Fueling the Business of Nutrition: What will it take to attract more commercial investment into nutritious food value chains?

Beth Jenkins and Richard Gilbert
The Corporate Responsibility Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School
Resource type:
Reports and discussion papers

This discussion paper asks what is needed to unlock greater commercial investment into value chains that can improve access to nutritious foods among low-income consumers in developing and emerging markets, with a special focus on the small and medium enterprises that currently struggle the most to obtain it. For brevity, the authors will refer to “nutritious food value chains” and “SMEs that improve access to nutritious and safe foods.” The paper does not focus on attracting or steering investment into multinationals based on their nutrition impacts, or on encouraging them to invest their own resources in developing more nutritious products. However, multinationals could be one source of investment into smaller, more local companies via corporate venturing or acquisition.

What is needed to unlock greater commercial investment into nutritious food value chains is a question that spans disciplines, from nutrition to agribusiness to SME finance and blended finance. Many stakeholders will need to be involved in answering it, including donors, development organizations, and government agencies with the mission to improve nutrition on one hand, and investors with the mandate to generate financial returns on the other hand. The investor group includes both impact investors who may be willing to accept below-market returns, mainstream commercial investors who seek to maximize returns and those seeking a balance between the two. This paper is intended to frame and contribute to the discussion among these and other stakeholders, but not to provide all the answers.

This discussion paper is based on a review of relevant literature and interviews with investors and experts at the intersection of business and nutrition. Interviewees are listed in the Acknowledgements.