By Mary Stone
Michele Liddle founded her company in response to a need she saw as a volunteer in a local food pantry.
“The things on the shelves were not the healthiest food available. It was mac and cheese. You were lucky if there was peanut butter on the shelves. It was highly processed and not very healthy. My thinking was, ‘When I don’t eat well, I don’t feel well,’” Liddle says.
She saw that hunger reflected in Rochester’s poor graduation rates and desperately wanted to make an impact in the community by supplementing food pantry shelves with clean nutrition. She’s done far more than that.
Since 2016 when she started The Perfect Granola LLC, she has been able to donate not just her product but profits as well—nationwide.
Liddle, originally from Buffalo, opened Perfect Granola in Rochester and kept her focus on upstate New York, but since gaining national distribution in Walmart Inc. and The Kroger Co., she expanded her impact with bags of granola, single-serve pouches and bars that leave out the preservatives, hydrogenated oils, corn syrup and chemicals found in other products.
“We now work with Feeding America across six states. We’ve also just partnered this year with PepsiCo’s Food for Good program, which is their anti-hunger initiative to supply food to children in food deserts across the country. So they’ve been purchasing our products and putting them in their breakfast meal kits nationwide.”
COVID-19 has intensified the state of food insecurity. Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S., projects 42 million people (one in eight), including 13 million children (one in six) will experience food insecurity this year.
School closures left many children hungrier. They also affected Liddle’s company, where more than 20% of revenues came from schools that bought her product. Liddle says the year has been tough. She had to lay off her staff of seven and, as a single parent, take care of her two children, ages 7 and 11, as they stayed home from school.
“Anytime we can make a donation, even if it’s two cases of product or five pallets, we’re making a difference and feeding people.”
“We have been just trying to survive and keep our heads above water,” she says. But the challenge also has helped her realize better the value of being able to give her daughters an up-close look at the hard work she pours into making a difference in the world and how they, in turn, can do the same.
“Anytime we can make a donation, even if it’s two cases of product or five pallets, we’re making a difference and feeding people,” Liddle says.
Going to school every day, her daughters didn’t fully understand the business, its mission and impact, Liddle says. Now, they’ve been able to participate daily—and that, beyond all the donations and impact the Perfect Granola has been able to make, is her greatest source of pride.
Mary Stone is a Rochester-based writing professor and journalist who has been covering people and businesses in the region for the past 15 years.