At the heart of Cooks Who Feed are the aprons that they sell to consumers. Using the proceeds of the sales, Cooks Who Feed fund the operations of Canadian, US, and Indian NGOs that rescue and redirect food that is destined to landfills to help feed the hungry with healthy and nutritious meals. Their social impact extends up the supply chain where marginalized women in India are empowered and employed to make the aprons; with the goal of getting them out of poverty.
Abdelrahman Sahban Ali
York University- Schulich School of Business
Be socially responsible at every level of the business. This is the driving strategy that brought Cooks Who Feed to life and helped create this sustainable business model that took three pressing world issues (world hunger, lack of opportunities for marginalized women and food waste) and paired them together to ultimately solve themselves.
“From the moment the fabric hits the sewing machine to the time it ends up in your kitchen, our eco-friendly aprons have employed poor women, fed their families, reduced food waste and fed 100 people. That’s a lot for one apron.” -Seema Sanghavi, Founder
It all begins in Delhi, India where Cooks Who Feed partnered with Work+Shelter, an NGO that hires women who live in poverty, most of whom have never been given the opportunity to gain education and are victims of domestic abuse. The NGO provides these women with paid training, a fair wage, and income security with the goal of getting them out of poverty. Cooks Who Feed only use natural, local and recycled fabrics to make stylish, functional and eco-friendly aprons.
These aprons are then sold in Canada and the United States with every apron sold providing 100 nutritious meals and effectively reducing food waste. This is accomplished through a partnership with three charities with a network of volunteers focus on redirecting food destined for the landfill to those who need it - Rescuing Leftover Cuisine in the United States, Second Harvest in Canada and Feeding India in India. The proceeds are more or less an even split between the charitieallocated to ensure a more or less even split of the 100 meals for distribution within the three respective countries.
Seema Sanghavi, Founder and CEO of Cooks Who Feed reminisces on what inspired her to start her venture:
"The journey that led me to start Cooks Who Feed began about 3 years ago when a friend of mine invited me to visit an NGO in India that she had co-founded several years prior. This is the same NGO I now work with to produce our aprons. When I met the women for the first time and saw them wholeheartedly working away, I felt compelled to help in any way I could so more underprivileged women could have the same opportunity. At that point in time, I was not sure how I could be of service, but I knew I could not go back to Canada and forget what I had seen.
About a year ago, I came across an article about food waste. I learned that about 1/3 of the food produced gets thrown out. This fact struck a chord with me so I started doing a bit of research. One headline that I came across stood out amongst the rest. It stated that the amount of food we waste could feed the entire world’s hungry four times over. How could so many go hungry when so much food is just being thrown out?
It was this question that led me to learn about organizations like Second Harvest that, with a network of volunteers, focus on redirecting food destined for the landfill to those who need it. This is when I started connecting the dots and the idea for Cooks Who Feed was born. It took me a year to combine my passion for food and cooking, my empathy towards the hungry and my desire to help impoverished women."
It all started with a Kickstarter campaign that helped Seema raise $14,000 and offered her validation that she created something that people are willing to stand behind. “I started seeing posts on Facebook and Instagram of people saying they have backed me or saw my campaign and were telling other people to back my campaign. That blew me away and might be my highpoint forever”
2019 was Cooks Who Feed’s first year of operation and by July they started selling their aprons online and were able to provide 50,000 meals. During the first month and a half of 2020, they have already beaten that milestone as they are beginning to close on business deals to complement their direct to consumer sales. For business clients with a more constrained budget, a second pricing model allows them to pay less per apron, effectively serving 10 meals per apron and yet have a large impact due to the volume of the order.
These sales where all generated without any marketing spent and the future outlook is especially promising. This is because Seema was recently offered pro bono marketing services by Artistic License Creative; a progressive marketing firm looking to help female entrepreneurs involved with social enterprises. With plans to ramp up the marketing strategy, launch the new website by the end of Q1 2020 and develop new strategic partnerships with Chefs in the states, sales and brand awareness are projected to continue to grow for the coming years.
Future scaling plans involve testing new product offerings with the goal of ultimately owning the kitchen. The key is to ensure the textile offering is simple enough so that the women artisan are able to quickly master their production without compromising the high-quality standard they are known for. “I wanted to make sure whatever I came up with was something that within a week the ladies are able to produce. When I meet the women for the first time they where making intricate handbags and it was taking them a long time to master as anyone that is learning a new skill would. I saw one woman that has been there for a month and hasn’t produced a bag yet was getting discouraged. For someone who never had an opportunity, it can be extremely demotivating. Think about it, people here who have nurturing parents and grew up in a supportive environment, still question ourselves and can get demotivated. For that reason, I want to make sure we create something the ladies can master in a week instead of months to empowers them.”
Another dimension to the scaling plan involves expanding geographically to sell higher volumes within the US market and to enter new markets like the UK. The business model and the simple nature of the product offering would also allow for production to take place in any third world country.
During our interview with Seema, she mentioned many times how lucky she is when it came to the strategic partnerships and opportunities that Cooks Who Feed seemed to attract. Many if not all of these benefits can be attributed to the social cause and business model that Cooks Who Feed had adopted.
For instance, to grow brand awareness Seema sought out strategic partnerships with Celebrity chefs here in Canada and within the United States. Within a short amount of time, Seema was able to collaborate with 3 local celebrity chefs in Canada with talks continuing with their American equivalence. Together, they created an apron to represent each of their personalities. Canadian celebrity chef ambassadors currently include:
Chef Devan Rajkumar: best known for his regular appearances as a guest on Cityline, one of Canada’s longest-running daytime shows.
Chef Romain Avril: best known for his appearances as a judge on Top Chef Canada All-Stars, and as a competing chef on Chopped Canada.
Chef Christine Cushing: best known for her appearances nomination for 'best host of a T.V. series' for her series - Confucius Was a Foodie. She is also known for Christine Cushing Live, and her reality show Fearless in the Kitchen, on the Oprah Winfrey Network,
There are many examples where the social entrepreneurial nature of the organization has contributed to unique benefits for the business. One of which, included an offer from a progressive marketing agency (Artistic License Creative) to help market the brand pro-bono, to help women entrepreneurs doing good grow their brand. Another example of the benefits can be observed by the fact sales in the US grew without any marketing expenses within that country. Many examples can be observed, future making the case that businesses can do good and become profitable.
When Cooks Who Feed started they employed 12 women and now it's grown to 54 women. Their goal is to employ 100 by the end of the year. By employees these marginalized women, reducing food waste and creating 100 meals for every apron sold, Cooks Who Feed effectively tackle 6 of the UN SDGs. Cooks Who Feed effectively help eliminate poverty for the women they employ and their communities by providing decent work and economic growth opportunities. They also play a direct role in reducing hunger by ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient meals for the poor in Canada, the United States, and India. They also help empower women to reduce gender inequality. Finally, they promote responsible consumption and affect climate action but reducing waste destined for landfills.
Seema Sanghavi, Founder & CEO
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Mississauga, Ontario, CA
Business Website: https://www.cookswhofeed.com/
Year Founded: 2018
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Cooks Who Feed produces handcrafted aprons to feed the hungry and prevent food from going to waste. For every apron sold 100 people receive a meal, food waste is reduced and a marginalized woman in India is empowered and removed out of poverty.