Nutrition doesn’t sell. Higher yields, better taste or earrings do!

Emile Schmitz
By on September 23, 2014

Biofortification. Ever heard of it? If not, big chance you will in the near future.

Biofortification is a technique that is used to produce staple crops that contain naturally higher levels of vitamin A, iron or zinc. Over the past 15 years, a huge number of researchers have worked hard to create several of these crop varieties. They can be a powerful tool in the fight against malnutrition in BoP markets.

The leading organization in this field, HarvestPlus, organized a 3-day conference in Kigali (Rwanda) inviting 300 professionals, including African ministers, higher management of donor organizations like Gates and DFID and private sector. The purpose was to create a common agenda to roll out this possibly powerful tool in the fight against malnutrition. The researchers realized they had to come out of their labs, throw off their white jackets and bring it out there.

Marketing to the BoP

Probably one of the biggest challenges that came up is: will consumers accept an orange sweet potato, or a high-iron bean, or high-zinc rice?

To accelerate this discussion, we were invited to present our insights on how consumers at the base of the pyramid purchase food, what their aspirations are and how to market products to the BoP successfully. The presentation created a lot of positive response and interest, since this is a key topic for the roll-out. Meanwhile, I pondered about the true benefit of a sweet potato with additional vitamin A to a woman in rural Uganda, earning 2 dollars a day…

What I realized in those 3 days is that a very successful roll-out in Rwanda was not really driven by the benefit of ‘nutrition’. Most of the people at the BoP wouldn’t understand that term, leave alone be triggered to spend money on it. When I spoke to local farmers and a very successful entrepreneur that used the orange sweet potato to successfully sell cookies to the BoP, one thing came clear: nutrition was not their driver.

Akarabo Golden Power Biscuits

Akarabo Golden Power Biscuits

The real benefit

The farmers thought it was a great project because the variety produced higher yield (=income) and the taste was better than the white variant. The entrepreneur could save 40% (!) of his production costs for cookies by replacing wheat flour by orange sweet potato. And the kids… they just liked the taste of the cookies and used the packaging as sugar containers or earrings.

To cut a long story short: to realize change at the BoP, you have to market your proposition with a relevant benefit, and this can often differ from the benefit stated in your development agenda.