Amid extreme and unprecedented worldwide pressures, global hunger and food insecurity remain at an all-time high. According to a United Nations report, up to 783 million people faced serious hunger in 2022, and 2.4 billion lacked access to adequate food to feed themselves or their families.
In celebration of World Food Day this week, NationSwell is profiling some of the social impact and sustainability leaders in its community whose standard-setting initiatives are advancing global food security in innovative, scalable, and measurable ways.
For this installment, NationSwell interviewed Becca Dittrich, Vice President of Impact at Chobani, on the programs she and her team are leading to address hunger in communities across the world. Here’s what she had to say about how hunger is keeping children from succeeding, the power of mobilizing your employees collectively, and why community-focused initiatives are so core to advancing solutions to solve hunger.
Anthony Smith, Editor at Large, NationSwell: Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with us today. What are some of the statistics and numbers that help illuminate why hunger is such an urgent problem facing our world today — and how it’s changed in the last five years?
Becca Dittrich, Vice President of Impact, Chobani: 9 million children in the United States — a number equivalent to one out of every eight kids — are hungry. I know it’s important to start with the numbers like that, but it’s equally important to me to ground those statistics in what that means in real life for a kid. When a kid is hungry, and we’re still asking that child to go to school, to learn, to engage with their friends, we have to understand that from a health perspective, they just can’t do that because their body is in starvation mode. Hunger is quite literally putting our nation’s children on a path to failure that’s unfair. At Chobani, we believe that we have a deep commitment to rectifying this inequity.
If you know anything about Chobani, you know that our communities are the biggest focus for us and what we care about. When we look at our community in Twin Falls County where one of our plants is, there are just over 8000 individuals who are hungry, 2500 of them are kids. When we look at Chenango and Otsego counties, which is where our plant in upstate New York is, there are just over 2000 kids who are hungry, and just over 10,000 individuals in total who are hungry. Those numbers are on the higher side for small towns in rural areas, especially in upstate New York.
Chobani is deeply committed to having an influence on those food insecurity rates in the communities that we love and we care about so deeply. But the devastating reality of what we’re seeing — right now in particular — is that food insecurity rates are rising because there were benefits offered to individuals related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the pandemic that a lot of states have rolled back. It’s made an economically challenging time for many Americans even more of a struggle for those families.
Smith, NationSwell: What are some of the initiatives you and your team are leading at Chobani to help advance food security?
Dittrich, Chobani: This week we actually kick off a new and exciting initiative to mark World Food Day – Let’s Eat Week. During this week-long activation, employees across all our Chobani locations will volunteer to assemble and distribute over 10,000 nutritious meals to the children and families in need right in our backyards.
Another great program that we lead in both our Twin Falls and our upstate New York plants, is the Community Impact Fund, which is a grant program for organizations in the food and nutrition security spaces. One of the unique things about that program is that we use an employee committee to vote on which community-based organization should receive those grants. I really love this program; it’s a beautiful encapsulation of how we at Chobani care about the needs of our community, and the way we empower our community to tell us what those specific needs are, rather than making assumptions about what’s best for them without their input. And then we work really, really hard to meet those needs.
Also, the Community Impact team has spent years building these beautiful, deep relationships with schools, food pantries, and food banks in the area to understand their needs and challenges to get our product into the hands of the folks who need it most. The underlying thread is that we believe in truly listening to the community’s needs as it relates to food and nutrition insecurity, and we seek to understand and to meet those wherever and however we can.
The goal is that our whole Chobani family collectively cares deeply about the issue of child hunger, and we’re working together on the fight to eradicate child hunger. It’s not a mission that’s held up by corporate and then just forced down — it’s something that we as a whole really push forward, and this gives our employees the opportunity to work directly with a school, or with a group of kids who are struggling, and provides us all with an opportunity to take care of them, and meet their needs.
Now, the community-based, grassroots approach is so core to who we are at Chobani, but we also know that there are large organizations doing incredible work to advance food security for children, and part of our mission at Chobani is to figure out how we can put our brand behind those organizations to accelerate and scale their work forward. We just launched our Child Hunger Batch products to raise money for Edesia, an incredible organization that fights malnutrition around the world. It’s so important to identify partner organizations like Edesia in whose mission we really believe, and then help to promote their work so that we can continue to move them forward.
Smith, NationSwell: What impact have these initiatives — and others like them at Chobani — had on hunger?
Dittrich, Chobani: In 2022 alone, we donated 4.5 million units of our product. Some of those donations go to Feeding America, which distributes them to the food banks in their network. But it also includes other more intimate and direct approaches to giving. As an example, a lot of our employee population in upstate New York lives in Utica because it’s a bigger city when you compare it to the area the plant is, which is quite rural. But food insecurity rates of the Utica City school district are really severe — it’s about 75% of the student population. We donated a refrigerator to every school in the Utica school district. We did a little bit of a distribution of snacks to all the students right around the donation. And we’re committed to keeping those refrigerators stocked with snacks throughout the day, so that every student can get a boost of nutrition whenever they want one. It makes such a tremendous difference — the kind you might miss when you’re just looking at the numbers.
So, we could measure the impact of our donations on the full scale of all of our giving. But we could also measure it on this smaller scale, on the fact that when a kid’s belly grumbles in the middle of the day, they’ll have the ability to reach for a healthy snack in order to be more focused on a math test, rather than be distracted about the fact that they’re hungry, and they’re about to go home, and they might not have access to food to keep them safe and sated through the evening. It’s just a devastating thought to have.
Smith, NationSwell: Why is this issue personal to you?
Dittrich, Chobani: At Chobani, we believe in really good food, and we believe that good food is a right and it’s not a privilege. And that comes from the very founding of our company. Do we have some indulgent products? Yes. But who doesn’t deserve a birthday cake?
Indulging is part of thriving, it’s part of the power of good food, and we know you can have that without artificial ingredients, and added sugars. And when you have thriving people, then you have thriving communities. That belief manifests itself in our entire dedication to solving child hunger because we believe that every child deserves access to good, wholesome food that gives them the energy to play on the playground with their friends, to socialize, to dream. We’re all dreamers at Chobani, and we want to foster the ability for kids to dream and to explore, and if they’re not eating good food, they can’t do that.
Smith, NationSwell: What’s your call to action to the community of practice who’ll read this?
Dittrich, Chobani: My call to action for social leads, or anyone at a company who is focused in this space, is to start local, start strategic, start in your own community. Your community needs you, and your own community can teach you. It can show you what’s going to help them thrive, and how you can really meet their needs.
That’s what’s been so beautiful about the journey of Chobani’s Community Impact work. We have listened to what the community needs, and we have responded tenfold, because that’s what they deserve.
I’d also encourage leaders to look at what your company says it cares about, and then look at how your company acts. If there’s a delta between those two, what is it, and how can you act as a shepherd of the impact mission and vision to close it?
But for individuals looking to take action, it can be tough to know where to start, or to feel like your efforts won’t make a difference, that they’ll just be a drop in a bucket. I’d say with vehemence that that’s fundamentally untrue. Every person’s efforts count.