Issue 41

Scandinavian venture pushes nutrition to children in need

Affordable supplements with whey protein will target the first 1,000 days of life

A new Scandinavian partnership is paving the way to market for affordable dietary supplements that meet the needs of malnourished children in Africa and Southeast Asia. Scandinavian Alliance for Improved Nutrition (SAIN) aims to overcome the barriers to marketing low-price, good-quality solutions to families that are not eligible for free food aid. Arla Foods Ingredients is a founding partner of this public-private initiative and, from spring 2014, will drive the first SAIN pilot project to commercialise a micronutrient blend containing whey protein. 

Sustainable nutrition
“Many children lack sufficient nutrients in their everyday diet to ensure their healthy growth. The pilot project is a step towards finding a long-term solution to their dietary needs that can be run as a sustainable, commercial operation,” says senior project manager at Arla Foods Ingredients, Charlotte Sørensen.  The project targets the so-called 1,000-day window – the critical period from conception to a child’s second birthday when nutrient deficiency compromises physical growth, cognitive development and immunity.  By incorporating essential vitamins, minerals and whey proteins in a powder, the intention is to produce nutritious sprinkles that mothers can mix into food for themselves and for children after the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding.

Eliminating the market barriers
Before low-income consumers in Africa and Southeast Asia can buy the product, SAIN must eliminate the many barriers to market entry.  Charlotte Pedersen is senior advisor at Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), which has led the founding of SAIN and, since 2011, been a driving force behind a similar initiative, The Amsterdam Initiative Against Malnutrition (AIM). She emphasises the challenges ahead. “It is not easy for the private sector to develop products for people who only have a few dollars to live on a day. It takes R&D to develop products that are both cheap and good quality. So this is not about corporate social responsibility. The product must be close to the core business of the partners.”

Building local bridges
GAIN’s role is to bring together a consortium of private companies, NGOs, academic institutions and government-funded assistance programmes to ensure such products are both financially attractive and have social impact. Bridges must also be built to the target countries to establish a distribution network and, where feasible, local production. “We look at the whole value chain, including working with governments to create policies supportive of micronutrient supplements and stimulating demand among low-income consumers who often know very little about nutrition,” Charlotte Pedersen says. SAIN has obtained commitment from businesses, NGOs and academic institutions and is now seeking government backing to complete the partnership.