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The story behind Plumpy’Nut, the “Nutella for the poor” used to fight famine and malnutrition

The front lines of famine.
Reuters/Siegfried Modola
The front lines of famine.
By Chase Purdy
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The United Nations this month announced the world is teetering on the brink of  the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II, with 20 million people across four countries staring down widespread famine.

As nations figure out how to deliver food to the millions of hungry people, one brand stands out: A super-cheap peanut paste called Plumpy’Nut. The nutty nutrition product was in the news this week (link in French) after a French social-media star, Jérôme Jarre, raised $2.5 million to send 60 tons of the food to Somalia.

The paste was invented in 1996 by André Briend, a French pediatrician, and is made of skimmed-milk powder, sugar, vegetable fat, and vitamins and minerals. He dubbed it “Nutella for the poor,” after the beloved Italian hazelnut treat. Plumpy’Nut is manufactured by the French company Nutriset, which sold 43,500 tons of the stuff last year, resulting in revenues of €123 million ($132 million), according to Le Monde.

The paste has proven particularly handy in rough conditions because it does not need to be cooked or kept cool and can help nourish children in even in the later stages of malnutrition. Because it’s so easy to use, it has helped keep hospital beds clear as children and adults can be treated for malnutrition in their own homes. The French newspaper said it was first used widely during the famine in Niger in 2005.

The product has been so successful that two American NGOs tried in 2010 to overturn Nutriset’s patent. They made the case that it was stopping them from making a similar, cheaper paste. The bid was unsuccessful. Despite those battles, Nutriset has increased production of Plumpy’Nut and established a franchise system that works with 11 countries in Africa, Asia, and America.

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