CORE Foods, a Oakland based company, promotes an ancient understanding of the ideal human diet, but their sustainable business model is designed with the future in mind.
According to the company’s founder, Corey Rennell, their meal replacement bars are based on the nutritional principle that “fresh, raw, whole foods have been at the foundation of the human diet for 3 million years,” and “at the foundation of the chimpanzee diet for 10 million years before that.”
While their product may be based on natural history, their goals as an innovative sustainable business are cutting edge.
“This type of business model, this not-for-profit business model, is the future of human progress… This model can carry us to the next level as a species,” he said.
Building a sustainable, inclusive economy is a pressing issue in Oakland where the financial waves of San Francisco’s tech-tsunami continue to crash with increasing force on our shores. While the national economy is being rebuilt in the splitting image of its former glory, what with 2013’s soaring corporate profits and record low wage percentages, Oakland’s motivation to design a strong, local, inclusive economy is at an all time high.
Along with Numi Teas and Oaklandish, CORE Foods is a certified member of the B Corporation movement, which means that they voluntarily audit and report their business, community and environmental practices as a means of promoting social responsibility and consumer awareness. But it’s their not-for-profit business model that they see as a truly essential paradigm shift; as Corey put it: “when you have profit as an incentive in a food delivery system, you have an incentive to lower the quality of ingredients.” Ergo ” The more you succeed the less healthy you make people, and that is not a good model.”
Kai Itameri-Kinter, the company’s CBDO, said of the business model:
“It helps us clarify our decision-making and make sure we stay focused on our mission. When we say that we’re here to cultivate a healthier planet, that’s it – while we have to be financially sustainable, the mission will never get subsumed or slowly eroded by a profit motive… I think you’ll see this model grow and grow over the next 50 years.”
In practical terms this means that CORE’s 2013 profit of $150,000, left after covering wage, ingredient, and business expenses, is not paid out to the owners, but is instead reinvested into better food quality, employee care, and community stewardship. “We focus on totally different things in terms of our goals compared to other companies,” said Itamer-Kinter, “meals served and organic ingredients farmed, not dollars.”
Part and parcel with their humanitarian business model is their nutritional agenda. They use only organic ingredients, with a primary focus on the sustainability practices of their suppliers. Their product has no syrups, salts, oils, flours or additives, as most “energy” and snack foods do. And contrary to other meal replacement trends, such as Soylent – which offer to completely supplant your ordinary diet – CORE Foods earnestly promotes the importance of eating mostly fruits and vegetables.
As a business they’ve decided to remove the labels “Gluten-Free” and “Raw” from their packaging, because, as their website explains, “it’s important that people recognize that the only true “Raw” foods are fresh, whole fruits and vegetables.” and “that the use of the word ‘Raw’ on packaged foods is misleading regardless of the quality of the food inside.”
As an extension of this nutritional agenda, they are planning to open a restaurant in downtown Oakland. According to Mr. Rennell,
“We spend a lot of time telling people to eat mainly whole fruits and vegetables, but we don’t sell mainly whole fruits and vegetables, so there’s a disconnect…Our next phase is opening a fast-casual restaurant, that’s a really great area to impact people’s health.”
Corey often cites his reality-television experience of traveling the world to live with 12 subsistence -hunting tribes as an influence on his ideas about nutrition and community. But that episode of his life also suggests something about his personality, which comes out when he is talking about his company: enthusiasm and a self-confidence. Just as he wants to create the future with his not-for-profit business, he also wants his restaurant “to be the world’s most innovative healthy restaurant, right here in Oakland.” Clearly he’s not shy about promoting his big ideas, but that’s why they’ve become more than just ideas and are now a thriving business, one whose offices are in West Oakland, whose production facility is in East Oakland and whose restaurant will soon be in Downtown Oakland.