Product targeted at children in Bangladesh villages

Rasheeda Bhagat

Dhaka, Nov. 8

It was the launch of a business but with a difference. There was song and dance, colour, and conscience too.

On Wednesday, as the French football legend Zinedine Zidane inaugurated Grameen-Danone Foods Ltd, he gave birth to a very visible version of the social business enterprise that the Grameen Bank Managing Director, Mr Muhammad Yunus, has been talking about.

Set up near Bogra, about 220 km from Dhaka, this $3-million joint venture between the French food major Danone and Grameen Bank, will be the first dairy with an annual production capacity of 3,000 tonnes that will make available yoghurt fortified with vitamins and other essential micronutrients to the children in the villages of this region.

Branded `Shakti dohi', packaged in totally biodegradable cups and priced at 5 Taka for an 80 ml pack - much lower than the market price - this yoghurt will be available to the children twice a week. The fortified yoghurt will meet 30 per cent of the daily nutritional needs of a child, said Prof Yunus.

He said what had seemed an "impossible dream" had become possible when he had met the Groupe Danone Chairman and CEO, Mr Franck Riboud, in Paris last November. The joint venture, which is a 50:50 venture between the two organisations, will provide only one per cent token dividend to the investors, and if found sustainable, 50 such dairy plants will be put up all over the country. "It is a business model, and we know that the Danone people will scream their heads off if we do it the wrong way."

Addressing the inaugural meeting, Mr Riboud said this project was in keeping with Danone's motto that "you have to believe in your dreams," and Danone's mission to bring "health to the people through food".

He said his company realised that "if you have to be present in the emerging markets such as Africa and Asia you cannot be very expensive. So we have developed a strategy called `affordable strategy', and Danone is present with this strategy in S.Africa, India, with Tiger biscuits, and China."

He made it clear that "this is not charity, which is not sustainable; this model is sustainable, and if it works, we plan to take it to Africa and other developing countries." It was a win-win situation as "it is both emotional, and also a growth strategy for our company; with this we are building not only the image, but also the future of our company."

Mr Emanuel Faber, Danone President in Asia, said the challenge was to pack the yoghurt with micronutrients, and give it the right amount of sweetness, without changing the taste so that children consume it readily. Research is on, he added, to make the container edible too!

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 9, 2006)
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