Start with science, add plenty of compassion, various flavors of granola, and a dash of Hollywood glamour — and you just might have the recipe for saving millions of lives
Malnutrition doesn’t make headlines like it used to. Maybe nonstop virus coverage has pushed aside the story of 50 million starving children around the world, or maybe the primary causes of famine — climate change and civil war — are so big and intractable that the story seems hardly worth telling.
But for Ryan Devlin, malnutrition has become an obsession. A dozen years ago, the Veronica Mars co-star visited a Liberian refugee camp with fellow actor Todd Grinnell from One Day at a Time, where they came face to face with dozens of children who were dying of hunger. It’s an image that haunts Ryan to this day.
“These children that we met in Liberia – they’re just kids, like my kids or yours,” Ryan told Cause Consumer. “They deserve to be healthy and happy, like any child here in the U.S. does. It was so heartbreaking to see them fighting for their lives, and to see their mothers feeling hopeless in the face of it all.”
It’s sobering enough to read the statistic that a child dies of malnutrition every 12 seconds, but to see the suffering first-hand – it was a life-changing moment for both men.
Back home in LA, the two started researching all the news they could find about malnutrition. That’s how they stumbled across a 60 Minutes report on Plumpy’Nut, a nutrient-dense peanut butter paste that could take a child from the brink of starvation to normal body weight in as little as six weeks. The packets sold for just pennies apiece, and the full, life-saving regimen of 150 packets could cost as little as $50 per child.
So Ryan and Todd enlisted two more of their Hollywood pals — Kristen Bell and Ravi Patel — in a very personal campaign to make Plumpy’Nut more widely available. Rather than a one-shot donation to charity, the four friends wanted to do something that was sustainable and scalable in order to save as many lives as possible.
The Power of Snacking
They decided that the answer was snack bars — a $7 billion market in the U.S. If they could manufacture a great-tasting snack and distribute that snack with minimal overhead, then every bar sold could put one additional packet of Plumpy’Nut into the hands of a starving child.
Fast-forward to 2020, and This Saves Lives (TSL) is a brand that’s living up to its name. With six flavors for adults and ten for kids, the bars are available at major retailers like Starbucks, Target, and Whole Foods.
That kind of national distribution is rare for a social impact brand, but “our retail relationships are pretty unique,” according to Jill DiIorio, Chief Sales and Giving Officer at TSL. “Retailers need good products that sell, but they’re also looking to do good, so it’s a natural fit. We’re making retail partners a part of the process, and they’re helping us grow the brand.”
The snack food aisle is a crowded place, and many competing brands are owned by big multinationals like General Mills, Kellogg, and Hershey. TSL remains a boutique brand by comparison. The four founders are still closely involved with the company, and their celebrity quotient is one reason that TSL doesn’t need to spend money on traditional marketing. Without the big advertising budgets of other brands — or the need to produce profits for shareholders — TSL can keep prices competitive while still generating enough margin to donate one packet of Plumpy’Nut for every bar sold.
Those packets are distributed in some of the neediest places on earth by Action Against Hunger, an international nonprofit. “Through our partnership with This Saves Lives, we’re creating a better way to deal with hunger,” says Vanessa Stair, Senior Partnerships Officer at Action Against Hunger.
“In Somalia, where nearly one million children under five are expected to suffer from deadly malnutrition this year, we are transforming how those children get access to lifesaving treatment – helping more kids survive hunger and grow up strong, all with support from This Saves Lives and its customers.”
Choosing to Make an Impact
With more than 11 million packets of Plumpy’Nut donated so far, TSL has come a long way since Kristen, Ryan, Todd, and Ravi started cooking up granola recipes in their kitchens. Yet the company is still a niche player in the $7 billion snack bar market. That’s where Cause Consumers could make a huge difference with more intentional spending, according to DiIorio.
“Simple choices that we make every day can change the world. Our bars are the best tasting bars on the shelf, so it’s easy to enjoy one every day. By grabbing one at Starbucks, Target, or wherever you shop, you can feel good about what you’re doing for yourself and the world. When we all do that, the impact is truly incredible.”
In addition to buying TSL snack bars, she encourages cause consumers to learn more about acute childhood malnutrition by visiting actionagainsthunger.org and sharing their support with the hashtag #WeEatTogether.
Want to help save the life of a child while satisfying your own snack craving? Cause Consumer readers can use the exclusive code CAUSE20 to save 20% off online purchases at This Saves Lives. Expires April 30.