Nutriset: a company’s fight against malnutrition

Interview with Christian Troubé, head of strategic communications for  Nutriset.

Alain Boinet: For the record, can you give us a brief history of Nutriset’s career and its contribution to the fight against malnutrition?

Christian Troubé: Nutriset was created in 1986 by a food engineer, Michel Lescanne, who wanted to develop nutritional products to combat child malnutrition. It was the time of the great famines in Africa, and few products existed at the time: millions of children died every year, but we were powerless to treat them for lack of suitable treatments. A conjunction then occurred between the research of medical nutritionists proposing new treatment protocols, the interest of NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières or Action Against Hunger and Nutriset’s proposal to develop products industrially. Nutriset then designed the first therapeutic milks that NGOs and UN agencies such as Unicef were able to use successfully. Then, in 1996, again in response to demand from humanitarian aid workers, Nutriset developed the first ready-to-use paste-based nutritional food: PlumpyNut. This first RUTF product was a real revolution in the treatment of malnutrition, avoiding the hospitalisation of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition and allowing treatment at home. This step represented incomparable progress in countries affected by this scourge. Investing heavily in research and innovation, Nutriset was then able to develop its offer by diversifying its products: Plumpy’Nut, the first emergency therapeutic nutritional solution, is now available in a large number of therapeutic or supplementation products targeted according to needs. They are intended for pregnant women, infants and the sick and are available in various plant formulas. Seventeen million people will have benefited from Nutriset’s products in developing countries in 2018.

AB : How is the family dimension of the Nutriset company reflected in its activities and development?

CT: The Nutriset Group has always retained its Norman and family roots. The SME, now run by the founder’s daughter, Adeline Lescanne-Gautier, has 230 employees. Being a family business means not having to report to outside shareholders and, consequently, being able to stay on the line set by the founder: to design and produce only nutritional solutions for vulnerable populations. It also means freely investing each year in research related to its mandate, but also asserting its particular raison d’être. As early as 2017, Nutriset was the first company in France to adopt an extended Corporate Object which, whatever the changes in its governance, will enable it in the future to enshrine in its articles of association the core of its mandate: “To make effective proposals on nutrition/malnutrition issues”. This status guarantees the Nutriset Group’s independence, but also enables it to mobilise all its stakeholders, employees and partners, on an objective with global dimensions that is crucial for the future: to continue to offer nutritional and food solutions to the most vulnerable populations under all circumstances.

AB: Nutriset is developing a local presence in countries that have a need for its products. What does this consist of and what is the objective?

CT: As early as 2005, Nutriset wanted its activity to act as a lever for development in countries where malnutrition is rife by choosing to support local companies that would manufacture its products. This franchised network, known as PlumpyField, now comprises around ten producers in Africa, Haiti and India. Their activity enables humanitarian aid workers, United Nations agencies and local governments to obtain products that meet international standards as closely as possible to their needs, while creating jobs and stimulating local agricultural sectors as suppliers of raw materials. The current members of PlumpyField are Edesia (USA), Hilina Enriched Foods (Ethiopia), InnoFaso (Burkina Faso), Meds & Food for Kids (Haiti), Nutriguinea (Guinea), NutriK (Nigeria), Nutrivita Foods (India), Samil (Sudan), Société de Transformation Alimentaire (Niger), Tanjaka Food (Madagascar). This original approach now places the Nutriset Group and the PlumpyField network as world leaders in their sector. In 2018, the Nutriset Group was the leading French supplier to the United Nations in all sectors.

AB: What is your investment in research and development and to meet what need?

CT : The Nutriset Group’s various research departments are interested in many issues, such as the study of the physiological mechanisms of malnutrition, the use of vegetable raw materials, food recipes adapted to local tastes, new manufacturing processes, the adaptation of products to increasingly precise targets in terms of age or illness, etc. This research is most often carried out in partnership. Nutriset financially supports or participates in more than sixty international research programmes involving all areas of expertise, from anthropology to financial management, from medicine to all areas of engineering. The Group devotes an average of 4% of its annual turnover to research.

AB: How does the Nutriset Group see its future in the coming years?

CT : Recent World Health Organization guidelines encourage all health players to take better account of nutrition issues at all stages of life and in new contexts of vulnerability. According to international organisations, 2 billion people suffer from deficiencies in essential micronutrients, 820 million are chronically undernourished, 155 million children are stunted, 52 million children are wasted, 6 million children under five are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. At the same time, 2 billion adults and 41 million children are overweight or obese. More globally, 124 countries are heavily affected by two or three forms of malnutrition. The coexistence of undernutrition, unsuspected hunger (lack of vitamins and minerals) and overweight constitute the triple burden of malnutrition that affects one in three people in the world, children and adults alike. According to WHO, a greater focus on nutrition in health systems could save 3.7 million lives by 2025. The Nutriset Group is naturally attentive to providing nutritional solutions covering all of these needs, for example by expanding its activities for pregnant and breastfeeding women, AIDS patients, schoolchildren, people suffering from diabetes and the elderly, many of whom suffer from malnutrition, including in Northern countries. The Group will therefore further expand its proposals while remaining, more than ever, faithful to its mandate: “Feeding vulnerable populations”.

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