At Malawi's Pizza, dinner is a world-changing experience

| by S.A. Whitehead
At Malawi's Pizza, dinner is a world-changing experience

A group distributes grain in Malawi, purchased through the Malawi's Pizza Meal-for-Meal program.

Restaurateurs are some of the most admired and even loved business people in America, according to a Gallup Poll released this week, but it’s likely that few restaurateurs have the faithful following and outright admiration enjoyed by the entrepreneurs behind Malawi’s Pizza. And in their case, this high regard is shared by citizens of Malawi, as well. 

As residents of the smallest African nation — and one of the least developed countries on the globe — Malawian children often go hungry and the infant mortality rate is high. These are undoubtedly among the many reasons why the owners of Malawi Pizza decided to make that country’s nutrition the cornerstone of their business by committing to provide one meal to the children of Malawi for every meal purchased at the chain’s U.S. restaurants. 

It’s corporate social responsibility on steroids and it is having an effect. In the six years since its inception, the chain — whose tagline is Pizza with a Purpose — has delivered nearly 800,000 meals to the children of Malawi. The owners' goal is to contribute 1 million meals by early 2017, and they believe they are going to make it. According to a recent Cost of Hunger in Africa Malawi report, 23 percent of all child mortality cases in Malawi are associated with undernutrition.

The dedication to the cause demonstrated by Malawi's Pizza founder Blake Roney and CEO Kent Andersen has registered all the way across the Atlantic and resulted in visits by Malawian leaders — including a sitting president and a tribal king. 

As founder and principal of franchise consultancy Franchise Well — which developed the model for Malawi’s — Dr. Ben Litalien said the fast casual pizza chain focuses on regional development. And this process has started in earnest.

Aside from its three current Utah locations, the brand has multistore development agreements in place for Dallas and Houston, as well as a five-store agreement for northern Virginia and its first East Coast location in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Litalien said in an interview with Pizza Marketplace that his concept checks all the boxes for the kind of dining experience Americans want these days. 

Consumers are interested in more meaning from their dining experience. They want transparency in the menu, cooking methods, and even in the ownership, with an emphasis on local. Malawi's franchise is timely and naturally appeals to experience-minded consumers, with an open format and a commitment to making a difference through the meal donation program.  

Increasingly, we are moving to deeper meaning in all aspects of life experiences and not just a 'transaction.' Millennials consider anything they can do or buy via their smart phone a transaction, so fixed location concepts must focus on deeper experiential environments to draw them in. Chef-inspired Malawi's is crossing the demographic divide with meaning for millennials and gourmet meals for Boomers. Franchise concepts of the future would do well to pay attention.

CEO Kent Andersen took on some questions about the aspects of the Malawi's Pizza restaurant and its philanthropic purpose. 

Q: How did the idea of this sort of globally minded fast casual concept begin and why?

A: Malawi’s Pizza was founded in 2010 by me — Kent Andersen, a classically trained certified executive chef — and Blake Roney, president and chair of NuSkin Enterprises. Malawi’s Pizza produces custom-built gourmet pizzas, pastas and salads in a fast casual, open kitchen.

From its beginning, the Meal-for-Meal donation program has been a part of who we are. Since the day we opened, for every meal sold, Malawi’s Pizza will deliver a meal to a child in need.

The donations are a one-for-one exchange — for every guest we serve, we feed a child who otherwise would not eat that day. That’s why we call it "Pizza with a Purpose." 

Q: How have the meals you've donated so far made a difference?

A: To date Malawi’s Pizza has delivered over 766,000 meals to children in need.  

While serving as the president of the country of Malawi, President Joyce Banda visited our flagship restaurant in Provo, Utah, to express how the restaurant's Meal-for-Meal donation program is touching the lives of the children of Malawi.

On a recent visit, the king of the Chewa Tribe, King Kalonga Gawa Undi, met with the founders of Malawi’s Pizza and discussed the impact of the Meal-for-Meal donation program.

The Meal-for-Meal donation program began by delivering meals to a single village with approximately 350 children. Over time, as the restaurants grew, we expanded our reach and we began delivering meals to several surrounding villages. Today, we are able to deliver thousands of meals each month through the Meal-for-Meal donation program, [which] … has attracted the attention of our guests and our employees.

We have a number of employees who began working with the company based [on] our purpose. … I am impressed with the number of people who choose to dine with us not only for our great food, but because of the Meal-for-Meal program. They embrace the concept of "eating terrific food and doing a little good in the world."

Q: How are these meals provided in Africa and to whom?

A: The meals … are grain-based. The program provides funds to purchase grain raised by local farmers — predominantly maize, soybean and millet. This grain is transported to a mill where it is blended with a nutritive supplement specifically designed to support the development of growing children. …  

This supplemented grain mixture is then packaged and transported via truck to the villages supported through the program, where [it is] delivered to families and volunteers who prepare the meals.

Q: What's the ultimate goal? 

A: Our daily goal focuses on delivering great pizzas and great dining experiences to our guests. But we believe in the power of one — the difference one person can make.

Through the … program, thousands of people have participated in feeding children in need and as Malawi’s Pizza grows, that power is amplified and our reach expands.  

That is why we call it Pizza with a Purpose. By fully weaving the philanthropic aim of our restaurant into our operating and business philosophy we are able to provide a fantastic dining experience and nurture those around us at the same time.  

As of [late July], Malawi’s has delivered 767,079 meals to children in need. With the addition of new Malawi’s locations in Virginia, Texas, and Utah, we have begun to focus on the final portion of our "journey to a million meals."

Our immediate goal is to deliver our millionth meal near the beginning of 2017; our ultimate goal is to expand the Malawi’s Pizza restaurant concept nationally and expand the reach of the Meal-for-Meal donation program with each new restaurant opened.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Food & Beverage, Marketing, Social Responsibility

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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