Health Bar on a Mission

While traveling around Southeast Asia in 2007, Joey Grassia was shocked and unsettled by the hunger and poverty he encountered. “I saw a lot of children living in makeshift homes that they basically built out of garbage, begging for food, or their parents trying to work when they weren’t even healthy enough to basically be working,” he says. “I knew I wanted to do something, but didn’t know what.”

Not long after, he found himself in the hospital because of a blood pressure spike, and inspiration struck. “After I had my own health issues, I realized that no matter who we are, or where we are in the world, health is the most fundamental need,” he says. 

With this in mind, Grassia launched a health-bar company in 2011 called KUTOA, based on the Swahili word that means “to give.” His social enterprise features handcrafted bars that are GMO-, gluten-, dairy- and preservative-free, and a portion of each sale goes toward feeding a hungry child. “I really like the idea of a for-profit business that generates its own revenues in order to help solve social issues,” Grassia says, and credits TOMS for popularizing this trend. “Nonprofits are great and NGOs are great, but most rely on government funding and donations, so when times are hard and people don’t have money to give, or the government cuts down on funding, the grants go down and the work gets put on hold.”

Not so for KUTOA. To date, the company has donated 200,000 meals to children worldwide, including nutrition packs via its partnership with the World Food Program USA; meals for youth in San Francisco; and even 35,000 of its own bars for low-income students here in Austin. Meanwhile, the company has expanded. It now distributes its bars nationwide and offers a range of flavors, including cherry cashew, blueberry almond, chocolate banana and even peanut butter and jelly, in addition to a new line of kid’s squares. 

Grassia points out that charitable donations continue to be a major component of KUTOA’s business model, but he also notes that the company intentionally keeps the price of its bars at $1.99—despite a focus on high-quality, organic ingredients that have a short shelf life due to the bars’ lack of additives and preservatives—because it’s not all about money.

“We are all about giving,” he says. “Our mission is to empower change by spreading the most fundamental need for human happiness and prosperitywhich is health.” —Nicole Lessin

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