For as long as Reyanne Mustafa can remember, she has been a passionate advocate for the environment. Coming to college, she was frustrated with the lack of connection between her major, nutrition and the environment, so she decided to show everyone how much they actually were related by adding a minor in Nutritional Sciences.
She began further exploring her passion by working at a local restaurant, where she came up with the idea to turn food waste into usable, nutritious food. Using her idea, and working with fellow waitress and San Diego State student Kristian Krugman, Mustafa began to work toward turning her environmental dreams into her very own startup. Now past the idea phase and moving forward, SoulFull turns unused restaurant food into protein bars to help feed the world and solve the looming issue of food waste.
Exposed to Environmentalism
In the third grade, Mustafa and her class completed a science project that focused on polar bears. The idea that such an immense animal could be endangered by the changing environment struck a chord with her. From that moment on, Mustafa’s growing education has only fueled her passion for the environment.
But, even before learning about it in school, Mustafa had an innate sense for environmentalism. “From all that I can remember, ask my mom or anyone who grew up with me, I’ve always been a little crazy about the environment,” she says. From turning off lights, to making her parents go buy a recycling bin, Mustafa was there to make sure her family’s environmental footprint was as small as possible, even if by doing so she was “the odd one in the bunch.”
When she entered into college, she declared as a Nutrition major. However, she quickly became frustrated at the lack of a link between this important branch of science and the environment. “There was a huge disconnect and I felt that it was my responsibility to bridge the gap,” she says. Food comes from the earth, and to Mustafa, the connection seemed obvious, so she took on the task of connecting them herself, and added a minor in Environmental Science. Her goal was to both learn as much as possible and show her fellow students how connected the two topics actually are.
An Idea Is Born
Everyday Americans throw out tons of uneaten, wasted food; working in a high-volume restaurant, Mustafa is no stranger to this reality. As a server, she witnesses huge quantities of untouched food being thrown out. This wasn’t food that people had sent back or the scraps on their plates, but nutritious, freshly made food. At first, Mustafa turned a blind eye to the food waste, but over time it bothered her more and more. “Being as environmentally conscious as I am, the food we were wasting started to bother me because I know how bad it is for the earth; it turns into a very toxic gas.”
Mustafa’s “a-ha moment” came one night as she was leaving the restaurant around midnight. Walking out the door, she saw a man outside begging for food. “This really hit me because not even an hour before I witnessed a huge amount of untouched food thrown into the trash,” she says. The next day, Mustafa told the chefs that instead of throwing out the brown rice quinoa mixture they mass produced, she was going to keep it.
She then approached her friend and current business partner, Kristian Krugman, with the idea of feeding the homeless with this leftover food. The pair went to an area with a high concentration of homelessness, and handed out the extra food for hours. They repeated this process several times, but with a limited schedule and storage space, the idea was soon abandoned.
Later on, Mustafa was grocery shopping and came across one of her favorite protein bars. To her shock, the first two ingredients listed were the very foods that her restaurant threw out in excess—brown rice and quinoa. From there, she came up with the concept of her now-start-up, SoulFull: Take nutritious food waste and turn it into usable products, like protein bars.
Building a Business
Every day on her walk to class, Mustafa saw a flyer from the Zahn Center, which helps students start businesses, but she disregarded them all the time until, one day, she felt like she had received a signal. “I felt they were either haunting me or it was a sign from the universe,” she says.
Both Mustafa and her SoulFull partner, Krugman, are science majors who knew nothing about how to start a business, but they both loved their idea. The Zahn Center gave them the encouragement they needed to get started, working through a multi-step process of building their very own startup. While Mustafa would have loved to go nonprofit, it was not a sustainable model for SoulFull, and instead they went with a one-to-one model, where for every bar purchased, one is donated to a food relief organization. This way, Mustafa is able to combat two issues—food waste and the hunger crisis. Work began on this project about a year ago, and now they are making progress, moving out of the idea phase and into prototyping.
While building a business with no knowledge of the subject may have seemed like Mustafa’s biggest challenge, there were plenty more to come. The biggest challenge was, and still is, changing the mindset of the consumer. “People think of food waste and automatically associate it with words like gross, dumpster and trash,” she says.
However, this is not what food waste is or what is in Mustafa’s products. Food waste is simply food that has not been eaten; it is still just as fresh and nutritious. With SoulFull, Mustafa hopes to change the mindset of the consumer so that when looking at a product made from food waste, they know that it is safe and good to eat. By getting her message out, she will help both promote her product and educate people on the concept of food waste itself.
Creating a start-up hasn’t been an easy process, but no hard work comes without reward. Mustafa and Krugman just entered their start-up in a competition with the Commission of Environment Council (CEC) called How Green is Your Dream? And, out of hundreds of applicants, their idea was selected to represent the United States during this year’s North American Conference.
Mustafa got to go to Canada and attend the conference, and, at the end, presented her pitch and received an award. The competition also gave them funding to help build their start-up. As a lifelong environmental enthusiast, this was a dream come true for Mustafa. She got to meet important environmentalists and the heads of the EPA for the U.S., Canada and Mexico. During the conference, they also talked about what progress has been made and what’s to come, including the role of young people in environmentalism. Mustafa was amazed by the support and recognition that her start-up received, and loved the opportunity to spread her ideas. She says, “It’s my baby, so I’m really proud of it and excited to tell others about it.”
What’s Next for SoulFull
While SoulFull is still in its early phases, Mustafa is already looking forward. Right now, they are working on what Mustafa calls “the boring stuff,” including things like certification and food safety, but she has the next big step in mind. “What we really want to do, more than just sell you a cookie or protein bar, is create a food hunger crisis campaign,” she says.
Mustafa dreams of spreading the word through a food-waste summit, where she would partner with other food-waste start-ups and travel around educating people on what food waste really is and how to solve the problem. With their one-to-one business model, she would also like to partner with nonprofits who are working in crisis areas on food relief. Maybe one day, with the right funding, SoulFull could even go nonprofit itself.
But, for the time being, Mustafa sees her product as the tail of a much larger animal. The large animal is the food waste crisis, and her product shows one possible solution. She knows that there are more great ideas out there, and would love for everyone to join her on her fight against world hunger and the effort to rid wasteful consumption.