Snack Bars & The Two-State Solution
By Rob Reuteman
Daniel Lubetzky thought enough of his company’s motto—“It’s usually the nuts that change the world”—to have it trademarked last fall.
Sure, the company’s fruit-and-nut-based organic food bars are packed with whole pecans, macadamias, pistachios or Brazil nuts. They’re also packed onto shelves in more than 35,000 stores around the country.
And sure, he talks about his KIND Healthy Snacks products with the messianic zeal of a “food nut” bent on changing the way the world eats. But the “change the world” tag takes on new meaning once you hear Lubetzky say, “We donate 5 percent of all profits to empower the moderates in the Middle East who want a peaceful end to the war through a two-state solution.”
In 1994, at age 25, he founded PeaceWorks, a Boston-based business that manufactures Mediterranean foods using both Israeli and Arab vendors. Lubetzky’s still chairman of the board for PeaceWorks, but he left active management of the company in 2003 to start up KIND Healthy Snacks in New York City.
He calls the firms he’s founded “not-only-for-profit” companies and describes his approach this way: “We pursue profit through our sales of healthful food products that are produced by neighbors on opposing sides of political or armed conflicts, whose cooperative business ventures we facilitate…Mutually beneficial economic initiatives can create good relations between rivaling peoples in the same way that business partners anywhere profit from cooperation in today’s marketplace.”
The profits of both companies benefit his PeaceWorks Foundation, which also funds OneVoice, a newer foundation that “strives to amplify the voice of moderate citizens in the Middle East,” Lubetzky explains.
The success of KIND is enviable. The best point of purchase for any US food retailer arguably would be directly in front of the cash register at a Starbucks, and that’s where you’ll find KIND snack bars these days. Whole Foods also sells them, as does Trader Joe’s, Kroger and Safeway.
Sales have grown between 60 percent and 100 percent annually since 2006, reportedly surpassing $30 million last year. And the accolades have been rolling in:
In October 2008, KIND’s Mango Macadamia was named “Best New Product” at the prestigious Natural Products Expo in Boston.
In January 2009, they were mentioned on The Today Show, recommended by the New York Giants team nutritionist in a segment about energy-boosting foods.
In its January 2011 issue, Entrepreneur Magazine named Lubetzky 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year, saying he captured customers—and votes—with his “scrumptious snack bars and his mission to inspire random acts of kindness among strangers.”
Not bad for the 42-year-old son of Roman Lubetzky, a Holocaust survivor, born and raised in Mexico City. “As a minority in Mexico City, I was very influenced by my father’s stories of the Holocaust,” Lubetzky says. “I am motivated by the same fear that grips all Jewish people—that it could happen again. I founded PeaceWorks both to obviate that fear and do good business. I want to do whatever I can to help prevent what happened to my dad from happening again. He was 9 years old and living in Lithuania when the war started. He was sent to a ghetto and then to the Dachau concentration camp. At almost 16, he was liberated and went to live with his uncles in Mexico, where he was reunited with his father, mother and brother, who also survived. Eventually my dad started a jewelry store. It grew and grew, and he partnered with four other Holocaust survivors to create a duty-free business.”
When Daniel was 16, his father moved the family to San Antonio, which became the new headquarters for the jewelry business. Daniel went to Trinity University in San Antonio, where he wrote a 268-page senior thesis on economic cooperation as a means for fostering peaceful relations. After graduating from Stanford Law School, he visited Israel on a fellowship to research the potential for Israeli-Arab cooperation. It was there that Lubetzky hatched the idea for PeaceWorks.
While traveling through Israel, Lubetzky had developed a taste for a certain sun-dried tomato spread. He found out that the company was going out of business, so he decided to start his own, in part to test the “Theory of Economic Cooperation” he wrote about in his thesis. The Israeli owner had been getting jars from Portugal and tomatoes from Italy. Lubetzky decided to get his jars from Egypt and tomatoes from Turkey and Palestine. In doing so, he brought together people who would not typically co-exist peacefully, much less do business together.
Seventeen years later, the tapenades and spreads are sold in thousands of stores across the United States, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, under the labels Moshe & Ali’s and Meditalia. Both are joint PeaceWorks ventures between Israelis and Palestinians. “We are using market forces to achieve the goal of peace and coexistence,” Lubetzky says. “Changing their economic situation changes people’s lives. And in changing people’s economic lives, they are changing their political lives.” But he hastens to add, “We don’t do anything that is not good business. We are striving to make the place a better world through best business practices and by being socially, politically and economically responsible corporate citizens.”
In his travels for PeaceWorks, Lubetzky found himself increasingly turned off by the unhealthy or unappetizing snack choices available to people on the move, says Elle Stassen, spokesperson for KIND. At the same time, he was concerned with the rising obesity and diabetes epidemics in America, she said.
“I was frustrated with the food choices on the road,” says Lubetzky. “I was always eating things that were either healthy and tasted like cardboard, or were tasty and too indulgent. That’s how we came up with KIND. It was months and months of work. I knew we got it right when I couldn’t stop eating it. “
KIND began as an offshoot of PeaceWorks that blossomed into its own distinct company in 2003, having built a momentum and personality of its own, Stassen says. Its founding coincided with a general trend toward healthier eating, which resulted in American consumers turning away from fattening snacks and opting instead for healthier products, according to “Snack Food Trends in the US,” a report by Packaged Facts, a consumer marketing researcher. By 2005, growth in the nation’s $61 billion snack food market, which mostly consisted of cookies, crackers and chips, began to slow. Food bars and nut snacks have seen healthy gains, in which greater emphasis has been placed on heightened natural and nutritional tags such as “no trans fats” and “nothing artificial,” states Packaged Facts. Companies like KIND produce no-sugar-added organic snack bars with a nutrient base of raw fruits, nuts and seeds. Many provide fiber, protein and all-natural fats, leaving trans-fats out of the picture entirely.
“KIND bars are very hard to manufacture,” Lubetzky says. “Unlike our competitors, who smash all their ingredients into a uniform paste, we use whole nuts and dried fruit. Nuts vary in size, so each bar has a different weight. We end up having to give away more product than we list on the label, because we can’t get each bar to be a perfect 40 grams. We have a lot of discussions about those issues. Recently, we considered removing the Brazil nuts, because they’re so big, but we didn’t want to compromise the quality.”
Each of the 19 flavors is packaged partly in clear cellophane, so you can see the ingredients. The bars are made at plants in Australia and Pennsylvania, no longer using ingredients, suppliers or vendors from warring camps. But the growth of KIND corresponded with the founding of Lubetzky’s OneVoice Movement, a nonprofit group that promotes moderate political views in the Middle East, funded through PeaceWorks.
PeaceWorks, OneVoice Movement and KIND Healthy Snacks are closely intertwined. Says Stassen, “They are different avenues for working toward an overarching goal of breaking down barriers between humans and using the forces of the market to try and make this world a better place.”
Each day at his offices in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Lubetzky meets first with his KIND managers. “After I check in with the Kind team, I typically meet with OneVoice, which is based in the same office as Kind,” he explains. “There are 10 people working for OneVoice in the office. Most Israelis and Palestinians don’t realize that there are moderate majorities on each side. The goal of OneVoice is to get them together. We build chapters on college campuses, organize town hall meetings, moderate debates and train about 4,000 youth leaders in public speaking and community organizing. I travel from time to time to help with fundraising.”
OneVoice is becoming known in the Middle East and the US for its quirky, provocative marketing campaigns. A OneVoice music video aired repeatedly in Times Square last year, featuring a comic song parody that made light of Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.
“We have a campaign called Imagine 2018 that asks Israelis and Palestinians to visualize what 2018 would look like if we were to establish a two-state solution to the conflict right now,” Lubetzky says. “We asked kids in schools to write essays about what that future might look like.”
Last month, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, Haaretz, ran a lengthy feature on OneVoice. “Late last year, Defense Minister Ehud Barak found an unusual message posted on his Facebook profile,” the news story began. “It was sent to him by from an individual calling himself Future Ehud Barak and signed ‘you from the future.’ Barak was told in the message that he would soon receive a package containing very important content: ‘If you use it wisely… we can do amazing things together.’
“Waiting for him the next day, on the doorstep of his office at the Knesset, was a copy of a newspaper called Israel Tomorrow, dated January 1, 2018. Beside a large photograph of the defense minister, a headline: Thank you, Barak. The State of Israel thanks Ehud Barak for his help in solving the conflict.”
Hundreds of Israeli officials and lawmakers were contacted by their “future selves” in similar fashion, provoking widespread wonderment, bemusement and consideration. Tal Harris, executive director of OneVoice Israel, says that the purpose of the campaign was two-fold.“The goal on the one hand is to acknowledge and thank those who are really working toward a two-state solution and tackling the issue with varying levels of bravery, both in the Knesset and in the Public sphere,” he says. “On the other hand, we wanted to remind extreme conservatives…that these could be them. They could one day get a prize for helping Israel achieve peace, if they only stood for what they know Israel needs.”
With offices in New York, London, Tel Aviv and Ramallah, OneVoice aims to see Israel and Palestine living independently side-by-side. “The two-state solution as a settlement for the Israeli Palestinian conflict is almost a consensus these days,” says OneVoice Israel coordinator Daniella Shlomo. “We received a lot of positive feedback from this phase of the campaign…The idea behind this teasing phase was to instill the sense of thinking ahead, to the future, into the minds of trendsetters.”
All this from sales of a fruit-and-nut bar.
Lubetzky lives quietly in New York with his wife Michelle, a nephrologist, and their two-year-old son, Roman, named after his father who passed away in 2003. He readily admits, “For me, work is both a hobby and a passion—and sometimes an obsession.”
On the business side of things, Lubetzky is getting restless, starting to think beyond KIND bars. “This company is going to be a platform for all sorts of healthy living solutions,” he says, mentioning a line of cereals, trail mixes and diabetic-friendly snacks.
On the philanthropic side, one can barely imagine what ideas he’ll develop by 2018.
A Model Approach: Daniel Lubetzky’s Theory of Economic Cooperation Mutually beneficial economic initiatives can create good relations between rivaling peoples in the same way that business partners anywhere profit from cooperation in today’s marketplace. In this manner, cooperative business ventures that capitalize on the strength of each partner can enable the conditions necessary to achieve long-lasting cultural understanding and eventually even bring prosperity to regions of conflict around the world. PeaceWorks acts at the catalyst for profitable economic interdependence. The “Cooperation Ecosystem” illustrates both levels at which the model works and the resulting impacts. Commercial Cooperation: Businesses profiting from joint ventures gain a vested interest in maintaining and cementing these valuable relationships. Regional Participation: Peoples and countries prospering through these cooperative activities gain a stake in the system, furthering stability. Human Interaction: People working together under conditions of equality learn to shatter cultural stereotypes and humanize their former enemy. And this all results in: Job Creation and Export-led Growth: PeaceWorks connects local producers with manufacturers and buys the food products they create for export. The increased demand thus created results in new jobs, which stimulates local economies and contributes to a rise in the standard of living for their region. Employment & Technology: Increasing output through exports generates economies of scale and reduces costs, making ventures in regions of conflict more competitive. Export initiatives with overseas partners also benefit from enhanced professionalism, technology transfers and subsequent technical know-how. Peace Building: As groups learn to work together, cultural stereotypes are shattered and the former enemy is demystified and humanized. Source: www.peaceworks.com