Late last year, the Hershey Company, in partnership with Project Peanut Butter, opened the project’s newest manufacturing facility in Kumasi, Ghana. The plant produces Project Peanut Butter’s peanut-based Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTFs) endorsed by leading NGOs as the world’s most effective treatment for severe childhood malnutrition.
In this two-part series, we caught up with Jeff King, senior director, global brand for Hershey to find out more about the project and their plans for the future.
Why did Hershey choose to support Project Peanut Butter? How did the relationship start?
While Hershey did not have commercial presence in Ghana, we have a long history there and all of West Africa as it has been our largest source of cocoa for more than 50 years and we are committed to helping farmers improve their sustainability and investing in the economical development of local communities.
In 2012, I was asked to lead an exploratory team to look into the practicality of a commercial venture in Ghana that would help the local economy by making use of local raw ingredients and manufacturing facilities and help fund ongoing Corporate Social Responsibilities activities.
As we traveled through the country the prevalence of childhood malnutrition especially in northern Ghana quickly became apparent and it struck a chord with the team. Follow up research led us to discover the work of Project Peanut Butter (PPB) and its founder, Dr. Mark Manary. Through its clinics in Malawi and Sierra Leone, PPB was demonstrating incredible success treating severe childhood malnutrition with a highly effective, peanut-based therapeutic food that Mark had developed during years of clinical trials.
A few weeks later, I met Mark at a Hershey R&D Summit. After a brief conversation, we recognized our mutual passion for making a difference in the lives of children in need. They outlined a plan for a Project Peanut Butter facility in Ghana.
Within a month, I presented that plan to Hershey leaders and it was approved.
It’s been a few months since the manufacturing facility began full operations. How is it going?
I’m pleased to say that the factory is up and running smoothly and that Project Peanut Butter is very happy with the day-to-day operations. PPB is waiting for UNICEF to set an appointment date for a required factory review prior to the certification needed to be able to distribute their Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). They expect to secure the UNICEF certification in the next two to three months after which, they will immediately begin distributing the RUTFs in Ghana.
Last year Hershey employees worked more than 6,200 hours on Project Peanut Butter. What did that work entail and how is Hershey’s support continuing in 2015?
While Hershey was pleased to have provided an opportunity for its employees to work with the PPB team, I think it is important to know that all the people volunteered their time and energy above and beyond their day jobs both here in the U.S. and in Ghana. Over the course of a year, these men and women generously contributed their expertise applying it to plant design, processing capabilities and infrastructure support including recommending changes to the peanut-grinding process to reach a finer peanut blend for a higher-quality RUTF. They also worked hand-in-hand onsite to improve efficiencies and develop quality programs to ensure safety. Thanks to the input of these employees, the plant was up and running within a year well ahead of PPB’s schedule. They also made sure the facility was designed to give PPB room to grow in the future so that it can expand to serve more of the population of Ghana over time.
This year, in addition to providing on-going support, Hershey employees contributed to a matching fund program initiated by Hershey. That $50,000 was presented to Project Peanut Butter to establish their first mobile clinic in Ghana. The clinic will be up and running this spring and I hope to be there for the occasion!
Were there any especially moving or impactful moments for the Hershey’s employees who were on the ground as part of the project?
In talking with my colleagues about their experiences working in Ghana, it is clear that all of them found the experience moving. Each of us has our own personal significant moments, but I can say that all of us were genuinely touched by the sincere sense of gratitude and appreciation expressed by Ghanaians when they learned what we were doing with PPB. We all returned home with a greater appreciation for the infrastructure we so easily take for granted such as electricity, water, and roads.
One of the most intense experiences our group had was during a lengthy visit last fall. Members of our Hershey team worked 10 to 12 hour days, six or seven days a week over the course of three weeks side by side with the Project Peanut Butter team and the local employees in an effort to start production. Mindful of the impact the RUTF would mean for the Ghanaian children, when the first nutritional packet come off the line it was a very special moment those people will not soon forget.