Private Sector Partnerships for Global Nutrition Impact: Early Learnings
Poor nutrition is the underlying cause of nearly half of all deaths of children under age 5; in addition, over one-fifth of children worldwide are stunted, which has long-term consequences for their cognitive, economic, and health outcomes (UNICEF et al. 2020). Stunting is a function of a child’s nutritional status during the first 1,000 days of life, beginning in utero. Therefore, addressing child undernutrition requires addressing the nutritional needs of women of reproductive age (WRA) as well as those of infants and young children. Recognizing the important role of the private sector in food systems and the potential for food and beverage companies to contribute to better nutrition among low- and middle-income (LMI) populations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Private Sector Partnerships (PSP) initiative under its global Nutrition Strategy in 2017. The PSP initiative has funded a portfolio of demonstration projects as part of a learning agenda about overcoming barriers that have impeded private companies from making nutritious fortified foods accessible and affordable to LMI consumers in developing countries. The projects aim to identify upstream innovations and new business models that can achieve sustainable nutritional impact at scale, with a focus on improving the diets of WRA and children during the first 1,000 days. The PSP initiative aligns with and complements government programs that support large-scale fortification of staple foods by focusing on fortification of packaged foods that LMI populations widely consume. PSP also complements traditional nutrition education and behavior change campaigns by leveraging the unique ability of food and beverage companies to shape preferences and behaviors on a large scale through innovative marketing and sales channels. This brief provides an overview of the PSP initiative and shares early learnings from the foundation’s experience partnering with food and beverage companies to reach undernourished LMI consumers, particularly WRA and children, with fortified packaged foods and beverages that are consumed frequently enough to contribute to improved nutrition outcomes.
- Consumption frequency is the key to achieving profitability and financial sustainability, as well as health impacts. In contrast to traditional penetration-based paths to achieving high sales volume that focus on reaching a large number of customers (most of whom consume a product infrequently), the PSP TA Hub Network has helped company partners develop business models that are designed to prompt targeted consumers (such as women of reproductive age) to consume a fortified food product multiple times per week, thereby enabling companies to reach their sales targets while also delivering meaningful doses of micronutrients to customers.
- Human-centered design principles and methodologies are needed to understand target consumers and develop innovative business models that can achieve frequent consumption. Companies need a deep understanding of their target consumers’ pain points, aspirations, and daily routines to be able to develop the “jobs to be done” by brands, positioning, and packaging. These consumer insights help ensure that products will particularly appeal to the subgroup for whom the fortification is formulated by (1) explaining benefits in ways that resonate with target consumers, (2) developing cost-efficient advertising and promotion strategies that can drive first-trial and repeat purchases, and (3) making the product available at convenient locations.
- Innovative business models can benefit from a data-driven, iterative market test process. A multi-stage, data-driven market test process can serve two purposes: (1) refining and optimizing the new business model through iterative learning and pivoting, and (2) informing scale-up and replication in other geographies.
- An embedded, systematic, and participatory MLE process is critical to achieving the dual objectives of the market test. MLE is central to the PSP TA Hub Network’s approach to market tests because it enables the data-driven pivots that are needed to optimize innovative business models’ potential for business sustainability and nutrition impact. It also provides essential data and evidence to inform decisions about scaling up the product and the business model, and to spur other companies to enter low- and middle-income markets with nutritious food products.