Fighting Malnutrition With Improved Complementary Foods For Infants

By Lucie Klarsfeld, Hystra

Fighting Malnutrition With Improved Complementary Foods For Infants

As of 2014, malnutrition remains a widespread issue across the globe. Families living at the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) spend an average of 60% of their income on food, and yet, undernutrition still accounts for over 3m deaths per year among infants and young children. 26% of all under-five children are stunted, irremediably reducing their chances of becoming successful adults.

A range of solutions has been developed to improve the quality of nutrition during the critical first 1,000 days of life (in utero and in the first 2 years of life). Little is known however about the potential contribution of market-based solutions. A new report by Hystra learns from the successes and failures of best practice organizations that successfully sell nutritious complementary foods and supplements for 6-24 months infants to BoP families in developing countries.

The report does not judge product quality and effectiveness, but instead analyses the marketing and sales approaches of these organizations. It is based on extensive desk research, interviews with 32 experts on nutrition for the BoP, infant nutrition and health-related behaviour change, previous Hystra work studying over 20 models of micro-distribution at the BoP and analyzing marketing and sales best practices for innovative devices, and the in-depth analysis of 7 case studies specifically for this work: BRAC-Renata (Bangladesh), Danone Milkuat (Indonesia), Econocom Foods(South Africa), Gret program Nutrifaso (Burkina Faso), Naandi Community Water Services (India), Nutri’zaza (Madagascar), and Protein Kissée-La (Côte d’Ivoire).

The report findings are summarized in eight lessons learnt, some of which challenge conventional wisdom:

  1. Marketing nutrition is not (only) about health: to succeed, in addition to providing health benefits, products must provide an immediate satisfaction to the child and convenience for the mother, while meeting local food habits
  2. BoP consumers are ready to pay more for nutritious products that they value: even poor mothers want to give their children the most expensive – seen as the best – food they can afford, not the cheapest product on the market. Hence the challenge is not to lower price, as much as to ensure product quality and its health effect on infants in the quantity households can afford
  3. Effective promotion leverages trust and aspirations. Triggering initial trials through health professionals (when in line with local laws), aligning the entire caretaker environment to motivate behavior change, and using aspirational (rather than health) messages have proved effective levers to promote these products
  4. Constant reminders and incentives drive compliance, which is key to achieve simultaneously social objectives and economic sustainability for the marketers of these products
  5. In rural and mature markets, traditional retail is the most cost efficient distribution channel: beyond marketing practices, daily product availability is necessary for regular use and must be achieved at the lowest possible costs
  6. Door-to-door sales can create demand and build client loyalty in new urban markets, or in existing markets where consumers demand services that only door-to-door can provide (e.g., home delivery of ready-to-eat food)
  7. Optimizing salesforce productivity requires following private sector best practices for other types of fast moving consumer goods, and innovating “frugally” for distribution solutions (e.g., by leveraging local transportation solutions, such as bikes, motorbikes or carts)
  8. Broadening customer base is key to building a sustainable business, i.e., by creating higher margin premium products for richer clients, enlarging the product range with products fit for a larger population than infants and young children, or carefully leveraging large-scale institutional orders (distributed for free by public and not-for-profit players).

Further research is needed to validate and deepen these findings. Yet we hope that they can already lead to more large-scale initiatives that leverage market-based mechanisms to bring the benefits of innovative products and services to more families at the BoP, and help solve the scourge of malnutrition.

Readers should keep in mind that this report (1) does not endorse the products sold by the companies described in the report, (2) is based on a limited set of examples and (3) might have overlooked important nuances in both products and geographies. It will need to be revised as the evidence base builds up.

About GAIN

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) provided funding for this report as part of its work to improve nutrition for low-income consumers and vulnerable groups. GAIN was founded in 2002 to combat this human suffering by improving access to a wide variety of affordable, nutritious foods for vulnerable populations. First among our priorities are adolescent girls, women, and children in their first 24 months of life, when poor nutrition may cause lifelong problems. The strategies we apply: 1. Introduce new models of delivery and improve delivery mechanisms to better meet global needs; 2. Test new models that are market-based in their approach, innovative, sustainable and scalable; 3. Catalyze results-based partnerships among those positioned to create impact – governments, civil society, businesses and humanitarian agencies.

About Hystra

Hystra is a global consulting firm that works with business and social sector pioneers to design and implement inclusive business approaches that are profitable, scalable and eradicate social and environmental problems. In order to “be the change we want to see in the world”, Hystra itself is a hybrid consulting firm – a for-profit tool for social change. Since its creation in 2009, Hystra has conducted in-depth sectorial studies on clean energy, safe water, affordable housing and ICT-based business models for development, analyzed winning marketing strategies in micro-distribution, designed new models to serve low-income communities with home improvement packages, irrigation pumps, solar lights, safe water, and improved nutrition products, prepared business plans for pioneering inclusive businesses and supported the creation of a social impact fund. In five years Hystra has worked in close to 20 countries serving over 35 clients, including large corporations, international aid agencies, foundations, and governments, to support business models that change the lives of low-income communities across the globe.

To download the full report and Hystra reports on Marketing for the BoP, Energy for the BoP, Safe Water for the BoP and ICT for the BoP, visit

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