Social marketing of a nutritional supplement in Niger
By Alejandra Beltran Fernandez, Isabelle Sauguet, Florence Da Costa, Virginie Claeyssens, Adeline Lescanne, Michel Lescanne.
Alejandra Beltran Fernandez was the Nutriset's Deputy Project Manager, Social Marketing for Niger from the beginning of the research in 2006 to mid 2007.
Isabelle Sauguet is Nutriset's General Manager.
Florence Da Costa is the Nutriset's Deputy General Manager and Marketing Director.
Virginie Claeyssens is the Nutriset's Deputy project Manager, Social Marketing for Niger.
Adeline Lescanne is the Nutriset's Deputy General Manager and director of International Department.
Michel Lescanne is the Nutriset's President and Chief Executive Officer.
This article shares some experiences of the company, Nutriset, in applying a social marketing approach to assess the affordability of a micronutrient supplement for 1-5 year olds to low income mothers in Niamey, Niger.
This article presents the first results of a feasibility study (part of ongoing research) conducted by Nutriset1 and its partner STA2, in Niamey, Niger, since May 2006. Niger was chosen as the pilot country since it is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world3. Here, 1,120,000 children between the ages of 1 and 5 years are at risk of malnutrition4 and 50,000 of these children live in Niamey. Moreover, Niger presented favourable political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal (PESTEL) conditions for setting up the project.
The objective of this study was to determine if the distribution of a nutritional supplement for vulnerable low-income populations in urban Niger was viable. Social marketing techniques were applied throughout the project to gather qualitative and quantitative data and to evaluate the sustainability of such an approach to prevent malnutrition among at-risk populations. The nutritional supplement is manufactured locally by STA. It is hoped that through local production, nutritional capacity development will increase. If Nutriset's social marketing experience in Niger is positive, the methodology may be used to develop similar projects in other developing countries.
The research methodology was based on social marketing techniques5, i.e. using commercial marketing techniques to address social or public health challenges. According to the literature6, there are important differences between social and commercial marketing approaches. Commercial marketing seeks to persuade people to purchase specific goods or services, whereas social marketing prioritises and seeks the well being of individuals and of society. In the latter case, needs are not artificially created. The research methodology was validated by marketing specialists from Ferrero7, France.
Qualitative and quantitative questionnaires were administered to mothers and children in low-income urban neighbourhoods and in Niamey's suburban rural villages. A random sample of 80 people participated in the questionnaire surveys and a total of 144 adults and 382 children participated in the organoleptic tests held in Niamey and one rural village.
Participants in the organoleptic study.
The study comprised four phases, with each phase lasting 6-8 months. An assessment was made at the end of each phase before moving on to the next one. The four were:
Phase 1: Market study and evaluation of need and feasibility.
Phase 2: Establishing the marketing mix (product, price, distribution and communication mechanisms).
Phase 3: Optimising the marketing mix and validation (this includes industrial production).
Phase 4: Pre-launch in selected areas followed by the actual launch (this includes the start of a public information campaign).
The four phase feasibility study started following authorisation from the Ministry of Health in Niger.
Main findings influencing the marketing-mix
The type of product, its price and packaging were established simultaneously, as the economic constraints of the target households allowed for little elasticity. The product chosen was a ready-to-use micronutrient supplement, suitable for children between 1 and 5 years of age. It does not require dilution and can be eaten at any time of the day. Daily consumption is set at 5g, which provides a minimum of 50% of the main recommended vitamins and minerals for this age group as well as essential fatty acids, but only a small quantity of energy. It is therefore not intended to replace a balanced meal.
The name 'Grandibien' was chosen after interviews with 78 people. 'Grandibien' is easy to understand and emphasises the product's perceived benefits. Due to the high level of illiteracy, simple graphic messages are used to advertise and promote the product. The graphics were designed by ZigZag8 and tested by a selection of mothers.
Price setting was the most challenging part of the marketing mix. The product had to be affordable and at the same time not displace other foods normally consumed in the diet. The calculation was based on the fact that on average the daily dietary expenses of low income families are about 250 CFA franc9 per person.
Data gathered in the field in 2007 showed that over a two week period, the target population of Niamey (less well off) are able to spend about 200 CFA franc (0.3?) to complement the diets of their children. With this in mind, 200 CFA franc (0.3?)/70g pot and 350 CFA franc (0.52?)/140g pot of Grandibien, was considered to be affordable. Both are fixed prices and retailers are regularly checked to ensure that they are selling at these prices. These retail prices just about cover the industrial costs of production but cannot absorb the other marketing costs associated with the product launch (e.g. communication, distribution, etc.) that are currently covered by Nutriset. After launch, the costs should be covered by sales volume.
|Table 1: Example of the cost of a daily menu in the target population (per person)
||Local flat cakes made of puff pastry, or doughnuts.
||50 CFA franc (0.075?)
||Rice with plain sauce
||100 CFA franc (0.15?)
||Millet balls with sauce
||100 CFA franc (0.15?)
At present, Grandibien is distributed by pharmaceutical wholesalers and by 41 groceries in Niamey. The distribution channel is about to be extended to include grocery wholesalers, a network of motorcycle delivery men, women's groups recruited through health care centres and micro-credit organisations.
The public information campaign focuses on explaining the use and the benefits of Grandibien. Radio and television appear to be effective media for publicising the product. An instructive TV advertisement that had previously been tested on mothers was made by a Niger agency in the three main local languages.
Mothers, health workers, midwives, and community leaders are directly informed through meetings organised in health care centres. Mothers are also informed by retailers who have participated in training on the product.
A mother participates in the TV
advertising qualitative survey.
Although a further study (to be conducted in early 2009) is needed to increase understanding of the profile of the populations currently consuming 'Grandibien', the product has been marketed and distributed mainly in poor areas of Niamey. It is stocked in shops that are located close to the health care centres (initially the product was sold at the health centres with the authorisation of the Ministry, but this caused confusion as treatments for children under five at health centres are free.) Also the product is sold by women in those areas (i.e. women who choose to make the distribution of Grandibien their money-making/small business activity). It is therefore expected that, in the main, those consuming Grandibien are from the poorest sections of society.
Evaluation and lessons learnt
In February 2008, 172 mothers with children in the target age range were interviewed to evaluate their views on Grandibien. Of these, 92 mothers had bought Grandibien and 80 mothers had not. Ninety eight per cent of mothers who had bought Grandibien were satisfied with the product, while the 'loyalty index' of people who had bought the product was 68%. Surprisingly, over 67 % declared that Grandibien had improved the appetite of their children. However, only 14.3% stated that Grandibien brought extra vitamins and minerals to their children, while 13.1% said that Grandibien gave energy to their children.
Positive findings included:
- The social marketing methodology used in Niger can easily be adapted to new projects.
- Ferrero considered that the survey results clearly demonstrated a successful and coherent marketing approach.
- Families appreciated participating in the survey and having the opportunity to express what they thought. The interviews and surveys provided practical and usable information.
- Mothers became increasingly aware of the benefits of nutrition supplementation.
Limitations of the study included:
- The territory covered by the feasibility study (Niamey's urban territory) is not representative of Niger's rural society.
- Local dialects may constitute a communication barrier.
- Having the support of local health care agents and of the Niger Ministry of Health was a key factor in the development of the project. However, administrative procedures take a long time and led to delays in the project schedule.
Sustainability is a key challenge for this type of initiative. Sale price must cover direct and indirect costs if the product is to be manufactured locally. Nutriset has financed the setting up of the distribution network, training and the large awareness communication campaign. This expenditure has been vital for kick-starting the process. The product is now well known and widely distributed in Niamey. Promotion expenditures will therefore decrease significantly and distribution costs should be absorbed by sales volumes. Establishing sustainable local level production capacity will help build in-country nutritional autonomy. At the producer level, this will also help balance the financial risks of manufacturing nutritional products for humanitarian programmes.
A follow up study is being planned for the start of 2009. This study will have a number of objectives:
- To determine the proportion of the target population that is consuming the product and their socio-economic profile.
- To determine the nutritional impact of Grandibien at individual and population level.
- To determine whether and how the product displaces other family expenditures.
Nutriset plan to make the product more widely available, especially to rural people with lower purchasing power. To this end, Nutriset are exploring the potential for selling a daily quantity of Grandibien and will conduct tests in Niamey city and the suburbs with distribution partners (such as women groups and shopkeepers) over a three month period, starting from April 2009. With new packaging, the product should be more affordable for local producers. Nutriset are also planning to involve non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in distribution and training in the future, especially in rural and remoter areas.
Today Grandibien is well known and correctly distributed in Niamey. Mothers value the product, are aware of its beneficial effects on children and regularly purchase it. The scaling-up of distribution outside of Niamey is currently being considered and evaluated. If it goes ahead it will probably be organised through existing distribution channels and in collaboration with health centres and local organisations.
For further information, email: email@example.com
1Nutriset is a French company that designs and produces specialised products for the treatment of different forms of malnutrition (e.g., Plumpy'nut, Plumpy'doz).
2STA: Société de Transformation Alimentaire, partner of Nutriset and member of the PlumpyField network.
3In 2007, Niger's rank in the United Nations Human Development index was 174, out of 177 countries. Source: http://www.unicef.org
4A national survey, carried out in October 2007.
5Kotler P and Zaltman G (1971). Social Marketing: an approach to planned social change. Journal of Marketing, volume 35 (July), p. 3-12.
6Rothschild Michael (1979), Manoff Richard (1985), Kotler and Roberto (1989), Alcalay and Bell (2000).
7Ferrero is one of the leaders in the food industry. They market products for the mass market.
8Zigzag is a communication agency which works with Nutriset, particularly on social marketing projects.
9Source: Niger Decree N° 2006-059/PRN/MFP/T establishing the minimum wages per professional group (8 March 2006).
Taken from Field Exchange Issue 35, March 2009