Kristin Richmond: 14-Year Marathon to Prep Healthy School Meals

Kristin Richmond and Kirsten Tobey founded Revolution Foods in 2006. The two female entrepreneurs are on a mission to build lifelong healthy eaters, and Revolution Foods sets out to solve the problem of limited access to healthy meals for every child in America.
Revolution foods founder at school
Source: Revolution Foods
By | 8 min read

Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey founded Revolution Foods in 2006. The two business women and moms are on a mission to build lifelong healthy eaters, and Revolution Foods sets out to solve the problem of limited access to healthy meals for every child in America. The company’s innovative approach began with serving freshly prepared, healthy meals to students in schools nationwide, and the company has now designed, produced, and delivered over 360 million kid-inspired, chef-crafted meals to sites across 15 states, including childhood education centers, districts, charter schools, and community and afterschool youth programs.

The Story Behind Revolution Food: Start with An Idea to Turn School Meals Upside-Down

The two founders met in 2006 when they were MBA students at the University of California at Berkeley, and coincidentally in a marketing class both pitched ideas for businesses that would make healthy food accessible to children. A partnership was born.

But their target was difficult. Major foodservice providers and locally run operations have had the school-lunch market wrapped up for decades. And because federal-government payments largely dictate how much school districts will spend on meals; it has been difficult for more healthful – and more expensive – propositions to get traction in the difficult school environment. Even high politicization of the market — for example, by former First Lady Michelle Obama and her initiative to overhaul kids’ diets — has not made it much easier.

But along came Revolution Foods with an approach to focus firstly on San Francisco Bay Area schools and set up supply chains for them that would provide nutritious, cost-effective breakfasts, lunches and dinners that contain no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or high-fructose corn syrup, and that are largely prepared from local ingredients.

However, the founders refused to compromise on taste in the effort, with proven main meals that include spaghetti and meatballs, chicken pasta alfredo and jambalaya. Words spread, and soon Revolution also was supplying schools in Los Angeles, Colorado, New Orleans, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington, D.C. Along the way the company picked up nearly $100 million in private funding.

Reinventing to Make the Most Efficient Chain

Revolution staffs in training in the kitchen
Source: Revolution Foods

From the start, Revolution Foods’ focus was on serving clean food, a food-industry term for all-natural products having no artificial ingredients. Because clean ingredients were not as plentiful in the U.S. as they are today, they commanded a higher price than those with artificial ingredients. Nor were such products available from established school food suppliers. Revolution Foods had to grow its own supply chain.

“It’s like almost the first decade of the company was about getting that supply chain,” Richmond says. “Making sure we could get to all kids — because that is such a big part of our mission — means it has to be affordable. So, we spent a lot of time working on that supply chain to ensure both health and affordability.”

Complete the Product from Inside Out: It is Not Only Clean but Also Tasty

They also spent a lot of time making healthy food appealing. When Revolution Foods launched, the industry standard for school lunches “was a little bit of a race to the bottom with processed foods” Richmond says.

Revolution food website homepage
Courtesy: Revolution Foods

The assumption was “Oh, kids love junk food.” Yet when they approached the students and families, Richmond addressed “the response was quite different: ‘It was, we would love to have high-quality foods, but it has to taste good! It has to look good. It has to smell good’.”

For kids, looking, smelling, and tasting good means – at least, at first — that the food looks normal to them. So, Revolution Foods customizes its meals to appeal to the culturally diverse communities across the US.

“Whether it’s the Haitian community or the Latin community — it varies across the country,” she says, “we’re designing meals that are not only healthy but, equally as important, they’re delicious and they’re relevant for the communities we serve.”

Meals are cooked, assembled, chilled, and distributed from eight culinary centers around the US. Produce, milk and fruit primarily come from local sources, and clean label staple items are sourced from national suppliers.

“We are constantly substituting, innovating and updating that variety based on the desires of the students and communities we’re serving,” Richmond says. To her, the core in business is, first of all, try to bring best values for customers.

Covid-19 Challenge and How Revolution Foods Is Helping

Revolution foods staff collaborate with school staff on food coordination
Source: Revolution Foods

Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey had no idea that they were building a nationwide phenomenon when they founded Revolution Foods. As COVID hit and they saw their revenue decline, they made the choice to get into the fight. Richmond and Tobey used their food supply chain to get meals to the most vulnerable among us at nursing homes and homeless shelter

With so much on the line, Richmond said Revolution Foods” leaned in” to create flexible solutions for its meal programs and cultivate best-practices that schools can emulate as they prepare for the start of an academic year, whether that is online, in-person or a hybrid.

The first is offering flexible meals to best meet children’s and families’ needs. This might be individual meals, multi-day meal kit with directions for safely preparing fresh food, family-style options, or pantry boxes, she said.

The style of meal also should reflect the safety needs of staff and distribution solutions, including whether the meals will be passed out at school, dropped off at children’s homes or another option.

Richmond also suggests implementing mobile point-of-service systems or class rosters for accurate counting and claiming procedures if there are multiple meal puck-up sites at a school. The third option- a hybrid online and in-person learning – in many ways will be the most challenging for school nutrition professionals to navigate as they will need to create new in-person feeding strategies as well as determine meal pick-up procedures for days when students are off campus.

She recommends choosing between sending students home with meals for the next day at the end of a campus day or having parents pick them up. They also need to consider children’s home environment and whether they have access to a kitchen or if they are homeless and need options that can be consumed in non-traditional environments.

Richmond’s Guidelines for Young Entrepreneur Who Is Blazing New Trails

Kristin Richmond present growth rate across states nationwide
Source: Family Paths

As Richmond and Kirsten endured plenty of hardships to launch a “revolutionary” product, the two moms now are more than just experienced in doing business. They turned small ideas into business which not only makes billions but also create valuable impacts on our society. On a DoorNo.3’s interview, being asked for great advices that young entrepreneurs would need, Richmond said “It’s simply ‘Run a pilot’”. In her point of view, a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs spend a lot of time building a business plan. This can lead to analysis paralysis, the most important thing you can do is pilot your concept.

As she first piloted her concept in Oakland and got a real sense of what students actually thought of the food. Later, it came to Richmond, how do they transport it? How do they think about supply chain? What do investors care about? You have got to get out of your head early on and figure out a way to get some real market experience and feedback as quickly as you can. Drafting the concept and building the model is important but you are going to learn a great deal from piloting in the real world.

Also, remember that you are always fundraising. People often wait too long to get started, but it is better to have this in mind early and build connections. Say you miss out on an opportunity in round one with an investor – that does not mean you will not get the opportunity to come back and build that relationship. Do not give up! Make a great impression, keep people educated on your progress. They will end up becoming a partner or investor down the road which has happened to Richmond plenty times.

“4 Things I Wish Someone Told Me before I Started” – Kristen Richmond

“Being an entrepreneur is becoming comfortable with the state of consistent growth mindset and searching for continuous improvement. Each stage of growth and scale requires an adjustment to approach. It’s clearly exhilarating” – Richmond shared. However, learning while growing, the founder has always kept these values at core.

#1: Building a great company is a marathon, not a sprint

We could not have known when we first started that we would still be running and growing this company 14 years later. While it has been exhausting at times, we have learned that we need to maintain a sustainable pace to keep at it day after day.

#2: Making time for self-care is good for the business too

We make sure that vacations and exercise are built into our calendars so we can be our best selves each day at work.

#3: Make sure you are deeply passionate about the mission of your company

We would not be able to keep at it day after day if we did not feel the importance of our mission deep in our hearts and souls.

#4: Seek advice and consider it carefully

We are very fortunate to have a group of investors and advisers who have offered us all kinds of advice over the years. Getting advice and knowledge and experience from external experts has been key in helping us make some of the most important decisions for the company.

The Bottom Lines

Facing coronavirus’s impact, it is obviously a challenge but for Richmond and her Revolution Foods It was also an opportunity to further the company’s mission. Revolution Food has made it till this day, it is not only because of the hard work its founders put forward, but also of the meaningful revolution this business has brought to the society and how the firm delivers it. As long as an organization has a strong core value, and the people within it understand as well as live for the same mission than it is a legacy you just built!

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