Nine months ago, Booth M.B.A. students Ashray Reddy, Connor Blankenship, and Rebekah Krikke were working on a case study that dealt with food insecurity—the state of not having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food—and hunger. Soon after collecting statistics for the case, the group realized the severity of this epidemic: 40 million Americans deal with food insecurity every year, including one in seven residents in Chicago, and one in five U.S. children are at risk of hunger.
To tackle these issues, the students founded the startup MeaningFull Meals, which aims to eliminate food insecurity by inspiring consumers to give back to their community through small everyday purchases at local restaurants.
“Right off of that case study we went to a room, and were like, ‘Hey, we have all these skill sets—how do we utilize our diverse range to do something good for the community, and figure out how to solve this problem?’” Reddy said.
The startup focuses on partnering with local restaurants and food-related establishments. When a consumer goes to one of these establishments and purchases a MeaningFull Meal (which is labeled on the menu with the startup’s logo), MeaningFull Meals donates a dollar to local food pantries and nonprofits chosen by that restaurant.
“Our goal is curing food insecurity and hunger, and we do that by connecting local non-profits with local restaurants, allowing diners to give back to their community through those restaurants,” Reddy said. “So, you come to Russian Tea Time, order a couple of items, and then that dollar is split between those organizations, and it goes to that restaurant’s local community.” The organizations chosen by Russian Tea Time, for example, include the Greater Chicago Food Depository (a Chicago food bank), Inspiration Corporation (an organization that trains low-income and homeless Chicagoans for careers in the food industry while providing them with housing and meals), and Pilot Light (a classroom-based program that helps kids make healthier food choices in their everyday lives).
Russian Tea Time, a restaurant in the Loop, is currently MeaningFull Meals’s only business partner. However, the startup is talking to a number of other restaurants in the area, and intends to sign its next partner this week: Crave Natural, a food product company based around an oatmeal-like commodity from China.
According to a case study that Reddy shared with The Maroon, after MeaningFull Meals’s launch with Russian Tea Time in late February, the restaurant saw “a 92.14% overall increase in sales of MeaningFull Meals items in the 38-day pilot period compared to the previous 50 days [when those items were not branded on the menu with the MeaningFull Meals logo].”
“It’s just crazy to think that between us and Russian Tea Time, we basically raised close to 2,000 dollars to help the Chicago community,” Reddy said. “Now that we’ve proven this concept works…we can start making a serious impact on this problem, and help the people down the street, help out neighbors, help our community rise up.”