Interested in starting your own journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Taylor Quinn, Founder and CEO of Tailored Food, located in Bend, OR, USA.
What's your organization, and who are your members?
Tailored 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 and mineral profile. In Congo, it looks like a line of flavored cassava-based snack “bars” fortified and flavored and packaged in locally harvested 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. The business has sold food for 3.5 years in Liberia and 1 year in Congo.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded a research study measuring the impact of this model in Liberia, with a research study published that showed that 77% of consumers living in extreme poverty viewed the product we developed as ‘extremely affordable,’ with the other 23% viewing the product as ‘affordable.’ To be clear, Tailored is not a food product company. Tailored is a lean consulting company built to empower entrepreneurs in the countries with the most broken food systems with the supply chains, products, and knowledge to run sustainable food companies whose collective mission is to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030 through nutritious, delicious, food products that families can find and purchase in their local markets.
Tell us about yourself
I have been obsessed with the issue of nutritious, delicious, low-cost food for the last 6 years. This work is not a job for me but a passion that motivates me to push hard each and every day to try my best to create a positive impact on food systems in the countries hardest hit by malnutrition. Tailored Food has been a single-person operation since I founded it, where I do all tasks required to run a non-profit that operates in multiple countries, from advocacy and public speaking to entrepreneur and smallholder farmer training to tasting local products in rural markets in countries like Liberia and Madagascar.
What's your biggest accomplishment as an organization?
In all of my years of working on food systems, change, collaboration, and learning have always been at the core of what I do. In Somalia earlier this year, I spent three weeks sitting with groups of former entrepreneurs in refugee camps across Somalia and Somaliland who have been displaced by war and climate change, soaking up perspectives on what it would take to build a Somali food system that works for all families, regardless of income levels. I then took these learnings to a potential collaborator, the UN World Food Programme, advocating at different levels of the Country Office and East Africa Regional Office to invest in food system-focused interventions in Somalia. Once I got this approved, I then built a coalition of UN, government, Somali private sector, and civil society partners to create the coalition needed to execute the project.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being an organization?
A food system based on dignity is so incredibly hard to achieve. This audacious goal is what I set out to achieve in Liberia in 2016, mid-way through Ebola, with an already fragile post-conflict economy. When I arrived in Liberia at the end of 2015 without a clear mandate, I relied on my academic background as a food anthropologist to sit in humility for months. I went into meetings with no agenda except to learn and wandered markets with a blank slate of curiosity. I spent five months like this. And then, all at once, the previously disconnected pieces of learning came together. Nutritious, delicious, low-cost food? I had learned it was not supposed to be possible. That the business model did not work. My newfound friends living in extreme poverty, they deserved nutritious food at a price point they could afford. So from that day on, I led with audaciousness while working alongside, and not above, people living in poverty. Holding humility each and every day, continuing to be open to my approach to food systems change evolving over time, while not being afraid to be audacious enough to try and create a food system that better works for all families, everywhere.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow an organization today?
- Start with a problem, and understand that problem deeply before turning your attention to solutions.
- Surround yourself with people who have done it before.
- Growth can be done intentionally. Grow at the pace that works best for your business or organization.
Where can people find you and your group?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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