With turkey season upon us, the crisp autumn mood is celebratory, festive and feast-filled. Unfortunately, not everybody has the luxury of a hearty meal. In a country as developed as Canada, over 850,000 Canadians are assisted by food banks every month. The Canadian-based non-profit startup Mealshare wants to tackle this problem by connecting restaurants and charities to provide meals for someone in need every time a customer buys a Mealshare-designated meal through one of its partners. With over 100,000 meals already served to those in need and founded by three business school graduates Andrew Hall, Jeremy Bryant and Derek Juno, Mealshare aims to make positive community impact easy, tangible and quantifiable for restaurant-goers. In preparation for their upcoming October 16 launch date in Toronto, we chatted with Andrew Hall to discuss Mealshare’s ethos, origins and plans for the future.
With over 8-million people in Canada dining out every day, Hall sees food as an important topic and opportunity at the core of Mealshare’s ethos. “Food is an absolutely crucial and essential resource. In terms of life, it’s second only to water. Without food, people don’t have the energy or drive to improve their life for the better. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of ‘wasted potential’ among people like us who are fortunate to have access to food consistently. Simultaneously, there are people who simply cannot better their lives because they can’t even afford a meal. We want to build a bridge these two groups, and allow everybody to help out those in need through Mealshare. As a consumer you simply buy a meal with the Mealshare logo at one of our partner restaurants, and we’ll facilitate the process which effectively allows you to ‘buy a meal, give a meal.'” Hall adds, “I know it’s ambitious, but in the long run we want to help facilitate a notable dent in hunger across Canada.”
The origins of Mealshare’s team and story are fuelled by the desire to provide value through positive community impact. Growing up as best friends in Calgary, Hall and Bryant always wanted to start a business together. “[Jeremy and I] went to different universities, and university is where I met Derek. After graduating, we fortunately landed jobs that would be considered ‘dream jobs’ for business students.” Hall pauses before continuing, “I worked as a consultant for a while and it was an amazing time. But it didn’t fulfil me. I was hungry for something where I could have a greater impact from a social and environmental standpoint.” Fortunately, the foundations behind Mealshare seemed to serendipitously click into place. “Originally Bryant and I wanted to open a restaurant,” says Hall. “But we soon realized that the Mealshare model would be easier to scale and have more impact among the communities we wanted to help.”
Mealshare carefully chooses its local and international partners in order to provide the most effective impact for the communities it helps. “I want to emphasize that all the charities and groups we partner with are not hand-out charities. They’re often local shelters and community centres that are feeding people and giving out meals first-hand. The best thing about food is that it can literally act as a gateway toward a better life. People may initially come to these community centres for the free food and then stay to utilize the various array of social services to help them get back on their feet and improve their lives,” says Hall. Though Mealshare is primarily focused on local impact, it has an eye on international impact as well. Hall clarifies, “We’re very thorough with our research regarding potential partners. Internationally, we partner with Save the Children as we align with their missions, values and efforts. When a customer buys a meal through Mealshare, the meals provided through our services are often first given to those in need locally. The surplus funds acquired through Mealshare are then channelled internationally through organizations like Save the Children.”
Although competition is inevitable, Hall and the Mealshare team are optimistic about Mealshare’s future. “We’re a non-profit. Realistically, there’s not a lot of money to be made for any of us and that’s something we’re well aware of. Competition isn’t a big deterrent because we simply love what we do and we do it well. Mealshare is the first to market, so we have an advantage in that sense. But to be honest, we’ll embrace competition because we’re confident in the effectiveness and quality of Mealshare as a service and as a strong recognizable brand, and that’s what makes the difference,” says Hall.
Regarding the future, Mealshare has a lot of exciting initiatives ahead on the horizon. Hall’s warm optimism and excitement radiates from his voice, “The next six months are going to be all about building critical mass and growing at a sustainable rate. We’re planning to launch in a couple new cities, with an October 16 launch date in Toronto. It’s incredibly exciting because Toronto is such a huge opportunity and a city with a wonderful culture and food traditions. We’re also looking at eventually expanding our team. In the long run, we want to be the standard across the country and open people’s eyes to the idea that through Mealshare there really is a simple and effective way to give back, combat hunger, and help change people’s lives for the better.”
Image courtesy of Mealshare.
JJ Wong is a contributor to Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.