With more than half of South Africans living in poverty, the harsh reality is that more than 6 out of 10 children don’t have access to sufficient nutrition – and almost half of those are stunted. As a leading food company, we have an opportunity to address this key national challenge by being MORE CURIOUS and MORE OPEN. That’s why we collaborated with Harvard Business School to look at possible game-changing ideas to make an impact where it’s needed most.

Collaborating with Harvard Business School for smart nutritional solutions 

It’s a worldwide problem: children who grow up physically and cognitively stunted because they didn’t get enough food, or the right food, in their first five years of life. In South Africa, that’s a horrifying 27% of our children – and most become locked in a cycle of poverty that they never escape. As part of our Sustainable Business Drive at RCL FOODS, we see this as a pressing area of need that we can actually do something about…not just because we’re a leading food company, but because we’re galvanised by our passion to provide more food to more people, more often.

As a company we have made a start by identifying nutrition for young children as a strategic focus area, and in the CSI space we are the lead nutrition partner in meeting localised feeding needs. But is there more we could do on a larger scale if we had a product (or products) that were specifically designed to combat malnutrition by providing all the key nutrients a child needs before the age of five?  

That’s exactly what a cross-functional team at last year’s Ignite Marketing Conference suggested, and small working group was formed to explore the idea further. The group consists of Tarryn Hughes (Corporate Brand and Communications Manager) and Richard Matthews (Sugar & Milling Industrial Sales Executive) and is sponsored by Scott Pitman and John du Plessis, our Consumer and Sugar & Milling MDs.

“Nutrition for children is already on the RCL FOODS agenda, and through this project we want to find innovative ways to make more impact where it’s needed most. Our first step was to identify the main nutritional requirements for children under the age of five, then to begin having conversations around the kinds of product or products that could affordably meet these needs and be provided through feeding schemes and retail on a large scale,” says Tarryn, pointing out that the project is not only a RCL FOODS brand exercise but a business one.

In the face of a challenge like this, different perspectives can add immense value – and that’s where RCL FOODS’ association with Harvard Business School provided a real opportunity.  RCL FOODS is one of 100 companies globally that partner with Harvard Business School, through its FIELD Global Immersion programme, to provide real-life learning experiences to its MBA students. All FIELD Global Partners have the opportunity to submit briefs for student groups to work on, and our childhood nutrition project was one of those submitted by RCL FOODS. “We were thrilled when it was selected for one of the MBA student groups to work on,” says Tarryn.

RCL FOODS worked closely with the Harvard student team to help them understand the objectives and challenges of the project, and to share relevant information and insights. When the Harvard team visited South Africa in May, RCL FOODS facilitated consumer immersions and NGO interactions which gave them an opportunity to engage with children, mothers, feeding schemes and NGOs (JAM and Smart Start). This helped them to understand the daily and monthly purchase cycles and decision-making processes in low-income households, and to experience their different shopping environments.

On 17 May the Harvard team presented their recommendations to John, Tarryn and our Strategy and Corporate Affairs Director, Ebru Kaya Cook. “We were very impressed by the students’ depth of understanding and their calibre of thinking and outputs. The insights they shared resonated with us all and were strongly aligned to work done previously in RCL FOODS. The key take out from the session was that we have inherent capabilities from a product perspective to address this critical need. It was great to have a fresh perspective on the project, given the size and complexity of the nutritional challenges we face. You never know where a great idea will emerge from!” says Tarryn.   

While the project is still in its early stages, interactions with smart minds like these help us find the right solutions with more speed and impact.