Where did the idea for Elara come from?
Dan Grinberg: I had previously built and sold a foodservice glove company and saw an opportunity to start a new one. This time around I wanted to blend my industry experience with my longstanding involvement with hunger relief and the Island Harvest Food Bank. This was around 2010, and I was noticing that a growing number of companies were embedding a social mission in their business models. TOMS Shoes is a popular example. TOMS gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair someone buys. Along those lines, we launched Elara in 2011 with hunger relief in our DNA. Our signature program is called One Case • One Meal. For every case purchased by a customer we help provide a meal for a person struggling with hunger. I believe that we are going to see a huge increase in Social Enterprise business models and wanted to be on the forefront of it.
Who is Elara’s target customer?
Elara’s gloves, aprons and food storage bags are used by a wide variety of end-users such as multi-unit operators, white tablecloth restaurants, schools, contract feeders and other types of commercial and non-commercial outlets. We partner with leading distributors who sell Elara products to these end-users.
How have the needs of that distributor and end user evolved?
I started in this industry in 1990 when the use of gloves in foodservice barely existed. Today gloves use is required by food codes and corporate policies around the country. What we see evolving is that many end-users are looking for new glove options to save time and money and to increase productivity. In response we have developed some neat new products. For example, new materials that last longer so there is less breakage and waste. This saves money. At the same time, distributors are looking for ways to help their customers improve their sales and profits. The more progressive distributors are partnering with like-minded vendors who can offer new products and ideas to their end user accounts.
From branding standpoint, operators and distributors have to stand out from their ever-increasing competition while also keeping up with changing consumer preferences and expectations. Great food and products are essential, but differentiation has to extend to the overall experiences a customer has with your company. How you greet a guest, how a DSR interacts with a chef, how you connect with the community, how you use social media- all these things impact a customer’s decision to support your establishment or the one next door.
Do those customer agendas include being good neighbors and citizens? Green and sustainable etc.?
Not only is that important, it’s where the consumer is going. Studies show that a large and growing number of consumers are more likely to support a company that is involved in corporate social responsibility. These consumers also expect companies to be involved in solving critical social and environmental issues. This, in turn, creates more trust and loyalty to such companies. There is an ROI to social responsibility if done right.
How did Elara get involved with fighting hunger?
Elara was launched with hunger relief embedded in the business model from day one. Our gloves are used while meals are being prepared; yet some 49 million Americans are struggling to get their next meal. So hunger relief is a natural fit for us. I also have experience on the food bank side as a volunteer and board member of Island Harvest, so we want to support the great work food banks do in their communities.
How does that embrace Elara’s commitment to the industry and community it serves?
The better we are at serving our customers with great products and service, the more we will grow. Growth, in turn, will enable Elara to donate an increasing number of meals. This is a great example of how social enterprise can work. Companies can do well while doing good.
Why Island Harvest?
We are based on Long Island and Island Harvest is the Island’s largest food bank, providing food and services for 300,000 people struggling with hunger. The organization has a proactive culture with strong leadership and a committed staff. Island Harvest consistently ranks high on Charity Navigator as well. Even though I am on their board, we would still designate Island Harvest as our local beneficiary due to its reach and reputation. I should mention that City Harvest and about twenty other food banks around the country are beneficiaries of the One Case One • Meal program as well. We donate to food banks designated by our customers in their local markets.
What led to the partnership with DiCarlo? What are the goals for the partnership?
It started with an alignment of values. Community involvement and hunger relief are important to the DiCarlo family and the entire DiCarlo organization. DiCarlo donates food, helps Island Harvest with food purchasing and provides Island Harvest with use of its facility, among other things. When we presented the One Case • One Meal concept to Vinnie DiCarlo, he saw right away the positive impact it could have and was the first to champion the program in the Metro New York area. DiCarlo has since helped contribute tens of thousands of meals. We are also working together to raise awareness of the hunger issue out in the market so more folks can get involved.
How does the case donation program work?
It’s very simple. We add up the number of cases we sell. We then contribute to designated food banks to help provide them with the same number of meals. The food banks, in turn, distribute meals to individuals in need through food pantries, meal programs and other agencies.
What are the goals for the program?
We are growing our business locally and expanding nationally. This means we can feed more people who are food insecure. What’s incredible is that more than 49 million Americans are in this situation. Children, senior, single parent households, veterans, the underemployed. You would be surprised by how pervasive hunger is. So our goal is to assist as many as possible by partnering with our customers, supporting local food banks and raising awareness so that others can take up the cause. There is certainly power in numbers!
How can restaurateurs and Foodservice operators get involved?
The good news is that many in the restaurant industry are already involved in the fight against hunger- through food donations, special events, conducting food drives and volunteering. As an example, Shake Shack has an annual “Great American Shake Sale” to benefit No Kid Hungry. There are many creative things you can do. The nice thing about One Case • One Meal is that just by purchasing gloves you already need you are getting involved in the cause! Elara can also provide graphics and POS materials so that your customers see that you are involved. According to the studies, your customers are looking for this.