Nestle working with African farmers to sustainably source onions on continent for company's Maggi products; local communities will benefit from farmer training, improved agricultural yields, company says

VEVEY, Switzerland , November 4, 2011 (press release) – Nestlé is working with African farmers to source onions on the continent for the first time for its Maggi products.

The company expects local communities to benefit from training given to farmers and improve agricultural yields.

Previously, Nestlé in the Central and Western Africa Region imported onion powder – the main ingredient in Maggi bouillon – from Germany, France and India.

The new ‘blue onion’ programme is being launched as an alternative way to source this essential ingredient.

“This project illustrates the importance that agriculture has in Nestlé’s global Research and Development programme,” said Johannes Baensch, Head of Nestlé R&D.

“Our agricultural knowledge is an important element in our innovation process – from selecting high quality raw materials to developing finished products.”

Home-grown onions

Nestlé and Niger-based company Achat Services International are working together to develop the locally-sourced supply of onion powder.

In the past, Nestlé was unable to do this because it was difficult to source high quality onions with the right flavour and aroma, and transform them into powder form.

But now Nestlé researchers and scientists expect the new programme will enable them to make better use of the locally-grown onions from farmers in Niger – the second biggest producer of the crop after Nigeria.

“By growing onions locally and transforming them into high quality powder ourselves, we are going from A to Z in producing the key ingredient for our bouillon and sauces,” explained Serigne Diop, Director of Nestlé’s R&D Center in Abidjan.

Farm to factory

Nestlé’s Research and Development Centre in Abidjan is already working with 200 farmers ahead of the opening of a new onion powder factory in Niger’s capital city Niamey in 2012.

The company will share its technical training and expertise with farmers to encourage sustainable farming practices.

Also, Nestlé’s partnership with farmers will establish a supply chain from farm to factory.

By the end of next year, Nestlé aims to work with over 5,000 farmers on this project.

Sub-Saharan Africa

“By establishing a market for premium onions, we are providing a regular income for the farmers,” continued Mr Diop.

“Onions are not the only crop we are sourcing locally. Chillies and garlic are important in our Maggi products and we will also source these crops from local farmers too.

“Long-term, we aim to source the majority of our raw materials from Africa.

“Once opened, the factory will produce locally-sourced powder for all of our Nestlé culinary factories in Sub-Saharan Africa,” he added. For more images on this story, click here to view our Flickr photostream.

Finding the right quality and flavour

Researchers at the R&D Centre in Abidjan had tested 21 onion varieties to find the right quality and flavour specifications needed for the product.

They tried to find the varieties with the highest harvest rate that would work best as a dry ingredient.

'Violet de Galmi’ and ‘Blanc de Galmi’ are two varieties of blue and white onions which are grown only in Niger. They were chosen for their flavour and agricultural qualities.

“We were looking for a number of things. To meet Nestlé quality, the onions had to be the right type, flavour and aroma,” said Mr Diop.

Transforming the onions

For the next step, Nestlé developed a new process of ‘drying’ and ‘toasting’ the blue and white onions to transform them into powder form.

Mr Diop explained the researchers found that ‘drying’ the onions for longer to remove moisture gave the crop a more intense aroma.

The temperature of ‘toasting’ the onions was moderated to eliminate more moisture, which in turn, provided a stronger flavour.

Then the dried and toasted onions were ground using specialist milling equipment from the United Kingdom.

The onion powder produced has a better flavour and aroma than imported products, according to flavour testing by an independent panel.

‘Sustainable supply’

“We wanted to make sure that the onions we selected improved the yield too,” said Mr Diop.

“Niger produces around 350,000 tonnes of raw onion each year. But we did not have the means to transform these into powder form. Therefore, up to a third went to waste. This has changed with our new process.”

“The new process has resulted in a high quality powder with a strong flavour compared to the imported powder.

“We are providing a sustainable supply of onions which will benefit our farmers, our company and our consumers,” he added.

Continuing the development of Africa

The “blue onion” project is an example of Nestlé’s approach to corporate social responsibility called Creating Shared Value. It focuses on specific areas where the company can best create value for both society and its shareholders.

It is only one of many initiatives that Nestlé has introduced over the last 12 months to boost business and the development of Africa.

The company’s first shared service centre in Ghana was opened earlier this year to support Nestlé in more than 40 African countries.

Activities such as employee payroll and invoice payments are now completed from one central location.

The centre seeks to employ 150 people by 2012, expecting to attract young local graduates for such jobs in partnership with local universities.

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