In the impoverished outskirts of Santiago, Chile, affordable food is hard to come by. There are few supermarkets, and the food at small, local stores is often up to 40% more expensive. Algramo is a solution to that. It means "by the gram," and is a company that distributes vending machines full of bulk staples such as rice, beans, lentils, and sugar. Algramo fills the machines, installs them for free in small neighborhood stores, and splits the profit evenly with shopkeepers. Since last March, it has installed more than 300 machines around Santiago, reaching an estimated 15,000 people, and will soon expand to Colombia.
The inspiration for Algramo came in 2011, when Chilean student Jose Manuel Moller and three friends moved to the outskirts of Santiago to experience the realities of life in a poor community cut off from the rest of the city. Like most of his neighbors, the money Moller earned from his part-time, evening job was barely enough to cover basic needs. "Going to the corner store is really the only time people talk to their neighbors," Moller says. "We want to preserve this connection." But the cost of food at these stores was so prohibitive, he began to see it as a "poverty tax." Seventy percent of the population in Chile is affected by this ‘tax,’ he says, and 85% across Latin America. That’s a lot of people who would appreciate an affordable vending machine.
This video takes you into the impoverished Chilean communities that Algramo serves. It's not in English and isn't subtitled, but if your Spanish is rusty, just skip ahead to 1:31 to see one of Algramo's machines manufactured and delivered to a store. The work makes sense in any language:
[Photo: courtesy of Algramo]
A version of this article appeared in the March 2015 issue of Fast Company magazine.