A new possible solution to malnutrition in West Africa has been developed by Just Mayo producer JUST (formerly Hampton Creek): Just Power Gari is a porridge fortified with a vitamin and mineral mix including iron, zinc, and vitamins A, D, C, B6, and B12.
The porridge, which the Washington Post reports JUST has been quietly developing in Liberia over the past two years, is made with cassava produced by local female farmers and is already being sold at street markets and distributed in schools in the area.
Just Power Gari has already earned local approval, particularly with children. According to Taylor Quinn, JUST's Director of Emerging Markets, 650 Liberian children regularly consume Just Power Gari thanks to local partnerships.
A company spokesperson notes that the decision to launch the product in Liberia stems from a discussion with a pediatrician at the country's biggest hospital in March 2016, where the direness of the nation's battle with malnutrition was highlighted. Expansion to other nations is planned, however: JUST founder Joshua Tetrick predicts that Just Power Gari will be available in 15 African nations within the next two years, with plans to expand to Ghana, Nigeria, and Ethiopia early next year.
“We certainly didn’t start this just for Liberia," he tells the Post. "This needs to be a model that we get right and we take everywhere."
Some are skeptical that JUST will succeed where others have failed. Companies such as Pepsi and Danone have previously attempted to produce fortified foods for the region.
“Almost all failed so completely that the companies never publicized them,” reports the Post, “a casualty of the marketers' inability to persuade low-income consumers, including many who can't read, to switch to unfamiliar products with unclear health benefits.”
Each year, one million children under the age of five die from causes linked to malnutrition in West and Central Africa, according to UNICEF.
JUST first rose to notoriety as Hampton Creek after the development of vegan mayonnaise Just Mayo in 2013. The company has since encountered its share of controversy, including accusations of misleading branding by Hellman's parent company Unilever and reports of contamination last summer. The latest crisis, which Bloomberg reported stemmed from "deep discord" between board members and founder Tetrick, led to a mass exodus from the company in July, leaving Tetrick the sole remaining board member.
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