Local SMEs are well-positioned to address the nutritional needs of their communities, provide affordable foods and access non-traditional sales channels. Linking these enterprises with larger corporations provides an opportunity to enhance products and business practices with support from SBN global members, which can potentially be scaled up. Since 2018, the SBN global team has helped ‘match’ its 24 global members (mostly multinational companies) with local SMEs in need of technical assistance.
Safe groundnut production in Nigeria
One example of technical assistance being provided to an SME in Nigeria is that of the collaboration between PepsiCo and L&L Foods, a local producer of affordable groundnut products. After struggling with their product formulation for three years, L&L Foods became aware of the opportunity to seek support through SBN. L&L’s founder, Ladipo Lawani, explained that receiving technical support in the food sector is challenging, especially for SMEs with limited reach and financial constraints. As he explains, “You cannot just Google how various food products are made. It has to be a process of trial and error,” relying on your own experiences or paying for external expertise, which makes it difficult for small enterprises to make significant progress.
The chance to work with a large corporation such as PepsiCo, and be able to leverage their expertise in a number of areas, has been ‘invaluable’ to L&L. As one of the largest food and beverage manufacturers, PepsiCo feels that they have “a role to play in providing better nutrition globally,” Andrea Kelly, PepsiCo’s Manager of Health and Wellness Policy and Partnerships, emphasised. Serving as an SBN global member, PepsiCo was paired with L&L Foods in mid-2020 based on their wealth of expertise in product development. Through PepsiCo’s support, L&L has managed to reduce waste in its production process, improve the nutritional value of its product formulation and reduce its input prices, which has helped mitigate the detrimental impact of COVID-19 on the enterprise. Both members are also looking to the future with optimism and ambition to expand the impact of this initiative, both within L&L Foods, which aims to explore additional product possibilities, and at PepsiCo, which hopes to scale this model to help other SMEs in order to have a greater positive impact on nutrition in local communities.
Another example of a global member supporting a SME to produce safe nutritious food is Arla Food Ingredients (AFI), which has been ‘matched’ with Fadascom. Also based in Nigeria, AFI specialises in nutritious and affordable goods to include a new line of dairy products. Before being connected with Fadascom in 2020, AFI had committed to use its “broad knowledge base and expertise in the food industry to make good, nutritious, affordable food with local manufacturers to eradicate malnutrition,” explains Charlotte Sorenson, Senior Business Development Manager at AFI.
Having already supported SMEs in Ethiopia and Zambia, AFI was ready to scale up and increase the impact of these projects by making effective use of the tools already developed. As a result, SBN connected the company with Fadascom, which was seeking support in improving and scaling up its yoghurt fortified with essential nutrients, including vitamin A, zinc, B12 and iron, to improve the nutritional value of the product. AFI has been able to share best practices for food safety and production of a safe nutritious yoghurt and plans to help identify the specific nutritional needs of Fadascom’s local community in order to adjust the product to better address community needs through fortification. AFI also aims to support best practices around the production of affordable safe yoghurts/fortified yoghurts in Nigeria and in other countries by building on the learnings of this project. Idowu Sanusi, Director of Fadascom, highlights the benefit of the confidence that results from “working with experts that could help us avoid going wrong in our production planning process,” explaining that “the Arla and SBN team response is great and highly encouraging for us to be the best we can be.”
A winning combination
Following the 2018 SUN Pitch Competition organised by SBN, another SBN global member, Royal DSM, provided technical assistance support to Miruku Agro-Industria, a Mozambique-based processing unit which produces and distributes fortified maize flour. Abdul Cauio, CEO of Miruku Agro-Indústria, highlighted that ensuring profitability while maintaining affordability and nutritional quality is at the heart of his enterprise. To achieve this objective, Mikuru needs to receive technical assistance. Over the course of 2019, DSM worked closely with Miruku to support product development and formulation to ensure that the company offers nutritional quality products at an affordable price for local consumers. This was made possible by combining technical formulation advice and support in accessing a vast and diversified source of packaging suppliers. Being able to combine affordable packaging and long-lasting product shelf life is critical to business profitability and product affordability, while harnessing the safety and quality of food products. As well as supporting Miruku with its growth, profitability and reach, DSM acknowledges the importance of such ventures; as Florentine Oberman, Global Partnerships Manager at DSM, emphasises, “local value creation, innovation and the assurance of affordable, accessible and aspirational nutrition for consumers in emerging markets” are critical in efforts towards improving access to better nutrition globally.
To scale up the existing business-to-business support and increase the impact of the technical assistance initiative, SBN is launching a new digital tool which will provide SMEs located in SBN countries with the opportunity to submit a technical assistance request to SBN global members. SBN global members will then be able to review the submitted requests and to get directly in contact with these companies. With more than 900 members, SBN can potentially support the delivery of technical assistance to a wide number of SMEs across low- and middle-income countries, however, to do so, more global companies need to step up by joining SBN and providing technical assistance.