Infant foods

Quality Certification of Premixed Infant Foods

Research in Mali, Ghana and elsewhere suggests a new way to improve child nutrition in Africa, through quality certification of premixed infant foods produced using local ingredients by artisanal and medium-scale enterprises.  Doing so could dramatically lower the cost of the high-density complementary foods needed during the crucial period from 6 to 24 months of age.  Recent work on this topic follows below:


Summary and links to publications on previous work

In this research, we ask whether child nutrition in developing countries could be improved by a program to test and certify the nutrient density of infant foods produced by local entrepreneurs. Currently, the infant-food market is dominated by high-priced products, like those being displayed by the pharmacist in the photo below.

These products are sold for many times the cost of nutritionally-similar alternatives developed by public health agencies.  But when the lower-cost products are offered for sale, people rarely buy them. Our hypothesis is that people only buy the brand-name foods, even though they cannot afford enough quantity to meet their childrens’ needs, because they cannot observe these products’ nutritional content – so only a high priced brand name can be trusted at all. This kind of market failure was first described by George Akerlof, for which he shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics.

To investigate the value of quality certification for infant foods, we conducted a market experiment in Bamako, Mali, measuring mothers’ demand for information about infant food quality. Our market experiment in offered women a variety of choices to elicit the tradeoffs they saw between the high-priced name brand, or a variety of other products including some whose quality is certified by Mali’s national food and agriculture research service.In our market experiment, mothers had an opportunity to make real choices between these products.  This told us how much they care about various product attributes.

Using the choices made by 239 women in and around the city of Bamako, Mali, we are able to calculate the value of quality certification.  Using a rough budget for certification services, we estimated that the net welfare gains would be on the order of $20 per year per child of the relevant ages (6-24 months), which represents about one month’s worth of adequate nutrition for that child.  The original research was funded by USAID, as part of a larger project on innovation in West African agriculture.  The original publications, media coverage and a video about the research in Mali is posted below.

Citations and other links

W.A. Masters, J. Kuwornu and D. Sarpong, “Improving child nutrition through quality certification of infant foods: scoping study from a randomized trial in Ghana,” Working paper 10/0828 (2011). London, UK: International Growth Centre.
W.A. Masters, “Notes on nutrient density of infant foods in Kampala, Uganda.”  Unpublished paper prepared for the Feed the Future Nutrition Innovation Lab (2011).  Boston: Friedman School of Nutrition, Tufts University.
W.A. Masters and D. Sanogo, “Welfare Gains from Quality Certification of Infant Foods: Results from a Market Experiment in Mali”, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 84(4, November 2002): 974-989. (Link to preprint.)
The Mali study is also documented in an unpublished French version, entitled Amélioration de la Nutrition Infantile.  It attracted press coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and is also described in a 20-minute video designed for high-school economics classes.