Taylor Quinn: Combating Poverty with Nutritious, Culturally Relevant Food
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hi everyone! I’m Spiffy, your favorite interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference on UN SDG 2: Zero Hunger. Today I’m going to learn about malnutrition and how Tailored Food is working to make hunger a thing of the past. Join me as I welcome Taylor Quinn, founder and CEO of Tailored Food. Are you ready to be enlightened?
Spiffy: Well Taylor, I’m eager to hear what Tailored Food is all about. Can you tell me what challenges you are addressing?
Taylor: I’d love to, Spiffy! Let me start with a story. On March 23, 2016, I was sitting in a pediatrician’s office in Monrovia, Liberia, my new home. The pediatrician explained to me that despite medical nutrition interventions, kids were dying of starvation because nutritious delicious low-cost food was simply not available in local markets. Thousands of dollars worth of nutritious food was donated to his hospital, but it was not solving the problem of malnutrition, it was perpetuating it.
Spiffy: That is very surprising! What did you do with that information? And what motivated you to launch Tailored Food?
Taylor: The current way the world tackles malnutrition is not okay. I have been obsessed with providing nutritious low-cost food that is accessible to families living in extreme poverty. This work is especially urgent today because the rise of processed food in developing countries is creating a new reality—obesity and diabetes alongside chronic malnutrition—a double burden of malnutrition. The international development community collectively believes there is no business model for selling nutritious food to the poor. I have seen it work, though, and at the same time, I have so many close friends who have suffered the ravaging effects of malnutrition on their bodies and minds. For me, my work with Tailored Food is not a "career" or a "job" but a deep passion.
Spiffy: I can understand why you had to do something about it! Can you tell me what steps your company is taking to make the world more equitable?
Taylor: Tailored Food is on a mission to build sustainable food systems that provide nutritious, delicious, culturally relevant food products at a price that families in extreme poverty can afford. In Liberia, this looks like a line of flavored cassava-based porridge fortified with a complete vitamin profile. In Congo, it looks like a line of flavored cassava-based snack “bars” fortified, flavored, and packaged in banana leaves instead of plastic. Ingredients are sourced from smallholder farmers, manufacturing equipment from local machine shops, and everything is operated by locally owned businesses, employing mostly women. We have sold food in Liberia for three and a half years, and in Congo for close to a year. We are soon to be launched in three new countries.
Spiffy: That’s exciting! Are there any other milestones you’ve reached and the kind of impact it’s had?
Taylor: The model I’ve built in Liberia has sold over 500,000 meals to families living in extreme poverty. We have consistently sourced from 90 smallholder women farmers, and employed seven women at our processing facility, with 25 female market sales agents working on a part-time basis. The Gates Foundation funded a research study, the full results of which I would be happy to share. Power Gari—the cassava-based flavored porridge I developed—sells at $0.06 USD per meal. 86% of existing customers want to buy more in the future, and 82% of households purchasing the items are feeding the product to their children.
Spiffy: What about a time when you faced failure and didn't give up? What did you learn from failure?
Taylor: When I first started building this model in Liberia, I faced failure at every turn. With the first three businesses I tried to work with, it took over a year of working on a partnership before their corrupt practices became obvious and I had to walk away. The Liberian government tried to force me into paying bribes, but I refused, which delayed my business registration for two years. At every corner of this journey, there have been intense failures, but we push on, motivated by the impact that this work can have.
Spiffy: I am hopeful that the impact is only going to grow, Taylor. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your work to combat hunger and malnutrition. It’s been an honor!
Taylor Quinn, founder and CEO of Tailored Food, is a social entrepreneur dedicated to designing and implementing nutritious low-cost food systems. In Liberia, he has built a business that produces nutritious low-cost flavored cassava-based porridges. He’s scaled to 10 countries, ranging from Brazil to Congo, and has developed a global program for the UN World Food Programme. (Nominated by One Young World. First published on the Ladderworks website on July 26, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.
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