Whole Kids Has a Whole Lotta Love for the Environment

Conscious Capitalism

James and Monica Meldrum knew when enough was enough. After working for years in high-powered corporate careers, they were becoming increasingly disillusioned at how most companies focused on, in their words, ‘the health of their profits rather than the health of their people and products.’ They resolved that if they ever started their own business, they were going to run it completely differently.

Even before they had their own kids, it was by chance that they found out that there were no delicious – and genuinely healthy – snacks for children. Their respective siblings shared how hard it was to find lunchbox snacks that were not packed with high levels of sugar, sodium, fat, preservatives and additives, and the Meldrums recognised that this was a great business opportunity. And so, the idea of  Whole Kids was conceived.

Conscious Capitalism

I first met James at the Conscious Capitalism Conference in 2014 in Sydney. I was impressed by how he and his wife, Monica, approached their business, always ensuring sustainability and community are at the core. This aligns with the tenets of Conscious Capitalism,  described by co-founder Raj Sisodia in Everybody Matters as, ‘A belief system, a philosophy of business… It’s not just about self-interest, it’s also about caring; it’s not just about making money, it’s also about making a difference.’

Almost 15 years since the Meldrums manufactured their first run of certified organic products, back in 2005, James and Monica have remained true to their commitment to run a business they truly care about – and one that has made a positive impact in the community. They have consistently championed ethical sourcing of ingredients that are all organic and non-genetically-modified (GMO). They started the Unjunkit movement to reduce kids’ exposure to junk food to ensure that they grow up healthy and happy. They also use Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper and cardboard where possible in their packaging. 

Credit: Whole Kids

B Corporation – a global standard


These initiatives (and more) have since earned them the distinction of being the first food business in Australia to be certified as a B Corporation by the non-profit  B Lab,  joining the ranks of companies that aim to solve social and environmental problems through the power of business. In a nutshell, B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk.

For companies to become B corp registered they go through a globally recognised and rigorous certification process. The aim is to ensure that businesses balance purpose and profit, and B Corp businesses are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, community, and environment. Currently, of the 2,788 Certified B Corporations across the globe, 272 are from Australia and New Zealand.  Go B Corp!

Today, Whole Kids actively call for government accountability and changes in national policy to mitigate the consequences of climate change. Closer to home, they’re also exploring innovative packaging alternatives and working with recycling companies to keep their pouches out of landfills. 

In the words of Monica Meldrum, Whole Kids co-founder and CEO, ‘We are proud to be a founding B Corp in Australia and the mantra for Whole Kids to not just be the best in the world, but be the best for the world is something we consider on a daily basis. Being a snack brand, we recognise that convenience and environment don’t always go hand in hand and we’re looking to change this. The driving force behind our environmental focus is to ensure we leave our children with a healthy planet for their families. Companies carry a large portion of accountability for the next generation and this can’t be ignored.’

Credit: Whole Kids

We couldn’t agree more.

Why leaders must take risks

Taking risks and bucking the trend always takes guts. Especially when you are trying to shift the current economic and commercial paradigm.

But everywhere leaders and companies are shifting the dial. In June I went to the Conscious Capitalism conference in Sydney and heard dozens of ways organisations, large and small, are making a difference.

After working in the corporate world for over a decade, James Meldrum and wife Monica knew they wanted another approach when they founded their Melbourne-based organic food company Whole Kids.

The idea for Whole Kids came because they couldn’t find any healthy, tasty and convenient snacks for their family. In their words. ‘Just about everything was full of junk.’

Taking a big gulp, they spent their life savings on starting their business and put their house-buying plans on hold. In 2005 they manufactured the first run of the Whole Kids products. Now you can buy them in Woolworths.

From the start their purpose was ‘way above just making money.’ It was also about being social responsible, operating as a family and giving ‘people room to bring the best self to work.’

Ever since Meldrum had done an MBA in America, he’d followed companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia. Then three years ago he discovered Conscious Capitalism. ‘That’s when we realised that what we were doing had a name. Conscious Capitalism gave us a language.’

Americans Raj Sisodia and John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods, founded the Conscious Capitalism non-profit movement in 2008.

– Higher purpose or the ‘why’ of a company
– Stakeholder orientation that focuses on optimising value for all parties including the environment
– Conscious leadership
– Conscious culture that builds trust and transparency among all stakeholders.

Whole Kids is also one of a handful of Australian companies to have been B Corp certified; this third-party independent assessment audits a company’s social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

For Meldrum it’s about trying to make work as fun as possible.

As there are only 10 in the team, career opportunities are limited. Instead Meldrum focuses on how to create professional development opportunities for the staff and offer other meaningful benefits and rewards. On the staff strategy days they spend half the time working through the Conscious Capitalist principles.

‘We look at how can we make people more healthy and more happy. One of the team said she’d really like to run a marathon, she’d never run a race before. We asked how could we help her as a team? We gave her time off to run every week. And then we all joined in. Now the whole team runs.’

So what meaningful risk can you take at work to make a difference?

If you’d like to read more about Conscious Capitalism, read my full article in Acuity.