Jared Cannon’s passion for cooking started before he was tall enough to reach the kitchen counter.
“I have been cooking since I was 3 years old,” said Cannon, a 2016 business innovation and entrepreneurship alumnus. “I have pictures of myself on a stepstool hand-rolling pasta on the counter.”
The Newark, Delaware, native stuck with his passion for food through adulthood, studying at the Culinary Institute of America in New York from 2004 through 2006. He then lead kitchens in popular Philadelphia restaurants like Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, Honeygrow, Di Bruno Bros. and the Ritz-Carlton hotels.
But after 18 years in the restaurant industry, Cannon took a risk and pursued a venture that addressed his bigger concerns: food waste and sustainable, healthy eating.
In May 2016, Cannon founded Simply Good Jars, a company that makes pre-made meals like salads and yogurt breakfasts from locally sourced ingredients in jars and places them in Simply Smart Fridges, located at busy Center City areas like public gyms and co-working spaces.
Each jar costs $10 and the refrigerators only accept Venmo payments. The company operates on an honor system, so customers are trusted to pay on Venmo after taking a jar.
With Simply Good Jars, Cannon said he is bringing accessible, sustainable and healthy food options to the city to change how busy students and workers eat.
“I always saw [a disconnect] in the industry with food in the garbage and hungry people out there,” Cannon said. “It made sense to…be able to reuse the package by getting it back, so that way there is no waste and every jar back would give a meal.”
Every day, each American wastes about one pound of food per day, while approximately 150,000 tons of food are thrown away in United States households, according to The Guardian.
Customers are encouraged to return empty jars to the refrigerators after eating. For every jar returned, Simply Good Jars donates a meal to the food rescue organization Philabundance.
Cannon said Simply Good Jars donates about 1,000 meals a month, and that some clients hold onto jars for weeks until they have the time to return them.
“We just got a box of 40 jars mailed to us the other day,” he added. “People would rather pay for postage, get a box, tape it up and take it to the post office rather than throw them away. That, to me, speaks volumes.”
Each jar has fewer than 600 calories and is made from fresh ingredients, like the Apple Jawn jar made with ingredients like apple cider, Gala apples, Greek yogurt and almond milk.
“Simply Good Jars are a necessary take on an old way of eating,” said Olivia Neely, the nutritionist for Simply Good Jars. “With any nutritional goal, it is to bring the basis back to eating real foods, but this is packaged in a way that is accessible for people.”
Katie McCrea works as an outreach coordinator for The Common Market, a nonprofit food distributor that connects local farms to food companies looking for reliable, fresh products. The Common Market contacts local farms in the Mid-Atlantic region to get ingredients for Simply Good Jars, and ships produce to the company’s kitchen in West Philadelphia.
In her role as a liaison, McCrea also evaluates how Cannon’s company affects the community. She said Simply Good Jars is doing a study with the University of Pennsylvania, researching how eating healthy, local food impacts student performance.
Moving forward, Cannon has contacted Aramark about implementing multiple Simply Good Jars fridges on campus that would accept meal swipes in dining halls and dorms.
He said the ultimate goal of the company is to allow customers to empower themselves to better the community.
“Hopefully we can be at donating 10,000 meals a month, [so] Philadelphia’s thriving and our waste and consumption has shifted,” Cannon said.
But Cannon’s goals don’t stop there.
He aims to expand Simply Good Jars to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore next year. By 2020, he said he hopes that his company will make its way to New York City and Boston.
Along the way, Cannon hopes to inspire other companies to play an active role in promoting sustainability. Companies can begin to change how the world functions with every small step, he said.
“It is really about increasing the access to healthy food to help people eat better, feel better, waste less and do good in the community,” Cannon added.