For more than two decades now, Jennifer Garner has lit up the big and small screen as a consistently leading force in Hollywood. These days, the beloved actress and mother of three is using her strengths to shine a spotlight on the clean and organic food options available today from her ever-expanding Once Upon a Farm.
“It’s hard to believe it has been five years,” says Garner, who is a co-founder of the plant-rich snacks and meals company. “It’s hard to believe we were less than a million dollars in consumption the first year and by the end of the year, we will be $100 million dollars. It’s crazy – it’s amazing that I love it more all the time.”
Garner and her team have remained dedicated to bring “A Million Meals” to kids in food-insecure communities across America by 2024 with the help of their multi-year partnership with Save the Children. Now well-into their program’s mission, I asked Garner where Once Upon a Farm stands today with reaching its 2024 goal.
“Well, we are right on track,” Garner continues. “The reason that Save the Children is right on the package for Overnight Oats is because this [pouch flavor] is our heartiest. It’s a real favorite but it’s a little more filling – there’s a little more to it, which makes me happy to think of that going to kids. By the end of this year, we will be at 175,000 pouches or meals and then it will be more than double that next year. It’s mixture of that and a financial support and just volunteerism.”
Knowing that Garner is the mother of two teenagers and a 10-year-old today, I wondered how she makes sure that her growing kids continue to choose to indulge in healthy food options at this rather important stage in their development.
“It’s getting easier, thank goodness,” Garner laughs. “My mom really taught me you can’t force a kid to eat. You can’t make that happen, so it is not worth the battle but what you can do is when kids are super hungry, which is always right when you’re making dinner. They smell whatever is roasting or cooking and that’s when they want to come and just eat anything. As my mom was cooking, she always had cut-up carrots, apples, broccoli out on the counter. I will honestly [put out] a thing of sugar snap peas and just leave them in a bowl so that they’re all standing up and cute and I cannot believe they’re just decimated [by my kids]. My teenager takes two Once Upon a Farm [pouches] to school every single day in her lunch and if you have it in your fridge and that’s your snack, then you are creating a preference for that vibrant, fresh-off-the-vine flavor and taste right from the get-go.”
As Garner remains active in her leadership role at Once Upon a Farm, I asked if she has noticed a change in her own personal and professional growth through her many entrepreneurial experiences over the past few years.
Garner responds, “Oh my gosh! It has been such an amazing journey for me because I literally have never taken a business class in my life. I mean, I didn’t know what P&L (Profit & Loss) was. I didn’t know what ROI (Return On Investment) was or KPI (Key Performance Indicator) – truly not one thing. It has just been a full-on education for me but what I love is the same thing I love about my other job, which is you get to build yourself a community. To me, I’m happiest in a community. There is a reason that everybody doesn’t make super clean food. If there is ever a time to spend the extra money on food without plastics, without heavy metals, without lead, without chemicals and fertilizers in them, it is when you have a growing brain and body. So knowing that we are actually doing all the 50 billion extra steps and not shirking on any of them feels so good to me.”
Since Garner brought up her “other job,” I was curious what joys she might get out of her Once Upon a Farm responsibilities and efforts that her Hollywood projects simply do not satisfy in the same way.
“Just being completely ignorant all the time and having this incredible group of brilliant people to talk to,” Garner reveals. “As we’re in meetings, whether it’s on a Zoom or whatever it is, I circle what I don’t understand and then I ask later. In the beginning, I was always asking [Once Upon a Farm co-founder & CEO] John Foraker. We’d finish a call and I would go back and I would ask him these very basic business questions. Then I started going deeper and asking questions that are more CPG-specific (Consumer Packaged Goods), then I would ask more grocery-related things and I would go on sales calls all over the country.”
Garner adds, “The other thing that I just love is the heart at the center of the company – that we really are a mission-driven company. You feel it with every person who works with us. We are really largely parents and when we have a company get together, they will ask me to give an update about Save [the Children] or ‘A Million Meals’ and you can just see people on the edge of their seat, asking great questions, super committed [saying] ‘How can I volunteer? How can I get involved?’ They are selling and working from that place, knowing that this company is tiny but we are starting off on the right foot where this is baked into our actual DNA. This is who we are and we are here to help. We are here to help solve problems for moms across the board, but we’re also here to introduce this vibrant, fresh, refrigerated kids food to a whole other world of people.”
For anyone following Garner’s playful posts on her Instagram page lately, you will quickly realize that she pridefully grows much of the food that she and her family eat. So, after seeing her love for the outdoors and in growing things literally from the ground up, I wondered how her passionate efforts within nature have been beneficial to her overall wellness and mental health today.
“I have a really robust garden at home in California,” Garner shares. “There’s just nothing like it. Even sometimes, I’ll do it on a call – I’ll just have headphones or earbuds in and I’ll just be out pulling weeds while I chat and there’s the mindless thing of doing something with your hands and the feel of the soil in your hands. It’s like realizing the sun is going to rise everyday, no matter what. There’s something very comforting about you put a seed in the soil and you give it a little bit of love and before you know it, you are going to have cucumbers. That is happening! It does a lot for me.”
As she continues to devote her time and energy to bring healthier food options into the world as she strives to share them with families everywhere, I wondered what sound business advice Garner would give to other entrepreneurs today who have great ideas for a business but simply may not know how to get those plans in motion.
Garner responds, “Well, it’s all about the team you assemble. If you have a chance to do anything with someone you truly believe in as a leader and it’s someone like John Foraker, how lucky am I? There is strength believing in your partners. I would say go slow to go fast – really figure out what specifically is your thing and stick to that.”
As we began to conclude our conversation, Garner informed me that she is well-aware of the now teenage Once Upon a Farm consumers who started to enjoy her products five years ago as kids, might now show less interest in the current pouches available on the market, hinting to me that “We have a lot of cool things in the pipeline.”
Understanding that it takes a village to create real change, I left Garner with one final question, asking her what we consumers in society today can do to help Garner and her Once Upon a Farm team reach their 2024 “A Million Meals” goal with Save the Children even faster.
“It’s such a big deal that Save [the Children] is willing to partner with us. It just shows that they really understand that for a little company, we mean business. There’s a donation straight from Overnight Oats [pouches] or anything that has Save the Children [on the packaging]. So there’s that and if you’re on our website for our DTC, which is Direct-To-Consumer, you can see that there’s a donate [option] and it will donate right to the programs and to feeding kids.”