Create Complex Solutions to Complex Problems: An Interview with Chloe Obico, This Bar Saves Lives

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“Our CEO has a saying. He doesn’t care how late you stay or how early you come in. He just wants you to work as hard as you need to feel like you’ve made an impact on as many lives as you want for that day.”

Clearly, Paul Yoo’s words have sunk in. Chloe Obico, Marketing Specialist for This Bar Saves Lives, and I are having a conversation at eight in the evening.

With a growing team of just over fifteen people and a global brand that’s recently added domestic giving in the US, there is a lot to be done.

 Luckily, Chloe describes her team as one that’s always helping each other out and stepping up when they need to, even when it’s outside their comfort zone or expertise.

Plus, having actors without business backgrounds as founders seems to have instilled a sense of making it happen and being willing to learn into the company culture.

I talked with Chloe about the current landscape of social enterprises, the responsible practices of This Bar Saves Lives, and how she’s grown as a professional while working in a mission-driven company.

What’s your favorite flavor of bar?

Definitely the dark chocolate and peanut butter. We used to have a peanut butter and jelly bar that I loved, and I want to bring it back.

What other socially conscious business do you look up to as a role model? 

I really like Bombas. For each pair that you purchase, they give a pair to a homeless person, which is such a unique problem that people don’t often think about. Plus, I love their brand identity and voice.

I also like thankyou. 100% of their proceeds are donated, and I just think what they’re doing is very cool. 

In your opinion, how has the social enterprise industry changed since This Bar Saves Lives was founded in 2013?

Overall, I’ve seen a lot more companies with the ‘buy one, give one’ model. While it’s exciting to see so many more companies build doing good into their business models, I also get worried they’re adding these factors in as a way to look good to the public without having done their due diligence first. I want to know that they’re making a positive impact and not just saying they’re making a positive impact

Benefit Corporation (I agree, and I think the Bcorp) certification is one way that the industry is attempting to create regulations and guidelines on the impact a company is actually making. Has This Bar thought about becoming a Bcorp?

It’s something we’ve definitely looked into and are continuing to look into. The process is really time-intensive, though, and with our small team, it’s difficult to make time right now. However, it’s something we really want to do.

In the meantime, to develop our CSR (corporate social responsibility), we’ve recently brought on a new Head of Social Goodness, Clancy Cauble, and she handles all of our giving partnerships, sustainability efforts, and even keeps the company up to date on the latest research on malnutrition.

In fact, she sends every employee a weekly report with new findings. Her desk is right next to mine, and it’s cool to have her always turning around saying, “Did you know?” and teaching me something new.

What does This Bar currently do to pursue environmental responsibility? 

We source our ingredients from Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified farmers. We’re looking into how we can make the packaging more sustainable, too. 

I love that This Bar is all about complementary efforts as opposed to disruptive ones. Was this always how the founders thought when it comes to the one-for-one model, or did they learn about it as the company grew?

It’s really in our DNA. When two of our founders, Ryan Devlin and Todd Grinnell, took that first trip to Liberia, they realized that acute malnutrition was a far more complicated problem that could be solved by just providing food.

 So they did their research and tried to create a solution that was beyond putting a Band-Aid on a bullet hole. Yes, we give our bars, which is a short-term solution, but we also have efforts in place to invest in the future of the communities we serve.

 For example, we donate bars to organizations that support parent boarding at clinics and provides education on organic farming and vocational training. We want to make sure they don’t have to worry about having enough money to buy supplies and can focus on what they do best.

How does This Bar decide which nonprofits or organizations to work with for distribution of Plumpy'Nut? What’s the vetting process like?

As a company, we only donate product and don’t give monetarily. When we choose partners to donate to, though, we decide from a blend of using Charity Navigator and asking for recommendations from our current partners. 

Has This Bar ever experienced a time when they had to do something business-wise that went against their values?

The example that comes to mind for me is when the co-founders of Stonyfield Organic Farm, Gary Hirshberg and Samuel Kaymen, had to briefly work with a non-organic farmer because of pressure from having borrowed money from friends and family. 

I thought really hard about this, and nothing came to mind. I can’t remember a time when I felt like I had to go against my values or when we, as a company, went against our values. 

What campaign have you found to be really challenging that has helped you develop as a marketer?

Every campaign is a challenge! Like I said, we have a small team and a small budget. We’re usually pulled thin, but we’re always able to get creative and execute.

 A campaign that comes to mind first, though, is one that we just recently did. It was called #ThisSelfieSavesLives, and we partnered with Troian Bellisario (an actress who is best known for her role on Pretty Little Liars). If you won our contest, you’d be able to have a meet and greet in NYC over coffee and giveback snacks with Troian. To enter, you just had to take a selfie eating one of our bars. It was so much fun to see our winner, Izzy Zarko, being so excited to meet Troian.

Cher Hale