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Food for all: Connie Ang

Connie Ang is a woman on a mission. It’s not so much a personal one, although her determination comes very much from the heart, it’s more of a humanitarian ideal. The CEO of Danone Specialized Nutrition Indonesia wants healthy food to be the standard in the staple diet of hundreds of millions of Indonesians.

Connie Ang, CEO of Danone Specialized Nutrition Indonesia

She explains it was Danone’s crystal-clear ambition to nourish the world that compelled her to join the company in 2007 as Marketing Director in China. Today, spearheading the Indonesian arm of the global organisation and grappling with the repercussions of a global pandemic, her goals are more important than ever.

“Danone’s mission is super clear; we’re here to provide food for all, or as our company signature says, ‘One Planet, One Health,’” she explains. “There are lots of big companies in the world with lots of missions, but we are entirely focused on good nourishment, whether it be water, essential dairy, plant-based or specialised nutrition. It’s a very focused portfolio all about health and healthy foods and drinks.”

One of the largest food and beverage companies in the world, Danone employs more than 100,000 people across 130 countries. Danone Specialized Nutrition Indonesia started with its heritage brand SGM 66 years ago as a collaboration between the United Nations and the Indonesian government to fight malnutrition.

Indonesia is now one of the biggest business contributors for Danone globally, with 24 factories and more than 15,000 employees operating Danone Waters and Danone Specialized Nutrition in Indonesia.

Danone Waters produces water and non-carbonated drinks such as AQUA, Mizone and Vit, while Danone Specialized Nutrition manufactures products such as SGM Eksplor, Bebelac and Nutrilon Royal, which provide the optimal number of nutrients essential for pregnant and breastfeeding women and supporting the growth and development of children aged from one to three years old and beyond.

Its range of products also targets different nutritional needs offering alternatives to food, such as cow’s milk protein, which may not be suitable for some. Describing Indonesia as “huge and complex”, Connie says that 30.8% of children under five suffer from malnutrition, 8% are obese, and a third have anaemia, or iron deficiency, along with half of pregnant women.

During the first 1,000 days of life, the brain grows faster than at any other time.

“Malnutrition can also be the result of having too much food, too much of the wrong food,” Connie explains. “Meanwhile, the right level of nutrition, which allows the absorption of iron, can resolve anaemia.

“So we’re very focused on early life nutrition – nutrition for mothers and children under five. It’s supported by science that if the first 1,000 days of a child’s life is not taken care of it will have irreversible impacts on the rest of that child’s life.”

Stunting, the impaired growth and brain development of children caused by poor nutrition, is one example. About 30%of children in Indonesia suffer from stunted growth, a condition that cannot be reversed beyond the age of two and is estimated to cause a 20% reduction in earning capacity over a lifetime.

“It’s one of our big priorities. We conducted a pilot study in Pandeglang, Banten, which revealed that nutrition intervention is able to reduce stunting by 8.4% in six months, which is 4.3% faster than the WHO annual rate,” Connie says.

“It shows Danone can make a difference. For every child we help, the progress of that child will be benefited for the rest of their life. Soon, the study will expand to 45 cities.”

“We think of it as helping a generation of Indonesians who can contribute to the progress of a country. During the first 1,000 days of life, the brain grows faster than at any other time and physical growth is 12 times faster. It’s very, very important for a pregnant mother to have the right nutrition and continue it for herself and the baby.”

Connie Ang, CEO of Danone Specialized Nutrition Indonesia

Danone products are accessible throughout Indonesia, yet Connie admits education is key, particularly in remote villages where mothers are known to substitute breastmilk with the milky water drained from rice.

She says collaboration with government at all levels is vital, as is working with healthcare professionals and educational institutes. Danone’s Kantin Sekolah Generasi Maju (previously named Warung Anak Sehat) program has created a network of canteen ladies who manage healthy kiosks inside schools, providing not just access to healthy snacks for children, but the opportunity to educate parents and teachers on the benefits of healthy food.

Danone also runs Isi Piringku, an educational program to encourage children to eat balanced nutrition and portions, as well as the Merapi Project, working with local milk farmers in the region for sustainable farming, protein and cow’s milk.

“We absolutely believe in open sharing of information,” Connie says. “During COVID-19, we started working with LIPI, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, to distribute snack bars and noodles through the Foodbank of Indonesia for families who normally couldn’t afford our products.”

Heading Connie’s ultimate wish list is to achieve zero stunting rates in Indonesia, a goal she’s well aware will require the combined efforts of government, academia, stakeholders, retailers and distributors.

“Everybody benefits from collaboration and partnership,” Connie reflects. “I personally have the belief that with the rising tide, all boats will rise. It is my privilege to lead this team and deliver food for all, provide access for all and nutrition for all.”

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