Amazon features GR native’s philanthropic business


Ryan Devlin’s interest in malnourishment in Third World countries started with a service trip to Liberia in 2009. Courtesy This Bar Saves Lives

Ryan Devlin was on a service trip in Liberia when he saw something that changed his life.

He and his friend, Todd Grinnell, were helping to oversee the rebuild of a small town’s vital bridge. They took a tour through a clinic that treated severely malnourished children, and they were “hit right in the heart.”

“It was one of those moments in life where we didn’t plan to be there, but we were,” Devlin said.

That was in 2009. Eight years later, the actor and Grand Rapids native owns a business that has donated more than 3.3 million packets of food aid to malnourished children across the world, enough to save more than 20,000 lives.

This Bar Saves Lives makes non-GMO, gluten-free, fair-trade, bee-friendly snack bars, and every bar sold equals a packet of food aid for a child.

“The beauty of our model is that we’re able to see the results of our hard work right on the faces of kids around the world,” Devlin said.

One of those kids — Kendy — is a Haitian boy who did not receive adequate nutrition after his mother died. At 9 months old, he weighed 11 pounds. He was given food aid donated by This Bar Saves Lives, and he gained 50 percent of his weight in less than three months. His story was recently highlighted on the company’s website in a video narrated by actress Kristen Bell.

Devlin co-founded This Bar Saves Lives in 2013 with friends and fellow actors Grinnell, Bell and Ravi Patel. The bars are sold at Starbucks, Whole Foods and Target stores, though Devlin said the easiest place to find them is on Amazon.

This Bar Saves Lives was recently handpicked as one of seven U.S. businesses to take part in Amazon’s first Small Business Spotlight.

The Small Business Spotlight is meant to accelerate the business’ growth and help it earn $1 million in sales in six months, between Sept. 1, 2017, and Feb. 28, 2018. The program’s goal is to show small businesses no matter where they are, they can succeed on Amazon, said Erik Fairleigh, creator of the Small Business Spotlight.

“I thought This Bar Saves Lives is a tremendous representation of the millions of small businesses that are on Amazon,” Fairleigh said, noting customers love supporting small businesses with a cause. Fairleigh was familiar with the company because it already was involved with a service called Amazon Exclusives.

Small Business Spotlight services include access to Amazon’s shipping and customer service platform, Fulfillment by Amazon; the opportunity for a loan to help expand their inventory; credits to list their products as sponsored on the first page of search results or product detail pages; and placement on Amazon’s deal pages that draw millions of customer visits daily.

The seven businesses taking part in the Small Business Spotlight are:

•                This Bar Saves Lives (snack bars), Los Angeles

•                Thrive Natural Care (shave and skincare products), San Francisco

•                WODFitters (fitness gear and accessories), Lorton, Virginia

•                Steel Shad (fishing lures), East Dorset, Vermont

•                Force of Nature (nontoxic cleaner), Burlington, Massachusetts

•                Hepp’s Salt Co. (sea salts, sugars and rubs), Minneapolis

•                Zipbuds (earbuds), Charlotte, North Carolina

Devlin and his co-founders started by selling their bars in farmers markets in 2013. There’s been a lot of growth over the past couple years, and he expects that trend to continue. He said it took a while to get there, and he’s happy it did, adding it was beneficial to have those “growing pains” occur while the company still was small.

“We grew slowly and very deliberately,” he said. “We made a lot of mistakes and learned from them.”

This Bar Saves Lives has a policy against disclosing revenue numbers, but Devlin said sales have increased by about 500 percent in the past couple months.

However, he said his team measures their success another way.

“We always measure our success and our progress based on how many lives we’re able to impact around the world with our corresponding donations,” Devlin said. “And so that revenue represents a huge amount of life-saving food aid we’re able to share.”

He predicts This Bar will donate 5 million packets of food aid by the end of 2017, and that number may double in 2018.

Two types of food aid are administered, one for treatment of malnutrition, and one for prevention. The treatment, Plumpy’Nut, is a paste made from peanuts, milk powder, sugar, vegetable oils, and vitamins and minerals. The product doesn’t need to be refrigerated, mixed with water or cooked. The product Nutributter is designed to prevent stunted growth caused by undernutrition.

Devlin grew up in Grand Rapids and attended Forest Hills Central High School. He studied business at Michigan State University, where he spent a lot of time volunteering. He moved to Los Angeles shortly after school and pursued film acting for projects including the ABC program “Brothers & Sisters.”

He stopped acting for more than a year to become This Bar’s CEO until it hired someone else to fill the role earlier this year. He has started acting again but maintains a significant role in the company he founded.

The bars cost $16.99 on Amazon for a box of eight bars, though several quantities are available. All the products are Amazon Prime eligible.

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