Food. What is more politically divisive and universally required by all of mankind? Food plays a paradoxically simple but complicated role in our everyday lives and occupies more real estate in our daily psyches than most would like to admit. The fight against obesity, food scarcity, sustainable farming, the latest diet du jour—the list goes on.
For these reasons, food is a charged with the kind of emotional currency that marketers crave. Food also lies at the heart of many humanitarian causes—making it a perfect topic of conversation at the Columbia Social Enterprise Conference. Chris Lorn, co-founder of Table for Two USA, and Jacqueline Holmes, President of Kopali Organics, shared their stories in a panel titled, “Food Systems: Shake the Hands that Feed You.”
In their talks, Lorn and Holmes alluded to food’s inherent ability to connect to the irrational "reptilian" part of the consumer brain. In this way, food products with a social cause are able to capture the dual benefit of making positive decisions for oneself and for the world, a fascinating consumer psychology concept.
Founded in 2007 in Japan, Table for Two International is a non-profit that works to address the food imbalance between developing nations — where there is often too little — and the US —where there is often too much. Table for Two employs a simple business model: choosing the healthiest option on a menu, you agree pay an extra 25 cents, which pays for a child’s meal in a developing country.
Through this economic transaction there is a symbolic transfer of calories from a potentially unhealthy meal to hungry child’s belly. Lorn, who co-founded the US division of the organization while studying at Columbia, described this phenomenon as a “combined warm and fuzzy feeling” that is activated by tacking a social benefit on to a healthy food choice. Table for Two has distributed more than 45 million meals to children around the world.
Kopali Organics, a line of organic chocolates produced through sustainable farming communities, has a different business model but plays off of many of the same themes as Table for Two. When Holmes joined Kopali, she was looking for a social purpose-driven organization where she could both play a leadership role and invest her personal funds. To Holmes, Kopali made perfect sense.
Consumers are often making an emotional purchase when they buy chocolate and are drawn to the Kopali story of empowering local farmers to make a living in a safe and environmentally sustainable way. As an added benefit, Kopali is free from chemicals and additives.
Table for Two and Kopali Organics are making a positive impact on the world, stirring and satisfying the consumer conscience.
Margaret Baughman is a consultant at Interbrand New York.