Allow me to introduce you to Project 7, a company making a difference in lives around the world through design, creativity, storytelling … and gum. After admiring the work of Project 7 for a while now, I reached out to founder and CEO Tyler Merrick (pictured above) to find out more about the organization.
Project 7 is a consumer goods company whose products are sold in 7,000 retail outlets—including Walmart, Target, and Caribou stores across the country—but the Project 7 story begins in a small town in the Texas panhandle. Of course, the Texas panhandle isn’t know for design-heavy, socially-conscious brands, so where did Project 7 come from?
The Family Business
“I grew up in a family business — in the pet food industry of all things,” Merrick told me over the phone from southern California. “All I ever wanted to do was work for my dad, so after college I came back home with that goal in mind.”
Merrick worked for his father for seven years and ended up building one of the organization’s brands into a leader in a niche segment of the industry. Through this experience, Merrick began to realize the power of a brand’s relationship with consumers. And rather than constraining his professional efforts to the world of pet food, Merrick began to wonder what it would look like to harness the power of consumers to benefit the less fortunate.
Once Merrick started thinking in these terms, his days in the family business were numbered. Eventually, he asked himself the question that would alter the trajectory of his life: “If we’re going to build a brand, why don’t we do it with something that has another level of depth to it?”
A New Venture
Merrick knew God was changing his heart, guiding him through a fork at which the family business and a new venture diverged. Slowly and carefully, Merrick began to sketch a new kind of company. And because Merrick came from the world of consumer goods, it was natural that his next endeavor would be built around what he already knew.
Project 7 was founded on the idea of producing and selling consumer goods, and then using the profits to address seven distinct needs. They are, in the company’s words, as follows:
- Feed the Hungry
- Heal the Sick
- Hope for Peace
- House the Homeless
- Quench the Thirsty
- Teach them Well
- Save the Earth.
In each of these initiatives, Project 7 partners with existing non-profits to provide both funding and awareness. These partners — including familiar names such as Samaritan’s Purse, Restore International, and World Vision — possess a level of expertise and infrastructure that enables Project 7 to focus on selling consumer goods rather than reinventing the non-profit wheel.
Today, Project 7‘s product catalog includes coffee, apparel, sugar-free gum and mints, bottled spring water, and accessories, but it all began with water. In fact, it all began at the height of the premium bottled water trend a few years ago. Then, a buyer for Whole Foods challenged Merrick to move beyond water (the trend was beginning to run its course), which prompted him to ask the buyer what else he was looking for. The buyer said he was looking for gum, and Merrick shrewdly countered that Project 7 could do gum. Of course, they’d never produced gum before, but an open door at Whole Foods was a good reason to start. Project 7 developed gum, Whole Foods bought it, and more retail doors began to open.
That’s not to say that Project 7 was an instant hit. But throughout the struggles of the early days, Merrick was guided by conviction. “My wife and I used to say, ‘We just feel like we’re called to do this whether or not it fails or succeeds.’”
That conviction meant the Merricks were willing to do what it took to see the Project 7 idea through, even when the idea required them (both lifelong Texans) to move from the Dallas area to the West Coast. Why move from Texas to the West Coast? Because physical space still matters. What Merrick found was that this innovative idea, a for-profit company that produces goods in order to do good, needed to be based in a region of the country that is more open to new things. In the US, the reality is that the coasts are simply more ideologically fertile environments for startups. Being in California helped with key elements such as early adoption, public perception, talent recruiting, and making connections with brands, vendors, and other partners.
This part of the story is a particularly good reminder that even in an age lauded as predominantly digital, we can’t forget that people, places, and conversations are still the soil in which new ideas take root. Take Silicon Valley, for example — it’s a geographic region that attracts and connects innovators, then exports their innovations. As such, it was in Orange County that Project 7 began to flourish.
As I mentioned at the top of this story, Project 7 products can be found in 7,000 retail outlets, including Walmart and Target stores, where the company’s mission distinguishes it from the pack of global conglomerates. It’s in the context of these retail giants that Merrick believes Project 7 can have the biggest possible impact, and that’s where you come in. See, Project 7 is telling a story in the retail world that transcends flavor crystals, but the story only advances if people buy their products.
“We really are a retail company,” Merrick said. “There are so many great non-profits for people to be involved with, but where we need people is to support us at retail. That’s the voting with dollars that Walmart and Target look at. That’s how we keep these kinds of things available to consumers.”
So, keep an eye out for Project 7 products and buy a pack of gum. Every little bit helps. Of course, you can take your support a step further by sharing the Project 7 story, keeping up with news at Project7.com, encouraging local retail outlets to carry Project 7 products, and even becoming a Feedvocate.
You’re welcome to start with buying that pack of gum. In so doing, you’ll help Tyler Merrick and Project 7 change the world.
Scott McClellan is the Editor of Echo Hub and the Director of Echo Conference. You can follow him on Twitter: @scottmcclellan.