Make an opportunity, solve a problem, part II

Latest posts by Christine Haskell (see all)

After I wrote the post on Plumpynut, I could not get the story out of my head. It was a classic example of a company meeting a need with the simplest of solutions – and yet I can not understand why some of the larger manufacturing operations are not getting into this game. They would be safer than some of the get-rich quick companies in China or India, who seem to not be regulated as heavily. 

Surely companies like Nestle, Kraft and P&G can:

  • produce this product at the lowest cost
  • dedicate crop space to this product
  • create jobs around the world and build people and communities with a single flavor

And it’s interesting, this story has done more to spur conversation (in person, not on the blog ‘obviously’) about how people can make money doing the right thing. A former collegue even approached me on starting a manufacturing company, which is tempting. I mean, if small mom and pop shops can figure out how to manufacture, market and sell gourmet dog treats – we should be able to figure out how to make a simple peanut butter mixture.

I thought I would share a little additional information on the company that is currently supplying UNICEF.

Nutriset, a private company in France was founded by former African aid worker Michel Lescanne, has been selling food products to combat hunger and malnutrition since 1986. And it finally has a hit on its hands. Plumpy’nut, a patented nutritional supplement, was distributed to an estimated 500,000 children last year – double the number in 2005 and up from just 120,000 in 2004. One 3-ounce packet delivers 500 calories. Severely malnourished children can thrive on three or four a day.

Orders from big buyers like Unicef helped Nutriset’s sales top $25 million in 2006, up from $6.5 million in 2001. Most entrepreneurs would crow about such growth, but not company director Adeline Lescanne. “We don’t want to be a multinational,” she says. “We want to produce all that is needed. If we have to grow, we will grow to satisfy need.”

With no direct competitors and so many hungry people on the planet, Nutriset’s future growth looks certain. Would-be social entrepreneurs should remember the lesson of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus’s micro-finance bank: Sometimes the best solution to a big problem is a small one -in this case, one that fits in the palm of a child’s hand

She says Nutriset reinvests 80 percent of its profit – or about $2.5 million during the past year – into developing new products, and the firm is partnering with entrepreneurs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, and Niger to produce Plumpy’nut locally. Each African franchisee will be a for-profit entity that relies on less expensive local ingredients to deliver Nutriset’s proprietary recipe.

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