A nutritious cookie to fight hunger and promote the development of society
When we talk about malnutrition we often think that it only happens in underdeveloped countries, but the pandemic has opened our eyes to the food shortages that families around the world face on a daily basis. Hidden hunger, a terrible concept that affects more than 2 billion people in the world and 24.3% of the population under 5 years of age in Europe, according to UNICEF, refers to the situation of malnutrition that currently affects those people, who with an adequate consumption of energy, do not manage to cover certain micronutrient needs, such as vitamins A and D, iron, and zinc.
This is why Fundación MAPFRE and Fundación Grupo Siro have just announced that they will distribute a total of two and a half million nutritional cookies enriched with vitamins and minerals that will help to cover the nutritional deficiencies of 25,000 families in Spain and Portugal caused by deficiencies in their diet. Their distribution is currently under way and will be carried out through the Be Solidary project by Fundación MAPFRE, the Spanish Federation of Food Banks (FESBAL), and MAPFRE’s network of volunteers.
The cookies –which will be distributed free of charge and are not available for sale to the public– have been developed by Fundación Grupo Siro as a food supplement and can provide the energy and nutrients a person needs to cover their recommended daily intake. We interviewed Juan Manuel González de Serna, founder and president of Fundación Grupo Siro.
Juan Manuel González Serna, Founder and president of Fundación Grupo Siro, holds a Bachelor’s in Law and Economics and Business Studies from ICADE and Master’s in Business Management. Starting in 1978, he managed the family business, Honesta Manzaneque, in Campo de Criptana (Ciudad Real), founded by his grandparents and dedicated to the manufacture of flour and pasta, until he left in 1991. A few months later, he bought the company Galletas Siro from Grupo Danone.
“We do what we do best, which is cookies, to fight some of the scourges that have been affecting people worldwide for decades: hunger and malnutrition. In order to help many more people suffering from hunger in the world, we need to create a global network of collaboration, and in this sense Fundación MAPFRE is a first class ally, with its experience and presence in more than 25 countries helping to alleviate malnutrition.”
When and where did the creation of this cookie come about? Could it be said that this is the most relevant project in terms of your commitment to sustainability?
This cookie came about, or at least begun to take shape, three years ago, when we asked our R&D team –then about 100 people dedicated exclusively to creating and developing new products– to present a product prototype to combat malnutrition in the world as part of an Innovation Challenge that we organize every year.
Almost 30 prototypes were submitted, and all of them evolved into the nutritional cookie that we have recently presented, which we hope is only the first of the developments that pursue this goal.
Although it is not the only sustainability project we have under way at the company, as we are also committed to the integration of people at risk of social exclusion (more than 10% of the workforce) and are investing heavily in circular economy issues (the waste we generate is converted into animal feed or reused to create biogas needed in our factories), it is a very important project. We do what we do best, which is cookies, to fight one of the scourges that have been affecting the world’s population for decades: hunger and malnutrition.
How long has Fundación Siro been working on malnutrition in the world?
It all started three years ago when we challenged our R&D team to create products that fight malnutrition. It generated so much excitement and enthusiasm in our people that we understood that we had to keep working towards the goal and reciprocate their efforts by making this challenge a reality. Since then, it has become more than a goal; it has become a mission that gives meaning to our existence.
For this reason, we are very happy that Fundación MAPFRE, such a powerful organization, with so many resources and global reach, is sharing our mission and helping us to achieve it.
The project has already been launched in Guatemala. Why in this country? How is it working?
Guatemala has the sixth-highest rates of hunger in the world and the highest in Latin America, ahead of Haiti. In Guatemala almost 50% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition. The numbers are heartbreaking. If we can do something, however small, to help reduce this figure, we will have done well.
For Guatemala, we have adapted the recipe to suit the specific nutritional needs of this population. We have enriched the cookie with Vitamin D and B12, Folic Acid, Calcium, and Iodine, and we haven’t added Vitamin A, for instance, which is at that optimal levels throughout the whole population.
Starting in January, we will conduct a clinical trial with 200 children aged 3 to 6 years in rural areas of Guatemala to study the efficacy in improving health by regular consumption for 6 months.
What plans do you have to expand the project internationally?
In order to reach many more people affected by hunger in the world, we need to create a global network of collaboration.
Nutrition, especially in children, is fundamental for good physical and cognitive development and, therefore, is a basic element in terms of development and opportunities.
In this sense, we will go where opportunities for collaboration arise and within the framework of medium- and long-term projects where we can have a real impact on the health of people and the development of communities.
Fundación MAPFRE is a first-rate ally, with its track record and presence in more than 25 countries helping to alleviate malnutrition.
“We do what we do best, which is cookies, to fight one of the scourges that have been affecting the world’s population for decades: hunger and malnutrition”
What public and private entities are you collaborating with?
It is impressive how well received this project is and the fact that a food manufacturer is investing time and resources in developing products to combat malnutrition in the world, and not for profit.
Today, we already count on the support of Fundación MAPFRE, Fundación HM Hospitales, Cáritas Guatemala, Digisalud, DHL, and Food For The Poor. Since its launch a couple of weeks ago, we have received an increasing number of requests for information from private companies and public administrations (in developing countries) to join our initiative, so we are convinced that it will be a long-lasting project.
How do you combine the needs of the population with local resources and the development of food, nutritional supplements, etc. with local products?
We already have a “universal” nutritional cookie that is aimed at any population group (ages, territories, etc.) and which tomorrow we will be able to “provide” anywhere in the world. This is an important milestone.
Our aim in the medium and long term is to create food supplements adapted to the specific nutritional needs of specific population groups and to be able to do so with local raw materials and to manufacture them locally, promoting health, but also the development of the communities where we work. This would be our 360° vision for this project.
The nutritional cookie you have just announced is the first cookie in the world with these characteristics. What are the main benefits? We understand that in addition to the nutritional benefits, others include the ease of storage, conservation, and distribution compared to other types of food. Is this the case?
The main feature of this nutritional cookie is that, for only 30 cents, we are able to provide at least 50% of vitamins and minerals that a person needs per day, and it is also a source of protein. In addition, through the cookie we provide essential macronutrients such as carbohydrates (wholemeal flours) and healthy fats (high oleic sunflower oil).
The cookie is a durable product that travels very well, it does not need special storage conditions, and we also guarantee that the vitamins and minerals are completely present in the cookie for at least twelve months.
Have you relied on the help of doctors, nutritionists, or experts in the field to guarantee the good result of the cookie?
Having experts in different areas has been one of the keys to this development. We have had the support of Fundación de Investigación HM Hospitales during the whole process, specifically its most renowned doctors in the specialties of endocrinology, pediatrics, and infant cardiology, among others. We have also had the support of the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama, an organization attached to the WHO. And internally we have had a team of our nutritionists and food engineers dedicated to the project.
Have you tested with vulnerable groups to measure if eating this cookie improves nutritional levels?
This is precisely what we are doing through the “Chapin” project currently under way in Guatemala. Starting in January, we will conduct a clinical trial led by Fundación de Investigación HM Hospitales with 200 children aged 3 to 6 years in rural areas of Guatemala to study the efficacy in improving health by regular consumption for 6 months.
We will measure changes in children’s health by analyzing analytical improvement in micronutrients at the beginning and end of the intervention, and changes in anthropometric data (weight, height, etc.)
What global production and distribution capacity does the group have to reach the whole world?
As much as necessary, in our own Cerealto Siro Foods factories, or by teaching third parties so that they can develop these products locally and with raw materials that are available to them.
If it is no secret, can you tell us a little about the main lines of research that are being carried out in your Innovation departments?
As far as this project is concerned, our goal in the short term is to keep improving this cookie in terms of quality and cost, and we know we can do it. In simpler words, for us to provide the same or more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for half the current cost. And to do this we will not only need to change raw materials, but also implement innovation and technology.
In the medium term, we expect to add new food supplement developments to a range that is exclusively designed to combat malnutrition around the world.