Women in Wellness: “Make family dinner time sacred” With Kristin Groos Richmond & Kirsten Saenz Tobey of Revolution Foods
…We are on a mission to create lifelong healthy eaters by making kid-inspired, chef-crafted food accessible to all. We believe everyone deserves access to real, high-quality food made with carefully considered ingredients, and we are committed to transforming citywide wellness by making healthy food accessible to all. We believe proper nutrition and healthy food can drive positive academic outcomes and can be the ultimate tool of empowerment and a key ingredient to helping children achieve their true potential. Our experience shows us — and recent studies also support — that nutritious foods create improved health and academic outcomes.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristin Groos Richmond, co-founder and CEO of Revolution Foods, and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, co-founder and chief impact officer of Revolution Foods. A true champion of healthy family nutrition and citywide wellness, Kristin Groos Richmond currently serves as Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Revolution Foods, the company she co-founded in 2006 with a mission to transform the way students in the U.S. are fed by serving healthy, delicious and affordable meals in many of our nation’s most at risk communities. Her efforts to tackle the growing obesity trend and expand access to healthy food beyond the lunch line have helped uplift families and whole communities nationwide. With a mission to improve family nutrition and citywide wellness, Kirsten Saenz Tobey co-founded Revolution Foods in 2006 with Kristin Richmond and has since aimed to transform the way students in the U.S. are fed. Revolution Foods’ mission and nutrition strategy and drive the vision for the company. Their company has now designed, produced and delivered over 360 million kid-inspired, chef-crafted meals to school and community sites, including childhood education centers, districts, charter schools, and community and afterschool youth programs, across over 400 cities and towns.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
Kristin — 1) Plan and respect vacation time with your family and loved ones. Use this time to recharge and truly leave behind all your day to day to-do’s. Turn off the electronics and just connect with the people you love and explore new places. 2) Daily meditation and exercise first thing in the morning (meet a friend if you can as this makes it more fun!). 3) Make family dinner time sacred when you’re not traveling. Pay full attention to your loved ones.
Kirsten — 1) Commit to an exercise/workout routine that you can keep up. For me this means scheduling a weekly long run with a friend and going to a scheduled exercise class once per week. Both of these have built-in accountability so I am sure to show up. 2) always wear comfortable shoes — this way, you will be more inclined to walk more, take the stairs rather than the elevator, and keep up your activity level.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Kristin & Kirsten — In the early stages of Revolution Foods, we had a few interesting taste-tests that we still chuckle about to this day. Before it was trendy to eat wraps, we presented children with a Cold Turkey Wrap as a fun alternative to serving school sandwiches. To say the kids were not excited about eating a “cold tortilla” is an understatement, but this incident is exactly why we work directly with the schools and the children to determine what foods they will be excited about and how we can develop culturally respectful meals so that we can live our “kid-inspired, chef-crafted” goal.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Kristin & Kirsten — Failure is part of leading a business and the learning, reflection and response that accompanies leading through failure is perhaps a leader’s greatest opportunity for success. For example, at Revolution Foods, one of the biggest challenges we’ve experienced was our expansion into a major market in the early years of the company. When we were in the process of planning the expansion, we had different scenarios in place for what we would do if we were unsuccessful in securing an adequate number of contracts. We put so much thought into planning for our shortfall scenario that we failed to discuss what would happen if the launch was actually larger than planned, which ultimately it was. We ended up having to temporarily relocate our families across the country to build the program (newborns in tow), secure a new facility and hire a large enough team because we won so many contracts right off the bat. What we took away from it was you can’t forget to plan for every scenario — both positive and negative.
When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Kristin & Kirsten — At Revolution Foods, we are on a mission to create lifelong healthy eaters by making kid-inspired, chef-crafted food accessible to all. We believe everyone deserves access to real, high-quality food made with carefully considered ingredients, and we are committed to transforming citywide wellness by making healthy food accessible to all. We believe proper nutrition and healthy food can drive positive academic outcomes and can be the ultimate tool of empowerment and a key ingredient to helping children achieve their true potential. Our experience shows us — and recent studies also support — that nutritious foods create improved health and academic outcomes. According to a recent paper published by UC Berkeley, students at schools that contract with a healthier school-lunch vendor perform better on tests. Furthermore, a recent impact assessment conducted by KKS Advisors on behalf of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation found schools that serve Revolution Foods saw an improvement of 13.1% in English Language Arts (ELA) test results. As such, we proudly design, produce and deliver 2 million meals per week to 2,500 sites nationwide, including early childhood education centers, districts, charter schools and community and afterschool youth programs. Our meals are created by chefs and designed with kids to ensure they are culturally and regionally relevant to deliver great-tasting options that broaden kids’ palates. Each meal is made from high-quality, carefully selected ingredients that are free of artificial flavors and colors and exceed nutrition guidelines. We are the only company on a national level to offer a clean label supply chain — this includes fresh local produce, high quality proteins, rBST-free dairy products, and no high fructose corn syrup ever.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Kristin — When we were raising our first round of investment, I was 8 months pregnant. Our first investors invested in us despite this, and a (female) investment partner even noted that between starting a company and having a baby, I wouldn’t be sleeping much anyway, so I might as well do both at once. That encouragement helped motivate me through some of those challenging early days. My husband Steve has also always been a steady supporter through every stage of company (and family) building.
Kirsten — When we were in business school, we had a professor in our Social Entrepreneurship class who encouraged us to not just write a business plan, but to actually go out into the real world and run a pilot program. Running a pilot program was one of the best things we did, as it enabled us to connect with school leaders, students, and investors in a much deeper way from the start. I also couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my amazing husband and partner, Ben.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Kristin — Mobilize students to be agents of change in their food environment — ensure that every child has the voice to demand access to high quality healthy meals at their school and access to a healthy food environment (stores, corner stores, fast food).
Kirsten — The first few years of a child’s life are so important in setting that child’s tastes and preferences for food in the longer term. I’d start a movement that empowers new parents to develop their kids’ eating habits from the time they start eating solid food.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
Kristin & Kirsten —
- Building a great company is a marathon, not a sprint
- Making time for self-care is good for the business too
- It takes a village to raise children while building a company — make sure your village is strong
Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide! )
Kristin — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for her ability to lead with intelligence, skills and persistence.
Kirsten — Michelle Obama, hands down.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Kristin & Kirsten — Revolution Foods is the only school meal provider to utilize a clean-label supply chain on a national level. We source over 95,000 pounds of vegetables and 1.2 million servings of fruit per week. We remain committed to partnering with local growers and producers to create a sustainable and local supply chain, while ensuring we create products in sustainable packaging that is recyclable to minimize waste in school cafeterias. We are also working with many schools to develop the capabilities to serve our meals in family-style service to minimize the amount of packaging required to serve the meals. By the nature of what we do as a business, we are constantly improving upon our mission to positively impact citywide wellness with every meal and every student we serve. Since 2011, we have been honored with B Corporation certification, a third-party recognition which further validates our mission and sustainability commitment, and we continuously meet its rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. Looking ahead, we are focused on building a clean label supply chain on a national scale that provides more transparency in the sourcing of clean ingredients in K12 and youth programs to minimize health and environmental impact in the long run.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights!