Food Access

Finally, A Sustainable Way to Fight Malnutrition

October 22, 2015  • Gisela Sánchez, Guest Blogger

(Photo Credit: Nutrivida)

Gisela Sánchez is founder of Nutrivida and an Aspen Global Leadership Network Fellow (AGLN). She is one of four 2015 McNulty Prize Laureates. Below, Sánchez explains how her AGLN leadership project is helping to eradicate world hunger.

One of the most critical challenges facing our world today is malnutrition, or hunger, and undernutrition — also referred to as “hidden hunger.” Undernutrition is the deprivation of essential vitamins and minerals in one’s diet. Approximately 800 million people worldwide suffer from malnutrition. Children are among the most affected victims in this group. According to the World Health Organization, nearly half of all deaths in children under five are due to undernutrition and malnutrition.

The good news is that, in the last 25 years, global malnutrition rates have gone down significantly, decreasing from 23 to 13 percent, as a result of government policies and strategic partnerships with the private sector and NGOs. But there is still much work to be done. We must be more ambitious in our efforts to curtail hunger and set our standards higher. We need to envision a world where all children have access to food so that they can be healthy and reach their maximum growth potential. That is why Nutrivida was created.

Nutrivida is a social business established to contribute to eradicating world hunger by tackling undernutrition and malnutrition in a socially and financially sustainable way. Nutrivida was created in 2012, as a joint effort between an entrepreneur, a Costa Rican company called Florida Ice & Farm Co., and Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, the creator of the social business concept. Nutrivida was established with a bold mission: “To eradicate undernutrition first in Costa Rica and then throughout the rest of Central America, followed by Haiti and the Caribbean, ultimately covering all of Latin America, Asia, and Africa.” This will be accomplished through the production and sale of highly nutritious and fortified food products, at cost value, to families living in poverty. Nutrivida also teaches mothers and children about the importance of good nutrition.

Nutrivida is a breakthrough initiative combining the best of both the civil and private sectors. It does not donate food, as do many NGOs, but goes one step further, using the strengths of a traditional company to produce and sell nutritious food. Instead of focusing on maximizing profits, Nutrivida markets its products at a low-profit margin, which ensures its financial sustainability. Nutrivida also provides low-income, single mothers with an opportunity to overcome malnutrition and generate income.

Our four main products, or “fortification vehicles,” including fortified soup, beverages, infant cereal, and our complete “nutripack” meal, are prepared on the basis of an anthropological study that we conducted to understand what people like to eat. People living in extreme poverty cannot afford to eat three meals a day. If we could provide a single highly nutritious, yet affordable, meal, we can help more people consume the recommended three meals per day.

After only a few years of operation, we have increased our portfolio of food products to include a cereal for the entire family, new beverage flavors and a combination of spices, vitamins, and minerals to enhance any meal.

Our products are sold through three main distribution channels:

  1. The MANU Network: an inclusive distribution network made up of 480 Costa Rican single mothers who are heads of households
  2. Institutional sales to NGOs and government institutions: including police departments, day care centers, and schools.
  3. Traditional distribution channels: supermarkets and smaller grocery stores. Nutrivida targets customers in marginal areas who live under difficult social conditions.

Since 2012, we have established strategic partnerships with more than 35 NGOs, companies, and government institutions in Costa Rica and abroad. Today, Nutrivida has sold more than 2.5 million meals. Our goal for next year includes scaling-up our operations in other Central American countries — the next step to providing nutritional solutions beyond our borders.

We must not wait until 2030, the global deadline set by the United Nations to eradicate hunger as part of its second Sustainable Development Goal: “Ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition.” Our hope is that Nutrivida will be part of the solution and this goal will be achieved sooner and in a sustainable way.