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Banking on KC – Max Kaniger

Banking on KC – Max Kaniger

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Max Kaniger, the founder and CEO of Kanbe's Markets, a local nonprofit that's working to combat food deserts by delivering food justice, one neighborhood at a time. Welcome Max.

Max Kaniger:

Hey Kelly. Thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here.

Kelly Scanlon:

I'm very curious. Your slogan is, as I just said, delivering food justice, one neighborhood at a time. What is food justice?

Max Kaniger:

Food justice really is this ability that food has to impact our lives. And I believe very strongly that the more access and really better options that people and families have the stronger all of us in our communities and friends, families, neighbors, and a city can really become.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tell us about the role that Kanbe's Markets is playing in this, how is it creating food justice?

Max Kaniger:

So for us, that means taking a step back and looking at a systems approach. So we are looking at how we as an organization can impact the greater food system. And so we do that by partnering with the existing businesses that are in those communities. So the mom and pop, corner convenience stores that literally are all over the city. We provide them with all of the like refrigeration and shelving necessary to make selling healthy food, really easy and fun in their stores. And then we also bring in that product seven days a week. So we're there every single day, refreshing the shelves with fresh whole uncut produce and it's all done on consignment. So again, that small business owner isn't having to worry about, oh my God, did I just spend too much on a case of apples that aren't going to sell?

Max Kaniger:

And do I have to leave them out for a little bit longer, hoping that I can make that money back, we're there to take over that part of it for them so that we bring it in at no cost to them. But then as an organization kind of looking down the road, we do take a piece of everything that sells. So it kind of revenue share there at the end so that we, as an organization can be more sustainable. And so that we are also making sure that we can ensure that the products on the shelves really high quality and something we're really proud of. And also we set the prices. So we want to make sure all the prices are affordable because that accessibility for us isn't just about the proximity to food. It is about that affordability. And we want to make sure that everybody really can make the choice to buy healthy food.

Kelly Scanlon:

Sure. It doesn't benefit anybody for it to just sit there and rot because it's there and they can have it, but it's not affordable. Where do you source the food from?

Max Kaniger:

So that's another great part about Kansas City, and the wholesalers here have been super generous since the very beginning I got started working with C&C Produce. We now are also working with Liberty Fruit and some of the more national distributors like C.H. Robinson, even direct with some of the bigger growers like Driscoll berries who have been all very supportive. And are our model is really to fit within the kind of margins of the existing food system. So we actually are able to purchase.

Max Kaniger:

So we do buy a lot from these wholesalers at regular wholesale prices, just like any other kind of grocery retailers that you might find. As a nonprofit, we can also add some benefit back to them, if they're able to donate or discount the food to us. And as we look forward the more we're able to incorporate the donated and discounted food into our system, the more we can also buy from local farmers because that's a priority for us. First, priority is getting food to people. And for me, a hot house tomato grown across the country is better than no tomato. And so if we have to make that choice, I got to go with the wholesalers and working in that part of the system. But the more we can buy from local farms, we're really excited to see where that part of the model can grow, because there's a lot of really great farmers here that I can't wait to support more.

Kelly Scanlon:

And you're looking at this holistically, then it's more than just getting the food, although, that's your primary mission. It's more than getting the food into the areas where it's not assessable. It's also about you're involving the small businesses, you're involving the farmers. It's an ecosystem that you're building here.

Max Kaniger:

That's the hope, I guess. Because it's all about people. At the end of the day, everything I've ever known to do or everything I've ever done has always been about people. And I think Kansas City does people better than any place in the world. And there've been so many great businesses that have come before us that have really teed us up to fit nicely within the market where needed. So the wholesalers don't want to throw away food, but there's not necessarily a market for it. And so that's where we can come in and kind of ease that load for them. And then on the flip side, the small business owners want to sell healthier foods. They want to make that option available. They know how much the people in their communities want this food, how much they're working towards being healthier and providing the best meal they can for their family. But it's just not really realistic with the way the system's set up for some of these small business owners to make that possible. And so I'm really just trying to support the people that have been there long before me.

Kelly Scanlon:

And you're creating jobs too in these communities.

Max Kaniger:

That's a part of it, right? I mean, again, it always comes back to the people aspect. So our goal for the stores that we work with is $500 a week. And with that $500 a week, that means over the course of the year, it'd be between 7500 to 10,000 in additional revenue that these stores are able to put towards whatever it is that they need, whether that's new employees at the store, whether that's improvements in their stores or it's making sure that rent is always covered. And so they don't have to worry about losing the business because while there are hundreds in the food deserts of Kansas City there are over 600 of these mom and pop stores that we could be working with, they do transition fairly regularly. There's a bit of changes because it's a hard business to be in. And if we can make that a little easier, that's what I'm going for.

Kelly Scanlon:

And you're working with roughly 40, 45 of those locations right now.

Max Kaniger:

43, as of right now. And we had a bit of quick growth. Last year we went from 12 to 40. We've got an ever-growing waitlist of these stores, but I've really tried to slow that growth down just to make sure that we can be really good at what we do.

Kelly Scanlon:

Sustainable.

Max Kaniger:

Yeah. I want to be good at what we do. And that's where I want to make sure that rather than just continuing to grow and add, and add, and add, I want to make sure that each one of these stores is getting the attention I think it deserves and that the community around it is really helped and supported in the way that I would like to support. And that takes time, that takes us having to actually be there and to listen. And so that we make sure that what we're doing is actually being helpful.

Max Kaniger:

That the price point that I think is affordable is actually affordable and that there's still dignity to it. Because we have also had to play that balancing act where if things are too cheap, then they come off as cheap and things actually don't move off the shelves as well. And so having some of that trust and communication there so that when we have a lot of donated food, we can still put it on the shelves and have it be super, super affordable. And people know that just because it is cheap doesn't mean it's not quality.

Kelly Scanlon:

As you mentioned, you provide the refrigerated cases. That means that you have more deliveries that you need to make, so that could involve more trucks, more drivers. And so there's a lot of different things that go into adding on more stores, more locations.

Max Kaniger:

Yeah. Absolutely. We do have a growing fleet, I guess it's kind of crazy to think of, that we have a fleet. Ending 2019, it was just kind of me and two friends and a truck. And now we're a team of just under 30, with three different routes going out seven days a week to the healthy corner stores. And then we've even added home delivered meals aspect to our programming in partnership with the Mid-America Regional Council that's out there five days a week. And so we want to make sure that we're training the drivers really well and slowing it down because it's a lot of little details that add up to the kind of quality experience we want to deliver. It's a lot of logistics. And so I want to make sure that we are growing in a sustainable way because that's part of it.

Max Kaniger:

That's part of why we've kind of set ourselves up in the way we have with this model, is that really at scale, our hope and our goal would be that we wouldn't actually need to rely so much on some of the like larger, more traditional foundations for grants, but with the support of individuals like yourself, giving between the 20 and 50 bucks a month, kind of a range and the earned revenue we get at the stores that we can be sustainable and something that the people in the community could really come to rely on.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned your relationship with the Mid-America Regional Council and delivering the meals directly to the homes. Is that part of the Meals On Wheels program?

Max Kaniger:

Yeah, it's basically the same thing. So we're working with them. They send us a list of clients and Kanbe's along with a number of other organizations like Shepherd's Center, and Don Bosco, and Guadalupe, and Palmer, and others are working to get meals out. So we are doing a lot of the repacking of meals here in our warehouse, and then some of those other organizations are picking up in bulk. And then we also have a number of meals that we delivered directly to people's homes five days a week. And it's been an interesting program because it was something we thought would start small. We had been talking with people at MARC just at the beginning of the year in 2020. And we thought we piloted out with a few hundred meals maybe a month and just see how it worked within our organization. Pandemic I think really launched that forward because we're doing around 25,000 meals a month right now.

Kelly Scanlon:

Oh, wow. I mean, that's a lot more than the 100 that you envisioned, isn't it?

Max Kaniger:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah a little bit.

Kelly Scanlon:

But that, again, it shows the need. And as you said, it's a very solvable problem. So besides MARC, what are some of the relationships you have with some of the other nonprofits and organizations in Kansas city?

Max Kaniger:

I try and work with anybody that makes sense. And that's where we're really trying to figure out where we fit into this system where we're not duplicating other services. Because like I said, a lot of these organizations have been around for awhile doing great work and I want to be there to support and amplify their work as well as I can.

Max Kaniger:

One of the organization we work with most closely, it has been great was After the Harvest. And they have been wonderful in that when we had food that we were getting donated in that just didn't meet the quality standards that I would like in our stores, but were still perfectly good to eat or food that we were actually pulling off of the shelves in our stores because we pull things that are still great to eat, but that I don't want to sell. I don't feel comfortable selling. And so we were working with a number of different nonprofits and community kitchens and things like that that were producing hot meals and trying to get more food to them. But it was hard to manage all of that. And After the Harvest has made that process a lot easier because they have relationships existing with all of those organizations already.

Max Kaniger:

And so instead of having to call 20 different places and see who needs a few cases of broccoli, we let After the Harvest know all of the different food that we have, and they were really great about picking it up and distributing it, where it was needed most. And at the same time, in order to process a lot of this food, we need volunteers. And that's something that is a very new organization. We're still building that network up and After the Harvest is great about bringing in the community of people that have been helping them for years to help us in our warehouse here sorting, processed the food so we could make sure as much of it got into the hands of people as possible. And then from there, everything else. We do work with another organization is actually a tenant here with us at our warehouse is KC Can Compost and they manage all of our compost and get it all over to like Missouri Organic. So that at the very least everything is composted rather than sent to the landfill.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. So many, many hands that are needed to do this work. I'm very curious. What drew you to this kind of work, Max?

Max Kaniger:

Kansas City and the people here. But I think my parents. I grew up in and around a family of chefs and restaurateurs and foodies. My dad is a chef and had been here in KC for a long time and had recently been out in Colorado for a while. But before that was in LA, and in New York, cooking at some incredible restaurants. That's the environment I kind of grew up in. And my mom is about the kindest and most generous person I've ever known and constantly pushes me to be better and do better. Ran a lot of for-profit businesses. But then was the CEO over at the Central Exchange for awhile.

Kelly Scanlon:

I'm sure many of our listeners know your mom Gabe Kaniger. Yeah.

Max Kaniger:

Yeah. Having her there to look after me is I think, the most important thing that led me down this path, because I think a lot of entrepreneurs would be able to empathize with the fact that the initial idea was very different than where we are now. I had a lot of bad ideas and she was right there to call me on each and every one of them. And let me know that no, that's a bad idea, but keep pushing and maybe you'll get to the right thing.

Kelly Scanlon:

And you've come a long way. You said the end of 2019, it was just you and a couple of other guys and a truck.

Max Kaniger:

So January of 2019, we hired our fourth employee. Our office up until that point had been in my guest room, my living room. And so having the opportunity to move into a new warehouse that I knew we needed in order to expand. But I thought the 15,000 square foot warehouse that we found was something that we'd really be able to grow into over the next three to five years. We actually just a few months ago and it took over the entire building though. So we're now in 30,000 square feet and really excited to see what we can do going forward.

Kelly Scanlon:

One thing that you're very clear about Max is that Kanbe's is working to change the way communities approach philanthropy. And you say on your website, you have it spelled out there you say, we do not feed people. Now, everything we've just heard sounds like you're feeding people. So what do you mean by that?

Max Kaniger:

That's a great question, Kelly. Because it's something I do feel very strongly about and that we are, again, looking at this systems based approach. My role isn't to feed people and that a lot of the people and the communities that we're working with are happy to feed themselves if given the opportunity and that's what we're here to do. We're here to really look at how do we create an equitable system so that the people in our city can feed themselves. And it's really been kind of my favorite part about the work that we do to see how people are so excited to really provide for their families in that way. And that they're excited to come together and to talk and teach each other and to overcome things.

Max Kaniger:

And so my role really is to sit back and to listen and be a kind of facilitator to others needs, but that we're not really there to help in that kind of traditional way that people need a handout. It's more of a, I guess, a hand up, if that's kind of cliche. It's more of, I believe in you. It's I know that you can do this. I just want to make sure that you have all the tools and resources to do it.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes. And you mentioned dignity earlier because sometimes people think if something is way below market price, that it has no value and you mentioned that that also makes them feel like that they are just being given something basically. And it preserves their dignity to be able to, as you say, pay for this and provide healthy meals for their family, healthy ingredients that they can use in the meals. How can our listeners get involved with Kanbe's?

Max Kaniger:

I could have help from your listeners in just about every way imaginable. I would say that the first thing is coming out and volunteering at our warehouse can really get you to see what it is that we're doing and how many hands it takes to make this work possible. So the more we can have people come out and see the work that we're doing, I think the more connected there'll be with it. Beyond that we're a new and growing organization. If people are able to make donations, that really does make a long-term impact in how we're able to kind of grow. And I can say in earnest that we really do stretch each dollar as far as possible. And we're able to feed quite a few people with the support of each and every person that's been there behind us.

Max Kaniger:

But what I really like for people to do is to do what it is that they care about. I think people are most helpful and most impactful when they're doing something that they love and care about. So if that means it's here and getting your hands dirty, then great. If that means helping out with some of the graphic design stuff that we need or back end data management, things like that. If those are things that you're interested in, help there. Or honestly, even if it's not with us or with Kanbe's, if there is something that isn't food related that people are passionate about or they care about, helping the other organizations out there. There are so many cool organizations out there. And if one of those is what really like tugs at your heartstrings, go help them because everybody's kind of helping out and doing a little bit, then I'm confident that the work will get done. And so I think by helping others you're helping out.

Kelly Scanlon:

So for people who do want to get involved, where's the best place to go. What's best thing to do. Go out to your website?

Max Kaniger:

Yeah, absolutely. If they come onto the website, they can find out any of the events or upcoming volunteer opportunities that we have. They can also reach out to info@kanbesmarkets.org. That's K-A-N-D-E-S-M-A-R-K-E-T-S.org. We'll get you where you need to go from there.

Kelly Scanlon:

Info@kanbesmarkets, markets is plural. Info@kanbesmarkets.org, or go out to this website with the same domain name. Max, thank you so much for being on this episode of Banking on KC and for all the work that you're doing out there in the community, you and your team. I know it's not easy and we really appreciate everything that you're doing.

Max Kaniger:

Thank you, Kelly. We have a lot of fun doing it. And I feel like the luckiest person in the world that I get to do this job every day. So I appreciate the opportunity to share our story and thank you to Country Club Bank for having us out here.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Max Kaniger for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Accessibility to affordable healthy food is a challenge for many residents of Kansas City. Max and his team have created an innovative food delivery ecosystem that leverages and enhances existing parts of the local food economy involving a network of small businesses, local farmers, produce wholesalers, and non-profits who work together to provide healthy food choices in neighborhoods that experienced food insecurity. Their efforts are not only making fresh food obtainable in these markets, they are also boosting businesses, keeping food out of landfills, creating jobs, and uniting neighbors. As Max said, it's all about the people at the end of the day. Country Club Bank has seen time and time again, what can be accomplished when we put people first. When we all work together to empower individuals, to make healthy choices, whether about food or other aspects of our lives, we create a better, stronger, healthier Kansas City. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.