13 October 2008 00:00 [Source: ICB]
DSM has worked with the UN's World Food Programme to develop an innovative solution that delivers dietary supplements to the world's most needy people
THE DEVELOPMENT of a sachet of micronutrient powder that will reach 250,000 beneficiaries in 2008 has led to DSM Nutritional Products winning the ICIS Best Business Innovation award.
The DSM project with the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) is presently delivering vitamins and minerals to refugees in Nepal and Kenya, and to victims of Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh. It is looking to increase its coverage massively in the coming years.
DSM has called the initiative a "social innovation" that can help the WFP improve food quality, which is very important for its beneficiaries, who number more than 70m. It is aimed at target groups with higher needs, particularly children between six months and five years old and pregnant and lactating women.
The MixMe sachets, each containing 1 gram of micronutrients and measuring just 4cm by 6cm, can be targeted at specific groups, as the content of one sachet is added to an individual portion before consumption, avoiding processing or cooking losses.
The DSM and WFP partnership, which began in April 2007, faced challenges in the development of the sachets, including producing a stable and tasteless, water-dispersible product in packaging able to withstand elevated temperature and humidity.
A year's supply of 150 sachets costs only €2.75 ($3.77) but the polyethylene teraphthalate (PET)/aluminum/polyethylene (PE) composite foil represents around 80% of the production cost. The specification for the packaging material is currently being reviewed, says Klaus Kraemer of the Netherlands-based life sciences company's Sight and Life humanitarian initiative.
"We are trying to optimize the packaging to reduce costs and are looking at biodegradable alternatives. The present solution was chosen to protect the ingredients and it out-performs everything else on the market, but further innovation is required. We tried a number of types of packaging during development," Kraemer said.
Identifying a packaging facility with the capacity to produce large quantities of the sachets in a short time frame proved another issue. The work is currently carried out in Bulgaria, but Kraemer believes packaging will ultimately be done closer to the point of use, using a supplied concentrated premix of micronutrients that can be diluted.
Another hurdle that has to be cleared is obtaining approval for the use of the sachets from the countries' governments. "In Bangladesh, for example, the sachets are considered as pharmaceutical products rather than food supplements. There can be a lot of bureaucracy involved, and we worked closely with WFP to obtain approvals," says Kraemer.
"There is also a lot of cultural and educational training to be done. In many countries the father eats first, followed by boys, women, then girls. However, the requirements for the supplement are far greater for children and pregnant women."
The "recipe" of vitamins and minerals can also be tailored to suit local conditions. "In areas where malaria is widespread we reduce the amount of iron in the supplement as it can cause increased morbidity in combination with malaria infection," explains Saskia de Pee, a nutrition and HIV/AIDS consultant with the World Food Programme.
"The standard 10milligram iron dose in MixMe was too high so we asked for a different formulation with a lower iron content and with additional components to improve the bioavailability and absorption of the iron."
"The idea of providing vitamins and minerals in powdered form to mix with food was developed in the late 1990s by Stanley Zlotkin, professor of pediatrics and nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, to treat anemia in children", says de Pee, "because iron folic acid tablets provided to pregnant women were not suitable for young children." The first large-scale program of micronutrient powder distribution was implemented in Aceh, Indonesia, following the 2004 tsunami.
"It was clear that there was room for further development," says de Pee. "MixMe is a very suitable solution for providing vitamins and minerals to specific groups of WFP beneficiaries and DSM's experience and innovation ensures that the formulation and packaging used are appropriate for the often challenging environmental and climatic circumstances."
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