Food firms fortify productsJuly 2009
A number of food companies are to collaborate on providing products fortified with vitamins and other nutrients for developing countries.
Businesses including Unilever, PepsiCo, and the Dutch manufacturing group DSM will work together – and with aid agencies – to develop vitamin-enriched products and sell them ‘at cost’ to poor people in the third world. They say they have decided on the course of action because increases in food prices allied to recession-related falls in donations to aid agencies have aggravated malnutrition problems worldwide.
Although the food industry has previously claimed the cost of fortifying food might make it unaffordable for poor people, the partners hope their new collaboration will encourage long-term business models for such products.
Paulus Verschuren, a senior director of Unilever’s partnership development group, said: ‘It’s a huge business opportunity. But we need to work together to find models that are effective.’
A number of common health problems can be tackled by better nutrition, such as anaemia, which can be quickly reduced by eating iron-rich foods, and diarrhoea, which can be eased by foods rich in zinc.
The companies involved will also promote greater awareness on micronutrient deficiency – often called ‘hidden hunger’. In a joint declaration they say this is the ‘forgotten Millennium Goal’, and is ‘not high enough’ on the agendas of governments, aid agencies, or the media.
The public sector has been calling on private food producers to develop more affordable fortified food for some years. Arnold Trimmer, senior advisor for micronutrients at Unicef, said: ‘With increasing food and fuel prices, the nutrition problems that already exist are magnified... we want to see food companies fortifying more products.’
DSM has been trialling fortified products including nutritionally enhanced rice, while PepsiCo, which has already fortified its Tropicana and Quaker Oats brands in developed countries, is running pilot projects for vitamin-enriched foods in South Africa, India and Nigeria. It said it was ‘too early to speculate’ as to whether it would seek a profit from such activities.
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