La Cocina VA is driving a remarkable new model to support communities

Here’s why it matters for companies like Nestlé

It’s hard to imagine a more ideal community partner for Nestlé than La Cocina VA, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit that provides culinary arts training to people who are unemployed. By providing skills training and job placement services, La Cocina VA is creating living wage opportunities for the unemployed in our community. And the meals students make as part of the training are donated to families in need — more than 21,000 people already have benefited.

La Cocina VA shares our commitment to developing talent and creating shared value. That’s why I’m so thrilled that our new Nestlé USA headquarters is launching a partnership with this incredible organization.

Our support will help La Cocina VA enhance its culinary training program, feed more people, and move the group out of the church basement where it now operates and into a new state-of-the-art facility. The move will triple the organization’s capacity and the number of people it trains.

Food is a major part of the workforce of the future.

La Cocina VA is providing students the skills they need to succeed in a huge and important sector of the economy: food. Food and beverage companies like ours collectively employ 1.46 million people in the U.S., with another nearly 15 million restaurant jobs (and 1.6 million more coming by 2027). La Cocina VA taps into this opportunity with training that spans culinary skills, professional development, English instruction and financial literacy.

The incredible, complex food world around us is changing fast, and the range of career paths in food is as varied as the employees themselves. New areas of work are arriving regularly, from advanced analytics to blockchain traceability. In the U.S., food companies spend $5.4 billion annually on research (with venture capital firms investing another $3 billion to fund innovations in food market and processing technologies). It’s an incredible time to be an innovator in the food world, whether you’re in our Nestlé Culinarium kitchens or just getting started in your own.

La Cocina VA doesn’t just train students to succeed in a growing sector, but also helps them find jobs. The organization has a 85% job placement rate, and graduates’ average hourly rate is double Virginia’s minimum wage.

Laughing in the kitchen (with some pretty fabulous chef hats!)

Culinary talent needs amazing companies — and we need the skilled workforce just as much.

Programs like La Cocina VA can offer exceptional opportunities to their participants, but they’re also a critical contributor to having trained, professional, food-safety-certified culinary talent in our community. The places where we love to eat and come together — restaurants, grocery stores, hotels — are thrilled to connect with trained talent. This is why the placement and retention rates are so high. At 78% job retention after one year, La Cocina VA graduates double the standard restaurant industry retention rate of 39%.

When we launched the Nestlé Project Opportunity initiative, we knew its apprenticeships would arm participants with critical workplace skills and other complementary skills — such as resume preparation and interviewing skills — necessary to succeed. We also knew it would benefit communities by closing the gap for access to employment. But investing in training opportunities also benefits us as a company and as a broader food community — it’s how we create a talent pipeline to lead the way into the future. La Cocina VA is doing the same thing, and we’re excited to support their efforts.

Done right, food training can do even more than launch careers.

No matter the program, we believe in taking the approach of always looking for opportunities to create greater shared value in our home communities. La Cocina VA has done this in spades. In addition to its incredible impact in workforce development, the core work in food security has created an opportunity for an even greater impact in Arlington. The students in the Bilingual Culinary Training Program prepare 100–200 meals each day in their training, donating these balanced and home-cooked meals to local nonprofits to provide nutrition and food security to families in need while eliminating food waste.

Loved this visit learning the ins and outs of the training kitchen with La Cocina VA’s current students

Whether it’s making our products more nutritious or sourcing sustainable energy, we love these sorts of win-win-win approaches. As Paty Funegra, founder and CEO of La Cocina VA, has said, “this partnership is not a random encounter, but an alignment of vision and mission of Nestlé and La Cocina VA to use food to transform communities.”

As we move together toward the future of food, we’ll continue to explore new and innovative approaches, entertain fresh ideas, and discover the untapped potential. We’re proud to join with La Cocina VA to make this a reality in the Arlington community.

Learn more about La Cocina VA

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