The GrandiBien® project in Niger

In 2006, Nutriset and Société de Transformation Alimentaire(STA), a member of the PlumpyField network, decided they would start selling ready-to-use nutritional supplements for young children over the counter in Niger, targeting low-income consumers, with an offer structured to be accessible to the most modest budgets. 

Since it was launched in 2007, the Grandibien® product is estimated to have reached 50,000 families.

In a country where almost half of all children suffer stunted growth and where the acute malnutrition level exceeds 10%, humanitarian and welfare programmes cannot cover the entire population. Recourse to private market methods is therefore aimed at improving access to these preventive nutritional products, designed to give young people the best chance of achieving their full growth and cognitive development potential.

 

“Grandibien®, to help me grow up big and strong”

The initial qualitative and quantitative studies were conducted in May 2006 in deprived districts of Niamey and in suburban rural villages around Niger’s capital. Questionnaires with representatives of the target population, along with meetings with potential partners (Ministry of Health, distributors, etc.), were used to assess the feasibility of the project. Product tastings confirmed that these ready-to-use nutritional pastes were well accepted by both children and their mothers and validated their preference for a cocoa-flavoured product among a range of different formulations.

During the course of 2007, the “marketing mix” was gradually fine-tuned, while distribution channels adapted to the target were set up.

The product’s name – Grandibien®, literally “grow well” – was chosen on the basis of interviews with a sample of families because it is easy to understand and emphasises the product’s perceived benefits. The slogan used – “Grandibien®, pour m'aider à bien grandir” (“Grandibien®, to help me grow up big and strong”) – clearly reflects the promise made by the product: better motor and cognitive development of young children. To take into account the high illiteracy level among the population, graphic messages were developed in collaboration with the advertising agency ZigZag. Highlighting the target age group, the product’s benefits and recommendations for use, this visual alphabet was displayed on both the packaging and on product communication media.

 

An affordable product for low-income families

Price-setting was the most challenging part of the project in order to genuinely reach BoP (Bottom of the Pyramid) low-income households.

A socio-economic study of the eating habits of these families demonstrated that they had extremely limited resources to buy food, with a per capita daily budget of only around 250 CFA francs (i.e. under 0.40 euros). However, they are able to spend a sum of around 200 CFA francs over a 2-week period to supplement the diet of their children.

To guarantee an affordable product, the launch price was determined accordingly: 200 CFA francs for a 70 g pot, 350 CFA francs for a 140 g pot. With a daily dose of 5 g providing at least half the recommended intake of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, these pots represent two weeks and one month of use, respectively.

 

Distribution network and promotional campaign

 

To support the launch of Grandibien®, a public information campaign focused on the product’s benefits in terms of children’s health, and on the ease of use of this ready-to-use product, which can be eaten at any time of the day.

In addition to printed communication media (posters, stickers, display racks, etc.), a TV advertisement was produced, along with commercials broadcast on the radio. Meetings organized in health care centres raised awareness among health workers, community leaders and mothers. Mothers also received information via retailers having taken part in training sessions.

The distribution channel initially set up included pharmaceutical wholesalers, 41 general grocery stores in Niamey and direct sale through health care centres. The latter option was quickly abandoned since it was a source of confusion for families as treatments for children under the age of five are free in these centres. To ensure better coverage of the territory in both cities and rural zones, the distribution network has gradually grown through the development of innovative strategies.

In addition to the three pharmaceutical wholesales that supply all the country’s pharmacies, Grandibien® is listed by six grocery wholesalers, each supplying 15 to 25 stores. Grandibien® is also distributed by a network of travelling salespeople, using motorcycles. Finally, a community distribution system is based on groups of women, identified via health care centres or micro-credit organisations. Altogether, some thirty groups and around 500 women are involved in the decentralized distribution of Grandibien®, with encouraging results in terms of territorial cover.

 

Fine-tuning the offer

Monitoring of sales and regular surveys among the target population supply the information necessary to develop and improve the range. Hence, noticing that it was difficult to make a pot of Grandibien® last for the recommended period (2 or 4 weeks, depending on the format), Nutriset and STA launched a new type of packaging in July 2009: single-dose sachets.

For these sachets, the product formulation has been adjusted, so that they still provide the same amount of micronutrients and essential fatty acids, but in 10 grams of product instead of 5 g for Grandibien® in pots. The range will soon be more finely segmented, with not just one, but two products: Grandibébé®, targeting children aged 6 to 24 months, and Grandibien®, for children of between 2 and 8 years.

 

The “bottom of the pyramid” challenge

Nutriset’s investment in this project is a reflection of the company’s deep commitment to “bottom of the pyramid” populations and numerous lessons can be drawn from the trial conducted in Niger with STA. But far from being a source of profitability at present, this experience highlights the many challenges that still need to be addressed in order to ensure the sustainability of the system.

Despite the reputation of Grandibien®, growing sales (8 tonnes in 2008, 25 tonnes in 2009) and high satisfaction (98%) and loyalty rates (68% of consumers are repeat buyers), achieving financial equilibrium remains a challenge. For the time being, income from sales covers production costs and day-to-day operational expenses linked to management of the distributor network. However, they do not yet cover the investment made: equipment and machines for local production of Grandibien®; promotion – the purchase of advertising space to support sales, which react very strongly to advertising efforts; development of the distribution network.

In addition, making sure the products are properly used remains a complex matter (i.e. reserved for young children within the target, without being shared with other members of the family), as does measuring their impact on the nutritional status of children.

 

A partnership strategy

To analyse the results further, and also to explore new avenues that might make it possible to overcome the economic weaknesses in the Grandibien® project, Nutriset is reinforcing its partnership policy. A first study has been conducted by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and UNICEF relative to the private-market distribution of preventive products. Other partnerships are also being developed with the aim of covering a share of the promotion costs and extending the geographic cover of the project.