Tiger Claws at Food Insecurity

For over 95 years, consumer goods giant, Tiger Brands, has provided South Africans with some of its most loved and admired brands – the likes of KOO, Jungle, Black Cat, Oros, Tastic and All Gold. While Tiger remains the largest manufacturer of branded FMCGs in Southern Africa –  with an operational footprint that extends over several African countries – the company is also firmly rooted in doing good for society, most notable in the area of food and nutrition security. This month, Leadership Magazine spoke to the company’s CEO, Lawrence Mac Dougall, to understand his perspectives on addressing the challenges and how Tiger uses its muscle to make a difference to communities that are food insecure.

Q:  Globally, the issue of food security is gaining momentum. The UN has pronounced the ending of hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, as a Sustainable Development Goal. What role should business be playing in the achievement of this?

Lawrence: Food security is one of the most critical challenges of our time – it is estimated that some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. In South Africa, about 12 million people – 23 percent of the population – are food insecure. That’s a staggering number of people who face challenges around their basic survival every day.

Hunger hampers progress. It’s very difficult for hungry children to learn and a society that is hungry cannot give its attention to other key areas of economic development and progress. This has a direct impact on business’ ability to remain sustainable. So we as business are taking a very keen interest in addressing food security.

At Tiger Brands we have selected food and nutrition security as our primary citizenship pillar because we believe we should look to make a difference in the space in which we operate. Given the enormity of the challenge, we also hope to raise the profile of the challenges around food security. Partnerships are key – this is not a challenge that government, civil society, or the private sector can tackle independently.

We operate in a complex world where business is as much about sustainable profits and shareholder value as it is about being a catalyst for social development and environmental stewardship. The concept of profit and purpose resonates well with me. Every business should understand its responsibility to adopt a cause that is critical to society and that it can meaningfully contribute to.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you believe faces communities that are food insecure?

Lawrence: We know from research that good nutrition is vital to the cognitive development of children, the ability to fight illness and the general health and well being of people. Poorer communities often do not have a variety of foods in their diet. One of the mechanisms we use to address this is the fortification of staples, such as the addition of vitamins and minerals into porridge’s and maize-meal. Feeding programmes are another channel we use to assist vulnerable groups and we make sure that the beneficiaries we support have access to high quality, nutrient dense and fortified foods. It’s important for any donor involved in providing food to malnourished people to consider what they are providing– it shouldn’t just be a tummy fill.

The other side of the coin is the over-consumption of high-risk nutrients which lead to lifestyle diseases, placing a high financial burden on families and on government. Better consumer education and nutrition education for at-risk communities is therefore another important lever in addressing food security.  The guideline daily amount (GDA) which we publish on all our products, for example, is an important way to help consumers become aware of how many of these nutrients (like salt and sugar) they are consuming.

Q: There has been quite a lot of media hype around the salt (sodium) reduction regulation and the ‘sugar tax’ as channels to prevent lifestyle diseases and obesity. What role do these regulations and taxes play in nutrition and health?

I appreciate that regulations may provide impetus for companies to change the nutrient profiles of their products, but an appropriate level of stakeholder dialogue and engagement across the food value chain should be the precursor to these regulations.  Also, we must not underestimate the ability of companies to self-regulate. Companies often tap into emerging trends and insights to spur their innovation, which becomes a point for competitive differentiation.

Tiger Brands supports the efforts of government to augment the health of South Africans, and align with these aspirations through our own programmes and initiatives – our Eat-Well-Live-Well programme is an example of this where we actively promote nutrition education. Nonetheless, tax reforms like the proposed sugar tax, not well considered, may come across as punitive both to the industry as well as consumers. The food and beverage industry has a critical role to play in partnering with government and other NGOs to achieve the desired outcomes in a sustainable way.

Q: What is your view on GMO as it pertains to Food Security

Lawrence: GMO is a multi-layered issue that is hotly debated between advocates and opponents of GMO.

The food industry comes under significant pressure from groups who oppose GMO, citing health risks or beliefs that food produced from GMOs is of an inferior quality. Food safety, quality and the wellbeing of our consumers is critically important to us and our reputation, so naturally, we are very concerned by such statements.

However, GMO in South Africa is very well regulated by five government departments that oversee all aspects of GMO. This ensures that activities related to GMOs are carried out responsibly and with caution. Given the rigor involved in approving particular GMOs and the time it takes to introduce these into our market, the South African Government and the industry regards the food derived from approved GMOs as safe. In fact, GMOs actually assist with nutrition security where GMO seeds can, for example, lead to crops with improved nutritional qualities such as vitamin A.

While there are strong arguments for GMO cultivation – like faster growth and maturity of plants; greater disease resistance; bigger yields and fewer pesticides, there are counter arguments as well, for example, the negative impact of GM seeds on the agriculture in developing countries and on small-scale farmers (where small-scale farmers are pushed out in favour of mass production)

We have 12 million South Africans that are already in a food deficit. Maize, which is a staple in our country, is one of the two GMO food commodities in South Africa. So the challenge is broader than just whether we should we use GMO or not – it actually talks to food security. I believe that a balanced and flexible approach toward agricultural development is required.

At the same time, we do not view biotechnology as the solution to every problem, and prefer to see it being used in combination with other technologies and existing agricultural practices. Tiger Brands is committed to the sustainable livelihoods of smallholder farmers. In addition to our existing smallholder farmer programmes, we entered into an agreement with the Department of Agriculture last year to identify and develop additional smallholder farmers through guaranteed off take agreements. This will contribute an additional 8 000 tons of produce from local Black farmers through this process within the next 18 – 24 months.  We plan to grow this number during the next 5 years, as subsequent phases of the agreement are implemented

So, I believe that South Africa needs to adopt a creative approach that realises the benefits made possible by biotechnology, while nurturing small scale farming through conventional methods. This is necessary as the food and nutrition security of people in many parts of the country depend on small scale farming.

Q: The Tiger Brands Foundation has been recognised as one of the most successful corporate in-school breakfast feeding programmes. What else is Tiger Brands doing to promote food and nutrition security? 

Lawrence: We are really proud of the work the Tiger Brands Foundation does. It currently feeds over 61 000 children a day across all nine provinces, and at the end of September, celebrated a significant milestone – 40 million daily meals served since the programme began in 2011. Not only is the programme an effective way to reduce short-term hunger but we believe that such initiatives are an investment in children’s long term nutritional health and the well-being of children living in dire circumstances. In addition, our CSI strategy is premised on creating sustainable communities, so a big focus is on programmes to help our beneficiaries become more self-reliant by generating their own food, which has the potential to become an income generating stream for them as well. I have already spoken to local sourcing. The growth and development of the agricultural sector in South Africa is vital to a company like Tiger Brands.  We currently procure roughly 2 million tons of agricultural commodities per year, and about two-thirds of this is from local suppliers. A thriving local agri-market creates significant wins for all relevant stakeholders in this country – acting as a catalyst for broader rural economic development and the participation of previously marginalised groups in the primary economy.

Reiterating the role of collaboration in driving solutions, Tiger Brands will continue to sponsor and facilitate food security dialogues to encourage the development of sustainable solutions to this multifaceted problem. We will continue the work to promote nutrition education to support these broader objectives.

Lawrence Mac Dougall joined Tiger Brands in May 2016 from Mondelez International where he held the position of Executive Vice President and Regional President for Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa. Prior to this, he occupied the position of Regional President for Middle East and Africa at Kraft Foods, as well Regional President for Middle East and Africa, and Chairman of Cadbury Ltd, Nigeria, at Cadbury Plc Ltd.  He has a wealth of experience in sales, marketing, finance, logistics and IT.

This article was originally published in Leadership Magazine in October 2016.

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