Monday, 10 June 2013

Revolution Foods in school meals

At the Menus of Change conference in Boston this evening, I especially appreciated the presentation by Kirsten Saenz Tobey, the Chief Innovation Officer of the ambitious new school food service company Revolution Foods.

The presentation took the form of an interview of Tobey by her former business school professor Will Rosenzweig, whose questions led her through the remarkable growth of her company from social entrepreneurship projects at university to a multi-million dollar corporation serving millions of meals.

Although Tobey and her collaborators had originally envisioned a not-for-profit corporation, perhaps principally with foundation funding, an instructive turning point happened when they realized that the amounts of capital required for kitchen renovations and other investments could not be raised except on a for-profit basis.

The company has had good coverage recently by Forbes, Take Part, and the Economist.  A difficult challenge is cost.  Revolution Foods may cost more, and San Francisco columnist Dana Woldow has been pressing for transparency on the full cost of the company's contract with that city's school system (and also rapping the company's knuckles for run-of-the-mill puffery in hinting at claims of improving student test scores).

Tobey says the company soon wants to challenge a major brand-name provider of packaged lunch meals sold in grocery stores (I can only think of Lunchables).  That is a worthy villain, and, at the same time, one can't help wondering if plain lunch ingredients sold as non-brand-name ordinary food might really be the more sustainable competitor to over-packaged brand-name lunches.

This is a company whose progress I want to watch in coming years.

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