily fall into.
Denver: Nonprofits as well.
Matt: Well, I think a lot of us do. And that’s one of the biggest challenges I think we’ve had to overcome and deconstruct as a corporation trying to engage in communities. We’re not set up to do a great job of community engagement and community development. So, we’ve had to be very intentional about listening to make sure that we are community-led… so that we’re hearing what community members are saying that we need to do… so that we can bring our strengths of how we know how to move food into every corner of the country… so we can bring our strengths of taste and nutrition and logistics, but to do it in a way that’s relevant for each community.
Denver: Food for Good is a breakeven business. Tell us about your business model, and where you generate your revenues from.
Matt: It’s very important from the beginning that we set out to be a business with Food for Good. It may seem to be a charity, and it is free to the children. But we want to make sure that we’re covering our operating costs so we can scale. If you think about what we do within Food for Good, you can kind of think about us in two ways: one is the operations of reaching kids; and the other is the innovation work that we do as a company.
The innovation work is funded by our Research & Development Group; that’s where we are structured within the company. We’re not in our foundation; we’re in the innovation group… the operation side: Most of what we do is run through United States Department of Agriculture meal programs, child nutrition programs like the Summer Food Service Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Programs. Those programs provide funding for nutritious meals for kids when they’re not in school.
We work with a nonprofit organization like the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Wort. The food bank will say, “We have 100 sites across our 13 counties that we serve, and each of these sites has 100 kids that need meals.” We provide a price for how much it’s going to cost us to source each meal and deliver them to each of those sites. We deliver those meals, and we’re paid through that funding stream from the government.
Denver: Now, you’ve just mentioned a moment ago that you are part of the innovation and research division of PepsiCo, and not part of the foundation. Why was that decision made?
Matt: That was made because we see it as being critical for us to be part of the business, to be able to work closely with our research and development colleagues, our supply chain and operations folks, marketing folks. Our direction that we want to go as a company is to have healthier products. We need to be able to solve the complex problems in our communities to be able to make healthier food available for these families.
As we’re in these communities trying to get a turkey sandwich and an apple delivered to a child in 100 degrees in a Dallas apartment complex, keeping that food fresh was a real challenge for us. Our research & development team helped us with the technology that keeps that food cold all day long, and now that technology is something that our nutrition business is able to use to solve their challenges of chilled distribution and storage.
We’re also looking to build out our portfolio, and as we better empathize with how to serve underserved families, then we can take great products we have, like Life Cereal, and tweak the packaging to make a single-serve bowl pack cereal– something that’s more convenient for children to eat in schools. Chewy bars, Tropicana juice… there are a number of products across our Quaker and Tropicana portfolio that we’re working on to really try to learn from the communities that we’re serving to build out our nutrition business.
We have the largest food-moving fleet in the country, moving food into every corner of the country. Why not apply that to turkey sandwiches and apples?
Denver: There’s so much concern and attention being paid to how food is grown, where it’s sourced from, how it’s distributed. Do you and PepsiCo have an overall philosophy or set of guidelines around these issues?
Matt: The Performance with Purpose guidelines and what we’re seeking to do with the product side of our portfolio to really drive a healthier future we are addressing in our current portfolio of products. I think overarching, it’s important for us that we, as a company, think about what it’s like to be in business 100 years from now and not just next quarter.
What does that look like in terms of being good community partners in every community that we live in? Part of that is understanding our neighbors, our neighborhoods and how to serve the underserved. Part of that is making sure that we are sourcing locally where we can. We do that with Food for Good. We’re also doing that with a lot of our products in the different countries where we operate. Or from a water perspective as well… making sure that we’re working together in the communities where we operate.
There is need everywhere. It’s right down the street. You drive past hungry families every day on your way to work. You probably know a number of them in your daily life, but we miss that.
Denver: Finally, Matt. What’s next for Food for Good and, specifically,– if I may be selfish– any thought about doing it somewhere up here around the Greater New York area?
Matt: Of course! We would love to be in New York. You know what we found is there is need everywhere. It’s right down the street. You drive past hungry families every day on your way to work. You probably know a number of them in your daily life, but we miss that. And we’re looking to, as we’re in 14 cities right now… grow to 25 cities in the next several years. We want to start to look internationally as well. New York is definitely a market where we would like to grow. We’re having great conversations with the School Food folks here, and they have an amazing operation to reach the kids in New York City. There are about a million kids every day that the School Food folks serve each day in New York City. But only about 250K of those 1 million get meals during the summertime. So there’s a huge need, even in a place like New York City, and we hope that we can help out.
Denver: We hope so, too. You can’t get here soon enough. Well, Matt Smith, the Director of PepsiCo’s Food for Good program, thanks so much for coming in this evening. Now, if people want to get more information about this program, maybe get involved, or make a financial contribution to help support it… or to learn a little bit more about PepsiCo’s Performance with Purpose initiative, where do they go to get that?
Matt: They can go to pepsicofoodforgood.com. And reach out to us there: if you’d like to partner, if you’ve got sites, if you’re a nonprofit organization, if you know that there’s need. We’d love to look for ways that we can partner all across the country.
Denver: Great. Well, it’s a real pleasure, Matt, to have you on the program.
Matt: Thanks for having me.
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