ACUMEN & EVERYTABLE: Bringing Good Health into Reach

The impact investing industry is full of success stories: stories about impact investors thinking differently about the power of their capital, stories about entrepreneurs with exciting new ideas, and stories about the end consumers who benefit from fresh solutions. But here, for the first time, the GIIN is weaving together all three of those perspectives. In the story below, we invite you to get to know Ernie, a health-conscious consumer living in a “food desert;” Sam, a visionary social entrepreneur; and Jacqueline, a determined impact investor.

Certain video clips provided courtesy of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and the producers of the Public Policy Case Collection: Impact Investing Case Study Series.

A Health-Conscious Consumer

Ernie Gutierrez of Compton, California

Nearly every day, Ernie Gutierrez’s commute and errands take him right through the center of Compton, California, a working-class community just south of downtown Los Angeles.

Gutierrez immigrated to southern California from Nicaragua as a ten-year-old boy and has lived in Compton most of his adult life. Over the years, his daily trips through the city center have left him all too familiar with the types of restaurants and food stores that typically open there: shops that, he says, tend to focus more on fast food and packaged goods than on good health.

He sees few options for wholesome groceries.

“There are some places where there are not enough stores or anything. And in some areas, there are stores, but the food that they provide – it’s just a lot of processed food,” says Gutierrez. “And all the fast food that you can think of! That’s what’s around here.”

Indeed, large pockets of Compton sit in so-called “food deserts.”[i] That means residents of the city – where more than one in five live below the poverty line[ii] – have limited access to affordable, good-quality fresh food. That void has a deep ripple effect of negative consequences on community health.

So, it is no surprise that Gutierrez took note when a restaurant opened with a radically different menu and approach. The new restaurant was called Everytable.

 

 

Gutierrez says he was immediately taken by Everytable’s offering of healthy food options sold at a price that is affordable for the surrounding community.

Over time, he has become one of the Compton store’s most loyal customers. He visits at least once a week and often picks up four or five meals per visit – effectively using Everytable as the healthy grocery store his neighborhood does not have.

He says the impacts on his health have been noticeable.

 

 

Gutierrez recognizes that those health benefits are also be compounding for others in the Compton community – a community where limited healthy food access and poverty intersect in troubling ways. Compared to the rest of Los Angeles County, data show that the greater Compton region has a 16% higher rate of obesity, along with high rates of diabetes and hypertension.[i]

“There are so many people with so many problems that derive from bad diets,” says Gutierrez.

In this way, Gutierrez is convinced that Everytable is part of “a solution” to Compton’s food desert problem and the serious health consequences associated with it.

“It’s actually perfect,” he says. “It addresses that issue.”

And he’s clearly not the only one who believes that. Since 2013, Everytable has opened nine locations across the greater Los Angeles area. And now, the company is eyeing a far larger expansion.

The healthy food chain has grown, in part, thanks to “impact investments.” Impact investments help generate big social or environmental benefits – like increasing community health, fighting climate change, and reducing inequality – alongside a financial return for the investors.

The recipient of that impact investment? A California entrepreneur with that fresh vision for affordable, high-quality food and healthy communities.

A Visionary Entrepreneur

Sam Polk, CEO of Everytable

Everytable CEO Sam Polk originally planned a career in traditional finance. After growing up in Los Angeles, he took his first post-college job on Wall Street – where, he says, he quickly realized he was on a path that focused on little more than “maximizing my own wealth.”

Dissatisfied with that future, Polk made a big change.

He moved back to his hometown and refocused his efforts toward purpose-driven work. He set out to address the vastly unequal access to wholesome food that creates troubling health consequences across Southern California’s lower-income communities.

 

At first, Polk launched a non-profit organization focused on teaching healthy cooking skills to families living in food deserts. But he quickly became convinced that his non-profit could not scale sufficiently to produce the big, broad impacts he was seeking.

So, Polk shifted his approach in a big way.

He handed over the reins to his non-profit, FEAST, and developed a for-profit business model. The new approach placed his underlying goals of community health and healthy food access on equal footing with a need to generate the financial profit that would allow him to expand.

To meet that dual mandate, Polk had to be nimble and adaptive in his thinking. He turned the standard restaurant industry business model on its head and centralized all cooking into a common location to save costs. His restaurants have no kitchen – just a display case for the fresh, healthy food.

And the price point? Just as inexpensive as the fast-food options nearby, and with a “sliding scale” of menu pricing based on the community’s income level.

 

Over the next few years, Polk’s concept gained traction. Based on consumer demand, Everytable opened several new locations each year – bringing the current total to nine.

Polk says his food chain has “a clear line of sight to serious profitability even in underserved markets.” Nowadays, he says Everytable is fielding interest from new, more traditional investors who see the potential to rapidly scale the chain and generate substantial financial returns.

 

Eventually, Polk believes Everytable will become a nationwide business.

For the impact investor who saw Everytable’s early potential, that exciting future highlights a tremendous success for impact investing.

 

A Determined Impact Investor

Jacqueline Novogratz, Founder and CEO of Acumen

Acumen, a nonprofit global venture fund, invested in Everytable as part of its Acumen America portfolio in the United States in 2017. Like Polk, Acumen’s founder originally launched her career on Wall Street. And like Polk, Jacqueline Novogratz was not satisfied.

So, in 1986, Novogratz quit her job and headed to West Africa to learn more about microfinance. In the years that followed, she worked at the highest levels of global philanthropy. But her deep knowledge about the power and efficiency of markets nagged at her, even as she worked in the non-profit sector.

Novogratz longed to tackle problems of global poverty in a broader and more robust way.


Novogratz founded Acumen in 2001 to bridge the gap between the efficiency and scale of market-based approaches and the social impact of pure philanthropy
. Acumen is a member of the Global Impact Investing Network’s Investors’ Council – the industry’s leading forum for experienced impact investors to strengthen the field and their practice.

Acumen invests “patient capital” – that is, philanthropically-backed investment capital—in early-stage social enterprises. Since its founding, it has invested $135 million to build more than 136 social enterprises across Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and the United States.[i]

Everytable is one of Acumen America's investees.

Like Everytable, many of Acumen’s investee companies have scaled their early impact investment into much broader social and environmental benefit. Collectively, they have leveraged an additional $746 million and brought basic services like affordable education, health care, clean water, energy and sanitation to more than 308 million people.

Novogratz sees Acumen America’s Everytable investment as representing the very best of impact investing: a market-based investment that addresses a deep social need while opening the door to growth and scale that philanthropy alone could never achieve.

For her, it is proof that Acumen’s vision of a world where everyone has “the opportunity to build a life of dignity” can truly become reality.

 

[i] https://www.comptonchamberofcommerce.org/greater-compton-region-food-desert 

[ii] https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/comptoncitycalifornia/PST040219 

[iii] https://www.comptonchamberofcommerce.org/compton-nutrition-demographics 

[v] https://acumen.org/approach/

 

Explore other impact investing success stories here and here

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