Blooming Bs is a social enterprise devoted to providing school children with healthy and delicious food to combat childhood obesity in Saudi Arabia and beyond.
Middle East & North Africa
The Expanding Problem of Childhood Obesity
The statistics are sobering. A third of Saudi children—more than a million—are obese or overweight. They are part of a global epidemic, with the childhood obesity rate increasing and the number of obese children worldwide predicted to reach 206 million in 2025.
Obesity has become one of the most important and serious health issues for both adults and children. Rates of non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular and musculoskeletal disorders, diabetes, and even cancer, are increasing not only in Saudi children but worldwide. Although the Saudi government has introduced policies around serving healthy food in schools, only a small percentage of schools fully comply. Further, a surprising percentage of home-made meals parents send their kids to school with kids contain sweets and other junk food. Time pressure plays a big role. Because school in Saudi Arabia starts at 7 a.m., working parents must wake up early to drop off kids, leaving no time to prepare healthy lunches at home.
All school canteens ever feed our kids is junk food. And yet they are somehow expected to go to class and learn? I decided to do something not only for my daughter but for the whole community.
Banishing Junk Food from Schools
Rihab Hasanain was so infuriated with this situation that she started a business to change the options for Saudi kids. Blooming Bs works as a catering partner with schools to deliver healthy, nutritious, and delicious food.
The journey to Blooming Bs began when Rihab returned to Saudi Arabia after completing a master’s and PhD program in Health Services Management in Australia. She began evaluating schools for her daughter and found the food options unacceptable. “It was literally junk food being sold in the school cafeteria,” she says. “Kids are eating it for breakfast and then they’re supposed to go and study.”
In 2016, Rihab decided she needed to act and shifted focus from her profession in academia. “A lot of people can teach at university but no one is doing anything about this problem.” Knowing nothing about starting a business, she quickly learned about logistics, regulation, and branding. Within six months she found a location, hired staff, completed the paperwork, and opened the doors. The understanding of her husband and children helped, as did the support of her parents and sister. “My father and my mother always encouraged me to follow my dreams and do what I’m passionate about,” Rihab says. “My sister Wafaa is like my soulmate… I call her my emotional cofounder.”
This is really making parents happy and providing ease in their mornings as well.
A Women-Run Business Giving Kids Home-Cooked Meals
In its first year, Blooming Bs served 60,000 meals, and doubled that number the second year. Rihab expects to sell at least 50 percent more in the third year, to larger schools. “Now we are catering meals for a school that has 400 students and another that has more than 1,000,” Rihab says. “We are receiving requests for schools that have more than 2,000 students.”
The company began with two employees and now has more than 20. As a women-only business operating during school hours, Blooming Bs provides opportunities to Saudi mothers who otherwise might not be able to work. “We are very convenient for women and mothers,” Rihab says. Employees can start work after they drop their kids at school and finish in time to pick them up. And Blooming Bs doesn’t require any particular education level or experience—just awareness of the issue and a passion for cooking.
Employees come from all corners of Saudi Arabia, bringing different tastes and recipes. This diversity of hiring has helped Blooming Bs create menus with options as varied as the staff’s geographical backgrounds. “We came up with a menu that is loved by the majority of the children.” Now even kids whose parents may not have time to prepare a lunch may reap the benefits of a healthy home-cooked meal at school.
In our second year we catered 122,000 meals, double the first year. In our third year, we are aiming to increase that by fifty percent.
Fighting Obesity One Lunch at a Time
Rihab points out that the MENA region has the unfortunate distinction of leading in the global obesity epidemic. She sees franchising as the best solution to expand Blooming Bs quickly to tackle the problem regionally and eventually worldwide. “It took a little bit of time for us to understand exactly what the kids like,” Rihab says. Now that Blooming Bs knows kids’ palates, the company is on its way to turning the tide of childhood obesity, one lunch at a time.
My father and my mother always encouraged me to follow my dreams and do what I’m passionate about.