Tell us a little about yourself …
I’m Zarin Rashid and I’m 26 years old. I’m a fashion design graduate from Toronto Film School and a health and fitness enthusiast by passion. I work as Head of R&D at TRZ Garments Industry Ltd, an outerwear manufacturer in Bangladesh which was started by my family in 1999. I started Feed Me as a passion project after I moved back to Bangladesh from Canada and realised there was a big gap in the market for fresh and nutritious ready-made meals. Last year, I started exploring opportunities to do more good with my business and have been developing low-cost, nutritious bars and drinks for factory workers and adolescents in Bangladesh.
What got you interested in nutrition?
I’ve been into fitness and staying healthy for as long as I can remember, and part of that has always been paying attention to what I eat. After returning to Bangladesh, I began experiencing a lot of health problems and really came to appreciate how important good food is for my own health and saw how there was such a big gap here in Bangladesh for healthy food. I started Feed Me to offer nutritious and balanced meals that are also convenient and tasty as a way to encourage others to eat well.
What do you work on, and how does it relate to public private engagement for nutrition?
At Feed Me, we currently offer prepared meals direct to consumers but we are also working with manufacturers in the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) industry to make low-cost and nutritious bars and drinks available to workers. The RMG sector employs about 4.5m people in Bangladesh, and more than 43% of workers are undernourished. So this initiative is a really important group of people to focus on to help improve nutrition – and it is only possible through cross sector collaboration. Feed Me partnered with Welt Hunger Hilfe (a German NGO working in Bangladesh) and the Bangladesh Institute of Research and Training on Applied Nutrition (BIRTAN) to ensure the nutrition and flavour profiles for the products are appropriate, using locally-grown, nutritious and affordable ingredients. And now that we have products developed, we have been working with RMG factories to ensure we have buyers and customers.
What is exciting about your work?
The most exciting part of my work is feeling like I am making a difference, and getting the chance to actually see how people’s lives are getting better. Whether it’s our meal plans which are helping people live healthier lives, or workers who often feel their needs are being overlooked, I am very proud to say that what I am doing will be helping others.
What is challenging about it?
COVID-19 has created unexpected challenges in rolling out our nutritious bars and drinks in the RMG factories. Bangladesh has been severely affected by the coronavirus, and many of the RMG factories have been hurt economically due to labour and supply chain disruptions. At a time when many of these companies are worried about their businesses staying afloat, it is difficult to convince management to make additional investments in these nutritious bars and drinks. Even though healthy workers mean a healthy business, many difficult decisions and cutbacks have delayed our plans to roll out. But we are using this time to make sure we get everything right and are ready to go in 2021 – and part of that is being mindful of finding a price point that works for customers, but is also viable for our business operations
Another challenge is consumer education, and helping customers, workers and RMG managers to understand the connection between food and health, and health and productivity. Through winning the Bangladesh SUN Business Pitch competition, I am working with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the SUN Business Network to discuss ways to help get nutrition information to consumers, through introductory materials like banners and videos to help familiarise them with the topic, and then moving on to more targeted education campaigns.
What’s the latest news or a recent success?
My most recent success was winning the SUN National competition “Nutristar Bangladesh” at the beginning of this year. Being a 7-month-old company and winning the title amongst 300 well-known companies was a big thing for the whole team and myself as well.
We are looking forward to starting 2021 strong, targeting 8-10 factories in Bangladesh who are keen to prioritise employees and their health. Getting that commitment is important because as employers, we are – and should be – held accountable for employees’ physical wellbeing as they’re with us and working for us. Once we get going with our initial pilot programme, we hope we can expand this to all factories across Bangladesh. Other plans include extending the product range and finding more ways to take this international through competitions and seminars.
Has this work made you change your mind about anything, or has anything surprised you?
Of course! Growing up in a bubble or inside the city never makes you realise what or how the real world really is. I’m glad I could start something that makes a difference in someone else’s life because I have never felt happiness like I did knowing that it made someone feel better. I’m also glad to be working with people that showed me the real meaning of life and how hard it can be.
If you had to have a slogan, or a strapline, for this work, what would it be?
“Changing lives with what you eat, one person at a time”
What is your favourite food or meal to share with family or friends?
Most of my meals are very healthy and nutritious, but my favourite meal is when I indulge with a juicy burger or KFC. I appreciate it more than anything because it’s a treat to enjoy with friends or family.