Sixteen million kids are growing up in poverty today, said Jennifer Garner onstage at the Fast Company Innovation Festival on Thursday.
Garner has testified multiple times before Congress and other governmental bodies on topics like early childhood and nutrition; she sits on the board of the children’s rights nonprofit Save the Children and is an artist ambassador for the group. Onstage on Thursday with cofounder and CEO John Foraker and Fast Company editorial director Jill Bernstein, Garner discussed how her focus on children’s rights issues led to her role as cofounder and chief brand officer of the baby food company Once Upon A Farm.
Watch a video of their discussion below:
The one-year-old brand sells cold-pressed, organic baby food in retail stores, online, and direct-to-consumer, but Garner and Foraker also described their social impact mission: making healthy baby food more affordable.
“We’ve gotta do a better job of feeding our kids,” Garner said. “It’s the most fundamental–you can’t ask kids to learn and be kindergarten ready and succeed and thrive if we’re not putting good, healthy nutritious food into their bellies.”
That includes pushing to be approved by WIC, the federal program that offers supplemental aid to women, infants, and children. The approval process involves proving an item meets state-determined nutritional and price guidelines.
“It’s a hairy, audacious goal,” said Foraker, discussing the challenges of scaling and pushing for the complex approval process. “We don’t want to be [just] another natural organic food brand,” he added. “I will consider us a total failure unless we deliver that kind of impact.”
Garner and Foraker–who served as CEO of the organic food brand Annie’s for almost two decades before leaving in 2017, a few years after selling the company to General Mills for $820 million–founded Once Upon a Farm after discovering a shared interest in the baby food space, which they saw as lacking a fresh, organic option for parents who might normally try to make their own.
“Fresh baby food should have happened a long time ago,” Foraker quipped. “You can find fresh dog food in 18,000 stores!”
The duo work closely together to lead their team of 35, even going on sales calls together all over the country (most recently, to Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas). Garner helps with recruiting— she is “really good at convincing people to join” the company, said Foraker—and her kids even serve as taste testers for new flavors. Some recent feedback? “Too banana-forward,” Garner reported.
Garner cited her mother’s experience growing up poor on a farm in Oklahoma as an inspiration; the same farm, today, is now producing a small amount of crops for Once Upon a Farm.
Will her role as a celebrity activist and entrepreneur eventually lead to a run for office, asked Bernstein?
“It doesn’t seem like that much fun,” she laughed. “I really like my jobs as I have them now.”