In late 2021, Tim McCoy learned that more than 1 million servings of a nutritional product for children was sitting, abandoned, in a warehouse in western Africa, because of disruptions caused by Covid-19.
McCoy, who is director of cocoa partnerships for The Hershey Company, was visiting Africa because Hershey sources much of its cocoa from farms based in Ghana and neighboring Côte d'Ivoire, which together produce nearly 70 percent of the world’s cocoa. Although he was new to his job, McCoy was well aware of the company’s commitment to helping children and supporting cocoa farmers and their families. “A lot of good, nutritional food that could benefit children was just sitting there,” he says, recalling how the surplus made him want to find a solution. “I thought there might be an opportunity to step up and make a difference.”
With the help of on-the-ground-partners, McCoy devised a plan to purchase and transport 1.1 million servings of this therapeutic food to children through Côte d’Ivoire-based non-governmental organization, The Children of Africa Foundation.
A partnership around peanut butter
Supporting children and youth has long been one of Hershey’s key priorities. Since 2015, the company has partnered with Project Peanut Butter to create ViVi, a peanut-butter-based nutritional supplement. Today, ViVi is distributed by schools in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire to nearly 50,000 children a day, helping to enhance nutrition as well as improve school enrollment and attendance.
In fact, it was during a tour of the Project Peanut Butter factory in Kumasi, Ghana, that McCoy learned of the abandoned product called Grow Nut – a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) designed to treat acute malnutrition in young children. A global hunger organization had initially ordered the 1.1 million units from Project Peanut Butter but was ultimately unable to fund the program due to complications during the pandemic. As a result, the RUTF was left without an end destination.
McCoy called Leigh Horner, Hershey’s chief sustainability officer, to find a solution. “It was a no-brainer,” Horner recalls. “It involved two of our top priorities: making a positive impact in cocoa farming regions and helping children. How can we make this work?”
The team used Hershey philanthropic funds to purchase the product. Then, McCoy reached out to his contacts at The Children of Africa Foundation, which was founded by Côte d’Ivoire First Lady Dominique Ouattara and focuses on issues related to the health, education and empowerment of children in Côte d'Ivoire, as well as in other countries in Africa.
"Deeply involved in humanitarian work for two decades, Côte d'Ivoire First Lady Dominique Ouattara supports the well-being of the most vulnerable children in 11 African countries through her Children of Africa Foundation,” explained representatives of The Children of Africa Foundation. “She helps children in the areas of health, education, and especially their schooling. The Foundation was very pleased to receive from Hershey this donation to benefit thousands of children, not only to improve their nutrition but also to encourage their attendance at school. We’re excited to develop this partnership with Hershey, which we hope to strengthen in the future for the benefit of children in rural areas."
With instrumental support from the Project Peanut Butter team, McCoy coordinated the logistics required to transport the shipment to Côte d'Ivoire, which included loading 3,000 boxes into two tractor trailers, learning about customs requirements and navigating border crossings. “It wasn’t without complication,” says McCoy. “In the end, however, there was a lot of satisfaction in seeing it come together and knowing that the product will be nourishing children.”
Serving a greater purpose
Following the ceremonial handoff to The Children of Africa Foundation team, McCoy had a chance to reflect more on the donation, and what it meant to him and Hershey. “It felt as though this was one way to take forward Milton Hershey’s legacy of helping kids,” he says. In 1909, Milton founded Milton Hershey School to create a home and school for orphaned boys. Today, that school lives on serving lower-income students, and is a direct beneficiary of Hershey’s success.
The recent donation also corresponds with the goals of Hershey’s Cocoa For Good strategy, designed to address systemic social and environmental challenges in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. “We have an obligation to address these issues,” says McCoy. “And it makes good business sense that we have sustainably sourced cocoa that goes into our products.”
Horner says the Grow Nut donation ladders up to the company’s purpose to be a part of what she calls “more moments of goodness” in people’s lives; a phrase frequently used around the halls of Hershey to describe the feeling someone gets when they experience a Hershey product. Horner says the phrase also reflects Hershey’s ethical decisions in all business dealings. “I always tell people that when you eat a Hershey product, you should have that moment of goodness in the experience,” she says. “But you should also feel good about that moment and be confident in the care and attention we put into making the product,” she says.
For Horner, McCoy and the rest of the Hershey team, the recent philanthropic work in Africa is in support of that purpose—and it’s something to feel good about.