How to Mine School Lunch for Gold

San Francisco Magazine
By Rebecca Flint Marx
November 30, 2017

Kristin Groos Rich­mond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey aren’t twins—they’re not even related—but you could be for­giv­en for think­ing oth­er­wise. They have blond hair and blue eyes, activ­i­ty track­ers on their wrists, and almost match­ing names. Both are relent­less­ly upbeat and deeply prag­mat­ic, though Rich­mond is more assertive than Tobey, who tends to sit back and nod while Rich­mond does the talk­ing. And Rich­mond is very, very good at talking—about cor­po­rate val­ues, about com­pound annu­al growth rates, and about how their almost-10-year-old com­pa­ny, Rev­o­lu­tion Foods, is upgrad­ing lunch for the nation’s school­child­ren.

It’s a work of pas­sion for us,” Rich­mond says one morn­ing, seat­ed next to Tobey at a con­fer­ence table in the company’s Oak­land head­quar­ters. “Not only as entre­pre­neurs but also as moms who are build­ing and grow­ing our own fam­i­lies and mak­ing sure that our kids are set up on a path for suc­cess from a health per­spec­tive.”

The “rev­o­lu­tion” in Rev­o­lu­tion Foods refers to the company’s char­ter mandate—indeed a rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­cept back in 2006—to replace the much-maligned typ­i­cal school lunch with a healthy meal for less than the $3.13 that school dis­tricts receive per lunch from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. Out went arti­fi­cial ingre­di­ents, preser­v­a­tives, high-fruc­tose corn syrup, deep fry­ing, mys­tery meats, added sug­ar, and growth hormone–enhanced milk; in came fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles, whole grains, and so-called nat­ur­al meats. Ten years lat­er, Rev­o­lu­tion Foods deliv­ers approx­i­mate­ly 1.5 mil­lion fresh­ly pack­aged “kid-inspired, chef-craft­ed” break­fasts, lunch­es, snacks, and after-school “sup­pers” to schools in 15 states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., every week. Rich­mond and Tobey are proud to state that the schools served by Rev­o­lu­tion are over­whelm­ing­ly pub­lic, which dove­tails neat­ly with their company’s trade­marked tagline: “Real food for all.”

Over the past nine and a half years, this cri de coeur has found an incred­i­bly recep­tive audi­ence. Since its incep­tion, Rev­o­lu­tion Foods has claimed an aver­age com­pound annu­al growth rate of 50 per­cent. Today, Rich­mond says, its rev­enue is over $100 mil­lion, and the com­pa­ny is “on track to be much larg­er than that for this fis­cal year.” It has attract­ed mon­ey from firms and foun­da­tions that invest in com­pa­nies with a change-the-world agen­da: the West­ly Group, DBL Investors, the NewSchools Ven­ture Fund, and the W.K. Kel­logg Foun­da­tion.

DBL became one of Revolution’s seed investors in 2006 to act on its “very firm­ly held view that the coun­try needs to do some­thing about the obe­si­ty and dia­betes epi­dem­ic that is grip­ping our chil­dren,” says Nan­cy Pfund, DBL’s founder and a man­ag­ing part­ner. “When we met Kirsten and Kristin, it was like a light­bulb went on—we real­ized that this could be a great grow­ing busi­ness and address an extreme­ly crit­i­cal social prob­lem. We always have our radar out for that com­bi­na­tion: the abil­i­ty to address sig­nif­i­cant social needs with an entre­pre­neur­ial for­mu­la.”

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