People We Love: Ben and Blaine from Impact Foods

Blaine Iler (left) and Ben Hurt (right) help feed the hungry in Honduras; photo by Leslie Katz

Think back to when you were in college and the professor posed a question for the class. If you were anything like me, you were too shy to raise your hand. Luckily, both Ben Hurt and Blaine Iler aren’t the shy types, and when they raised their hands on that fateful day in class, it was the beginning of a fruitful partnership that is helping to positively impact the world.

Since they both had ambitions in entrepreneurship, Ben and Blaine decided to put their heads together to come up with an idea that could benefit the biggest problems facing society today. They decided on a conscious capitalism project called Impact Foods to help alleviate world hunger. After a trip to Honduras, the vision became even more clear that something effective needed to be done. They followed in the footsteps of SMU alum Blake Mycoskie, who started a little project called TOMS Shoes, by proposing the 1:1 business model. They launched their business. For each package of granola sold, Impact Foods donates a micronutrient pack to a malnourished child. Now the granola can be bought in stores like Whole Foods for $6.99 each.

I had a lovely chat with both Ben and Blaine and decided to delve deeper into their vision for a better tomorrow.

Jump for the Q&A.

What did you hope to do after college before you met each other?

Ben: We’re both entrepreneurs. I had a clothing business and some other things that I was working on. But I definitely didn’t want to work for ‘the man.’

Blaine: I wasn’t as opposed to working for someone else as Ben was, so I worked for Accenture with consulting and used it as an experience-building opportunity. I learned quite a lot there that links to what we do now. I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

What changed your vision after visiting Honduras? 

Blaine: The important thing to highlight is that we went in with an open mind. We felt like we knew the statistics on hunger, but we didn’t know what it would take to provide relief. We got to understand the  mechanics of hunger in a real world environment. It was really powerful to go into a school or orphanage and see that they didn’t have food in their pantries and didn’t know where their next meal was going to come from.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten?

Blaine: Trey Wilcox’s shrimp and grits are out of this world.

Ben: Deck eggs from Abacus in San Francisco.

What is your favorite place to eat in Dallas?

Blaine: Company Cafe. They have incredible breakfast items.

Ben: Southpaw’s and Company Cafe. Places that have a concentration or at least are mindful of organic, local ingredients.

What’s the hardest part about making granola? 

Blaine: Making granola is not a really complicated, but to make a good-tasting granola is very difficult. We spent two years in the kitchen perfecting our recipe. We spent the time to figure out how to make a granola that tasted different. There had to be the right balance of salty and sweet. We knew from the very beginning that it would have to be a product that people would buy over and over again, and we  weren’t going to be able to make it in the business if we didn’t have that.

Ben: Everything was fun about it early on. If you’re making granola for the first time in your kitchen, everything’s kind of fun and exciting. We had full time jobs but wanted to make this thing work. We demanded to have the best tasting granola on the market, so we spent every Saturday and Sunday making granola. You’re making 40 or 50 batches of granola so it can get monotonous and mundane. But the thing about working in Impact Foods is it answers the ‘why’ question. Somebody’s getting a micronutrient meal because we’re making this granola in the kitchen.

Any new products in the works for the future? 

Ben: There’s always new stuff in the future. We’re entrepreneurs. There’s a reason we called it ‘Impact Foods’ and not ‘Impact Granola.’ I think granola is a good starting point, but hunger is a large problem that is going to require a growth in retail stores. In order to be successful, you then grow your family of products. Family-friendly snack products is where we’re headed.

D Magazine intern Iris Zubair graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in December 2011 with a BA in Magazine Journalism. She has written for Austin Monthly Magazine and UT’s student newspaper, The Daily Texan.