Friedman Seminar with Will Masters

This Friedman Seminar features Friedman professor William Masters, presenting "Got Baby Food? Understanding the Market for Packaged Complementary Foods in Developing Countries." This seminar was held on February 3, 2016.

This seminar describes the results of research that began over 20 years ago in Mali and remains puzzling today: Why is it so difficult for caregivers in poor countries to meet infants' nutrient needs?

For healthy growth, infants from 6 to 24 months of age must complement breastmilk with solid foods. The volume of food needed is very small, under 50g per day to start, but to meet infants' needs the foods involved must have greater nutrient density and be fed more often than meals served to older children and adults. Preparing such foods at home from everyday ingredients is time consuming, and the solid foods currently being fed to infants in Africa and South Asia typically do not reach the density and frequency of consumption required for healthy growth.

Since the 1930s, infant feeding in industrialized countries has involved the use of premixed composite flours, usually cereal grains mixed with roasted legumes and other fortificants. Over time, many versions have been developed for local production in developing countries, beginning with Incaparina in 1961 and continuing through SuperCereal+ today. These locally-made fortified cereals have proven efficacy against stunting and other consequences of inadequate nutrition, but in poor countries they are available almost exclusively through public sector programs. Efforts to scale up access through market sales have failed repeatedly, even though they cost about one-fourth as much as nutritionally similar multinational brands such as Nestle's Cerelac which are widely available in low income areas.

The seminar will present results of fieldwork with caregivers and food vendors in Mali, Ghana, Uganda and 19 other countries to diagnose the market failures that now limit access to nutrient-dense infant foods, and identify remedies that could expand availability of high quality, low cost local products.