US national Eddie Bearnot lived and worked in Bangladesh for eight years. That is when he noticed that many Bangladeshi children and adolescents were suffering from malnutrition.
He also noticed that children here eat a lot of cheap packaged food, including biscuits, chocolates, and wafers. Eddie thought a large part of the malnutrition problem could be eliminated by adding necessary nutrients to these cheap food items.
This is how the Hashi Khushi brand came into being.
Care Nutrition Limited was set up in Narayanganj in 2018 to manufacture Hashi Khushi products, bringing a range of low-cost items to the market under the banner "Hashi Khushi in the fight against malnutrition". The products contain 24 types of nutrients, the constituents of which are sourced from a US-based multinational company.
Although it took some time for the products to gain popularity, their demand has now exceeded the Narayanganj factory's production capacity. The factory can produce 40 tonnes of products a month, but there is a demand for as high as 140 tonnes.
As a result, Care Nutrition now outsources production to other factories as well.
Aside from retailers, institutional buyers are also now purchasing from Care Nutrition. The Social Marketing Company (SMC) has already signed a deal with Care Nutrition for contract manufacturing. The SMC will initially buy 30-40 tonnes of products per month and will market them separately under the SuperKid brand.
The World Food Programme (WFP) will provide nutritional support to expectant mothers in Bangladesh and distribute Care Nutrition products among the Rohingyas. The WFP is set to sign a contract with the company soon.
Brac, the world's largest NGO, has also expressed interest in buying Hashi Khushi products, and talks to the effect are currently underway.
Hashi Khushi is also preparing to export its products. Bearnot, managing director of Care Nutrition, said, "We maintain the highest care to ensure nutrition standards of Hashi Khushi products because many large organisations are now buying our products and have expressed interest in doing so."
He said the company was preparing to start exporting products this year.
How it all began
Bearnot discussed the concept of marketing cheap, nutritious packaged snacks with DSM, a multinational vitamin and mineral supplier in the US. The company liked his idea and also expressed interest in investing in the venture.
A $20 million fund was established in the US through individual and institutional initiatives. The fund was used to set up Frontier Nutrition, Inc. in the US, whose investment was then used to register Care Nutrition in Bangladesh.
Care Nutrition went into production in 2018 after setting up the Narayanganj factory, and the products were first marketed in Khulna. Hashi Khushi products are now available almost all over the country and are sold online as well.
Aside from Hashi Khushi, company officials say they are also preparing to market products under Nutri+ brand.
Arriving in the market with just two products, Care Nutrition initially did not have a significant edge in the market. Its Manager (finance and accounts) Md Monoarul Islam said, "Marketing was a bit difficult in the beginning as the products were brand new. Then we decided to manufacture products like the ones already available in the market by fortifying them with nutrients."
Eddie Bearnot told The Business Standard, "We set up Hashi Khushi to provide Bangladeshi families with safe, convenient, and delicious alternatives to common, unhealthy snacks."
Notable among Hashi Khushi products currently available in the market are different types of chocolate biscuits, choco sip, milk chocolates, wafers, noodles, drink powder, and juice.
Each product contains several vitamins, such as A, D3, E, B12, B2, B6, C, K1, as well as magnesium, biotin, folic acid, niacin, pantothenic acid, thiamine, calcium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, and sodium.
The products are reasonable. Choco sip and milk chocolates are priced at Tk5, which is at par with similar products of other companies. However, Hashi Khushi products do contain 2-3% additional nutrients.
Monoarul said, "Our policy is to set our product prices after comparing them with similar products available in the market, so that they are within everyone's reach."
Nutritionists say micronutrients, such as vitamin, iron, iodine, and zinc, are needed in food in very small amounts, and malnutrition occurs when the body does not get the necessary micronutrients at the right age.
Professor Khurshid Jahan, a nutritionist, said there is no harm in taking nutrients if one is already suffering from malnutrition. However, those who consume nutritious food as part of their regular diet, should be careful about consuming extra nutrients.
Care officials say Hashi Khushi products are specifically for those suffering from malnutrition, especially children, adolescents, and expectant mothers.
According to data from the National Institute of Population Research and Training, 36% of Bangladeshi children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition, and 45% of them die.
Care leased a 30,000-square-feet area to set up the Narayanganj factory. Upon entering the factory, one will first see the laboratory where experiments are conducted on quality and formula of chocolates and biscuits.
A three-step hygiene protocol is mandatory to enter the production plant. Products are tested further prior to packaging.
Care officials said experimental production began in April 2018, and liquid shahi malai was the first product manufactured by adding nutrients, followed by magic sweet. Both products were outputs of innovation.
The company then started producing products that were already in existence in the market, using its own formula to fortify them with vitamins and minerals.
Since the demand for products has surpassed production capacity, company officials have said that capacity enhancement is already underway.
Products tested in different places
Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) is the government agency responsible for determining product quality, but it does not have the capacity to do so for Care's food products.
However, the Care Nutrition factory had to obtain the BSTI certification for food safety management. Last year, it was also recognised as a food producer, receiving the ISO certificate from BSTI for food safety management.
BSTI management system certification wing Deputy Director Md Nazir Ahmed Mia told The Business Standard ISO certification is granted only if a factory premises meets international standards in terms of machinery, laboratories, production process, hygiene, workers' efficiency, and transportation system.
He said nutritional drinks such as Horlicks, Boost, and Bournvita hold this certificate in Bangladesh.
"The products for which BSTI does not have the capacity (to issue standard certification) may be traded with ISO certification."
Although BSTI does not have the capacity to check the quality of Care products, the latter itself frequently conducts these quality checks on a regular basis, getting its products tested at the Swiss Vitamin Institute at regular intervals.
The company also tests its products at Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) and SGS, a private lab.