Ryan Devlin and a star-studded team set the foundation for This Bar Saves Lives. Here, sweetness, sustainability, and charity combine to help the world solve one of the world’s saddest and most treatable realities: malnutrition.
Nothing brings together people like food. Anim Steel of the Real Food Challenge believes it can be a vehicle for social change; Pediatrician Nadine Burke credits food with tying us to our community and our traditions; and American chef Rick Bayless knows that a healthy local agriculture can enhance and reflect a community’s vitality, growth, and solidarity.
Now imagine this sense of community not only in your own home or hometown, but stretching across the world. That’s what This Bar Saves Lives is about.
With the tagline “Buy a bar. Feed a child. We eat together.” the company is providing high-quality nutrition bars for customers state-side then using a one-to-one model to send life-saving aid in the form of Plumpy’Nut to malnourished children around the world. Since 2013, This Bar Saves Lives has donated over 781,000 packs of the peanut butter mixture to those in need.
Like TOMS, one of the bigger companies to popularize the one-to-one model with selling shoes and donating a pair to people in need, This Bar Saves Lives is a for-profit company that feeds its charitable donations of Plumpy’Nut into several different charities like Save the Children and Action Against Hunger for distribution.
“Food insecurity is one of the most treatable and one of the saddest realities in the world,” said Ryan Devlin, CEO and Co-founder. “This Bar Saves Lives started as a small initiative to help one clinic in Liberia, and has grown into a national brand that is helping children around the world.”
Chances are you’ve seen a lot of Ryan Devlin. Before founding the company and later taking on the role of CEO, he acted on a number of successful TV shows from “Veronica Mars” and “Brothers and Sisters” to “Jane the Virgin”.
His commitment to volunteerism started at a young age, and he has since worked as a camp counselor for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp—the Newman’s Own-funded summer camp for children and families facing serious illnesses—and has made several trips to impoverished parts of the world for a range of humanitarian reasons.
That’s actually how This Bar Saves Lives got started. Todd Grinnell—a friend of Devlin’s that you might also recognize from his time on “Desperate Housewives” and “Grace and Frankie”—approached Devlin with an opportunity to raise money to build a bridge and orphanage in Liberia. The pair was able to help fundraising efforts through their industry connections, and visited the construction sites to check on progress on the projects.Part of the trip included visits to refugee camps, where the situation was dire for many. Devlin and Grinnell saw the horrible effects of severe acute malnutrition firsthand, and left the country with a sense of purpose to do something to help.
“Paul Newman once said something along the lines of ‘Once you determine there’s an imbalance of luck in the world, you have to do what you can to fix it,’” Devlin shared.
Months later Grinnell received an email titled “Just a little idea to save the world” from Devlin. Both had watched a special on “60 Minutes” about Plumpy’Nut, the miracle peanut butter paste that treats severe acute malnutrition, and the wheels started spinning. What if they could help children around the world get the nutrients they need not only to survive but to thrive, and make a delicious bar for people to buy and fund the initiative?
Enter Ravi Patel (“Meet the Patels” and “Grandfathered”) and Kristen Bell (your kids know her as Anna from “Frozen”), and together you have the star-studded core team at This Bar Saves Lives. But this isn’t a charity where these are the just the pretty faces in the commercial.
Each one has been involved from the ground level, often putting aside acting to make sure the company has the support and the direction it needs. Bell is in charge of many of the biggest contracts from Target to Whole Foods, doing everything from making sales pitches to meeting with the companies to finalize the deals. Grinnell, Patel, and Devlin are all co-founders, and spread much of the brand’s work between the three of them. Recently, Devlin took over the role of CEO, and yet is still the host and producer on the MTV hit series “Are You the One?”, as well as the co-creator and executive producer on Idiotest on GSN.
“A while ago we took the company to Haiti so our employees could see where we send the food aid,” he said. “We met the nurses, doctors, the mothers, and the children our company was helping treat. You see that what we’re doing isn’t just a number on a website. This is what keeps me and the company going. The motivation to get up early and stay up late doing this job is written on the faces of the people we’ve helped.”
The company’s mission of providing food for the malnourished is an integral part of This Bar Saves Lives, but perhaps more important is the quality of the actual bar the company is selling to consumers.
“Everyone will buy my dressing once because my face is on it,” Paul Newman once said. “They’ll buy it a second time if they love it.”
With this in mind, Devlin and the team focus on making a nutrition bar that not only tastes great, but is full of great stuff. With three tempting flavors (wild blueberry pistachio, dark chocolate cherry and sea salt, and Madagascar vanilla almond and honey) This Bar Saves Lives has made its presence known in a crowded marketplace with hundreds upon hundreds of options.
Because the company’s mission is to improve the quality of lives and change the world one bar at a time, the team is also aware of the positive and negative impacts running a food company can have on the environment. That’s why This Bar Saves Lives is committed to sustainably-sourced ingredients for their products, including fair-trade vanilla, bee-friend almonds, and sustainably-sourced cocoa; all of the bars are also non-GMO certified.
And the sweetness doesn’t end there, because malnutrition is only part of the problem in these underprivileged communities.
“The mission is to provide for the child in need, but a big part of that is helping communities where we can,” Devlin said. “We fund parent boarding at the clinics where their children are treated, and provide education on organic farming and vocational training so that when they go back to their community, they can bring what they learned and hopefully help improve the local economy.”
Devlin and This Bar Saves Lives aren’t slowing down anytime soon. With its incredible team and the support of some of Hollywood’s biggest names—ranging from Susan Sarandon to John Krasinski and Kunal Nayyar—the company is expanding and has some really exciting opportunities on the horizon: new products, an expanded partnership with Target coming mid-April, a growing market with Whole Foods and Marriott Hotels, and testing in some Starbucks markets that Devlin wasn’t allowed to give details on, but said that “things were looking good”.
So next time you share a meal with friends or family, keep This Bar Saves Lives’ mission in mind, put your phone away, and relish in the sense of community you experience through the breaking of bread: remember, we eat together.
Ryan Devlin’s Advice for Entrepreneurs: Fire, Ready, Aim
Although This Bar Saves Lives is a successful venture now, it began like every other startup: Ryan Devlin and his co-founders had the dream, the passion, and the will to succeed, but not a lot of practical knowledge about the market they wanted to enter or the product they wanted to produce.
“The most impactful thing we did early on was reach out to the people who knew what they were talking about. We didn’t have the expertise, they did,” he shared. “Whether you’re starting with just an idea or moving forward on a business plan, surround yourself with people who have done it before.
“Now that we know the market, the team and I are happy to mentor for those interested in similar missions to pay it forward.”
Devlin also shares a tip that he received early on in This Bar Saves Lives’ tenure: fire, ready, aim. Sound a little backwards? It is, and for good reason.
“If you overplan or overthink, it’s easy to never launch. It’s scary to put yourself out there—you risk failure, and you’re putting your heart on the line for everybody to see. Make the mistakes, but learn from them. You can’t change the world if you don’t get started.”