Every New Year, food-related goals make their way to my top five New Year resolutions; however, after interacting with four young founders of two food-based startups in New York City, I've learned to keep a more wholesome mindset as goals around food and dietary consumption create a ripple effect around food waste, healthy living, and overconsumption for local populations.
Transfernation and Sani are two startups based out of Manhattan working to combat the city's hunger problem and catalyze healthy living lifestyles. Sani is a vegan-based meal replacement personalized to the consumer's unique dietary needs and contains every nutrient your body needs. Transfernation is a non-profit group that has rescued over 10,000 pounds of cuisine since it began its operations in October 2014.
Both pairs of founders, Samir Goel and Hannah Dehradunwala of Transfernation, and Sebastian Garcia and Danielle Soto of Sani, started their organizations with conversations over food. In the case of the Sani founders, conversations turned into data analysis where they "used a quantified approach to nutrition so we could hit our respective macros," said Soto about Sani's genesis. For Transfernation, observation and conversation turned into analysis on the concept of food redistribution, starting with questions like "what happens after we dump the food?". Given the astronomical scale upon which hunger and poverty exist, co-founder Dehradunwala found that "there's a blatant gap in the current status quo" where there is no service in place to redistribute the hundreds of pounds of extra food that is often left over after catered events. The burden of food redistribution cannot solely be placed on event planners and caterers, which is the opportunity Transfernation was born on.
How it Works
Transfernation is the service that uses an app to deliver extra-catered food from various events to soup kitchens and shelters. Their app allows people who want to donate food to get in touch with volunteers to come, pick it up, and drop it off to the closest homeless shelter or soup kitchen- all within the hour. Sani is updating their interactive web platform to ask six simple questions about you and your fitness goals, and builds a meal replacement that you can either bake or drink to help you meet your goal.
The technology integration became a necessity for the two organizations after realizing their initial assumptions about the marketplace were going to need adjustments. "The reality of any business is that ideas don't always translate from paper to the real world," said Transfernation's Goel. Goel and Dehradunwala realized that donors wanted as little involvement as possible, due to the sheer scale of some of the events they were hosting. Secondly, they believed that the soup kitchens and shelters that Transfernation would be partnering with would have the capacity to rescue extra food. But while the soup kitchens and shelters had the infrastructure, they lacked the manpower. According to Goel, "this led us to consider volunteer-based operations as the best way to provide value to our end beneficiaries."
On Sani's side, their core idea never changed but the manner of execution had to. "People not only want a product that'll help them look good, but a product that will taste good too," noted Garcia. While the core idea hasn't changed, the ingredients consistently do. The balance between nutritional data and the customer feedback meant that they had to ensure that the product was healthy, and pivoted to include 5 flavors, ranging from Mexican chocolate to coffee to peanut butter. "Now that we have a core product that is popular with our consumer base, we can extend our efforts to making sure user interaction with our site is as top-notch as it can be," said Soto.
Trying to evolve food intake into meal supplements is not only an indulgence for wealthy consumers. Garcia and Soto are planning to evolve Sani's business line, admitting that "while we're still a start-up that is perfecting our supply chain, our future includes a buy one, give one plan, where a consumer who is able to buy a Sani meal also provides a meal to a child in need." Being business students, Garcia and Soto have determined that donating food to a developing country or area actually can hurt that local economy more than help it. "We want to work with organizations that already have established relationships, like WHO's child-meal program," said Garcia, "to avoid the risk of hurting more than helping."
What started as an effort to make food redistribution fast and easy now also incorporates volunteer-based food rescue mission to increase their range of impact. For Goel and Dehradunwala, Transfernation is running a crowdfunding donation effort to catalyze their 2016 volunteer efforts. "We have been asked to expand our efforts to other cities around the US, but we just don't have the manpower yet," said Goel. Their donation campaign is going to be used to add people to their core team, scale operations and transportation, and incentivize volunteers.
Being business students and young professionals in Manhattan has given both pairs of founders a unique outlook on what 2016 means for start-ups and social impact. For Goel, "there is no greater return on investment than helping others and creating positive systemic change" and he remains optimistic for what rescuing leftover cuisine generates in the city. "It's not just about redistributing food, but it's about helping adjust portion sizes and physically illustrating how waste can be prevented," he says.
Ultimately, as 2016 begins to ramp up, adjust your food goals to not be just cutting sugar or red meats out of your diet, but let your food resolutions include helping people help others eat. For example, as Soto puts it, Sani's resolution and motivation is to provide a simple way for anyone to be healthy. Dehradunwala calls this mindset a "shared value". "Creating shared value is a process that definitely takes longer, but it creates inclusivity, and inclusivity creates economic opportunities that the short term just doesn't have the capacity to provide," said Dehradunwala.
It's now on my list to be more mindful of how I consume, not just what I eat. What's on yours? Happy New Year, folks!
If you know of startups doing cool things, tweet them to me @_sanjuverm or drop a comment at nocityfornomads.com or follow on Instagram @sanjuverm to see what I'm up to