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January 14, 2013

Snack Maker's Business Model Aids Hunger Relief

by Jan Sluizer

At an age when most Americans begin thinking about retirement, Lauren Walters founded a company aimed at feeding the world's hungry children.

The idea came to the lifelong political activist and entrepreneur after a visit to Rwanda.

He'd made a significant donation to an international health care organization and wanted to see first-hand where his contributions were going.  

“What I learned was that, for malnutrition in children, we know exactly what to do," Walters says. "We know how to bring them back from the brink.”  
The Snack with a Mission

What it takes, he learned, is a nutrient-rich protein packet.

For every Two Degrees bar sold, the company donates a prepared food packet in poor communities around the world. (Courtesy Two Degrees)
​​​“These are packets, little sachets, that are 500 calories, that are medically formulated," Walters says. "It’s basically sweet peanut butter with vitamins. Those sachets, given over four to six weeks, several a day, can bring a kid back from the edge and can give them the chance, if they get adequate nutrition going forward, of developing in a normal way.”

However, relief agencies and humanitarian groups were unable to distribute enough packets to satisfy the growing need. So Walters came up with a concept to help meet the demand: a food company based on a one-to-one model.

For every item sold, a nutritious meal would be donated to a malnourished child.

“This one-to-one idea is a unique way to engage millions of Americans, Europeans, and others who will be buyers one day with the notion that they could do something for themselves and something good for another person," Walters says. "If we can give people easy ways of helping other people, I think that really changes the world.”
Two Degrees nutrition packets being produced at a factory in Malawi. (Courtesy Two Degrees)
At around the time Walters came up with that business concept, Will Hauser was also getting ready to change the world.  

His parents were old friends with Walters, and Hauser often called Walters for business advice.  

​Now a Harvard graduate working in finance in New York, Hauser told Walters he was unhappy and looking for another path. When Walters explained what he wanted to do, Hauser jumped at the chance to be part of what was to become the Two Degrees Food Bar Company.

“Two Degrees for me is this perfect marriage between my love of entrepreneurship and my long desire to do something good,” Hauser says.

The company name reflects the two steps involved in helping a malnourished child. For every Two Degrees energy bar sold, the company donates a prepared food packet in poor communities around the world.
Two Degrees bars sell for about $2 each. (Courtesy Two Degrees)
The packets, given out by the United Nations and other relief agencies, are produced in Europe and the United States, but Walters wanted to be able to buy packets that were produced in the areas where they are needed.

“We wanted to do it locally, because we think that it’s a better development model," Walters says. "People need jobs. And, even in our small way, if we can contribute to demand locally, we can help break the cycle which often leads to malnourished children.”

They contracted with a Malawi-based company, Valid Nutrition, to make the packets.

In February, 2011, one year after Two Degrees was launched, Will Hauser visited Malawi to witness the 11,000 nutrition packets his company donated being distributed to hungry children.  

He says the trip transformed him.

Two Degrees co-founders Will Hauser (left) and Lauren Walters hope to donate millions of nutritional meal packets each year. (Courtesy Two Degrees)
​​“It’s a really sobering experience to see a severely malnourished child," Hauser says. "It’s just really a shocking experience to see that first-hand. You wonder how this could possibly happen.”

Two years later, Walters and Hauser have even bigger plans for their company.

They hope to donate millions of nutritional meal packets each year by expanding their offerings.

They're working on producing other healthy snack products including cereal, coffee and possibly yogurt, all packaged under the Two Degrees brand.