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Study Overview

MNF Evaluation
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Poor quality diets are the leading contributor to the global burden of disease. Market-based interventions are potentially effective strategies to improve access to nutritious foods, especially for low-income populations. Yet, private sector engagement in nutrition interventions has been limited.

The Marketplace for Nutritious Foods (MNF) initiated by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) in 2003 is one example of a mechanism that recognizes the role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in feeding low-income populations. The MNF program was established to support SMEs producing nutritious foods.  This program consists of two components: (i) a Community of Practice (COP) supporting a broad network of stakeholders with information and knowledge, and (ii) an Innovation Accelerator grant mechanism, which offers both targeted technical and financial support to promising enterprises.

The role businesses play in improving nutrition at large scale has become more relevant than ever. Understanding how to effectively engage the private sector to improve nutrition is a research priority. Appropriate methods and metrics to measure the impact of agricultural or food-systems approaches to improving the availability and affordability of nutritious foods need to be developed. This need laid the groundwork for a prospective impact evaluation of the MNF program in Kenya from 2017-2020.

The purpose of this evaluation is to causally determine the impact of networking opportunities (linking businesses that aim to produce nutritious foods), technical assistance and financial grants on SME business performance and production of nutritious foods. We also assess the potential impact of increased availability of a nutritious product on the food environment and consumer purchase of nutritious foods in markets serving low income communities. 

Registration Citation:

Caputo, V., Jones, AD., Maredia, M., Nakasone, E., Ortega, D., Porter, M., Tschirley, D (2020). Evaluation of GAIN’s Marketplace for Nutritious Foods in Kenya

Health, Nutrition, and Population
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Principal Investigator(s)

Name of First PI:
Eduardo Nakasone
Michigan State University
Name of Second PI:
Mywish Maredia
Michigan State University

Study Sponsor

Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
Study Sponsor Location:

Research Partner

Name of Partner Institution:
Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA)
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Intervention Overview


The MNF program consists of two components: a Community of Practice (COP) and an Innovation Accelerator (IA).

The COP is a network of entrepreneurs, NGOs and other various actors. It provides training, information and networking opportunities to SMEs who supply nutritious food to low-income consumers. The COP convenes regularly for networking and capacity building events. The COP stays connected through newsletters, MNF’s website and social media.

The IA provides individualized support to SMEs. IA has open calls for proposals in which companies submit concepts for nutritious foods and require considerable investment to do so. Companies are selected through a competitive process based on their ability to improve production, affordability, convenience or safety of nutritious foods (specifically targeting low-income markets). Successful businesses can access technical support, and a small number of SMEs receive financial support (up to a maximum of USD$90,000). 

The IA directly supports SMEs, but only indirectly influences the availability of nutritious foods (to the extent that beneficiary SMEs are able to increase market availability). While the IA might generate significant expansions of nutritious foods in the longer run, the time frame of our evaluation is limited. To assess the impact of increased availability of nutritious food in low-income markets, we implement our own intervention (specific to this research study). We work closely with an SME supported by the IA to distribute and ensure availability of its main product in randomly selected market segments. We aim to ensure widespread availability of the product for the duration of the study intervention period. Beneficiaries include retail outlets selling this product and consumers shopping at these retail outlets. 

Theory of Change:

MNF aims to increase the capacity and willingness of low-income consumers to acquire and consume more nutritious foods from the market. MNF plans to achieve this objective in at least four ways.

First, MNF can directly increase in the availability of nutritious foods in the market through three mechanisms. a) The COP might increase information sharing, network building and idea generation within its members. As a result, firms could launch new nutritious products.  b) Firms who win technical assistance in the IA could improve their entrepreneurial skills. These firms would be better able to launch new products or expand their distribution of existing nutritious products. c) Firms who receive grants would have the financial resources to produce foods that have already been determined as nutritious by MNF. These mechanisms will be the main focus of our study.

Second, availability can be increased indirectly through two demonstration effects (DE). A first DE could take place among processors who observe the success of new nutritious products and develop or more effectively market their own. A second DE can come from retailers who see consumers purchasing such products and demand other nutritious foods from processors.  

Third, consumer knowledge of and willingness to pay for nutritional attributes in foods can be enhanced through greater availability of attractive foods in the market. We will investigate this channel through choice experiments with consumers (details in methodological section).

Finally, greater availability of nutritious foods can increase competition and lower prices, leading to increased consumer purchases for these products. 

Multiple Treatment Arms Evaluated?

Implementing Agency

Name of Organization:
Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA)
Type of Organization:
NGO (International)

Program Funder

Name of Organization:
Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
Type of Organization:
NGO (International)

Intervention Timing

Intervention or Program Started at time of Registration?
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Evaluation Method

Evaluation Method Overview

Primary (or First) Evaluation Method:
Randomized control trial
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Additional Evaluation Method (If Any):
Regression discontinuity
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Method Details

Details of Evaluation Approach:

Our approach has two components:


COP:  We will survey members to gauge their satisfaction with the COP and to identify the benefits of the platform. We will investigate whether COP members’ participation in networking events enhances trust-based investment cooperation through a lab-in-the-field experiment. 


IA: The evaluation has several approaches.


  1. Regression discontinuity design: We will investigate beneficiary firms’ practices before and after GAIN’s support. Our counterfactuals will be based on firms that received high scores in their application proposals but were not awarded assistance. 


  1. Qualitative survey: We plan to conduct in-depth interviews to understand hos firms benefited from TA and Financial Assistance (FA).


  1. Food Environment Monitoring: We will measure the availability of different types of food in a census of retailers. Among a sample of vendors, we will measure the shelf space allocated to different categories of food and the prices of common food items. 


  1. Retailer and consumer effects: We will measure the impact of the availability of a GAIN-supported product in market clusters of low-income neighbourhoods of Nairobi. We will distribute the product to retailers for 12 weeks (at market price) in randomly selected segments. We will collect retailer and consumer data in treatment and control market segments before and after the intervention. 


  1. Discrete Choice Experiments will be conducted to assess consumers’ willingness to pay for nutritional labels and determine consumer demand for healthy food under different information treatments.
Outcomes (Endpoints):

At the firm level, outcomes include:

  • Launching of new products
  • Business performance measures (e.g., number of workers, output per worker, sales, profits, unitary costs of production, return over capital, etc.)
  • Trust-based investment cooperation induced by networking in the COP (through lab-in-the field experiments, as explained above)

At the retailer level, outcomes include:

  • Changes in sales volumes, revenues, number of customers and profits.
  • Availability of nutritious foods 

At the consumer level, outcomes include:

  • Consumption of GAIN supported product
  • Diet quality using an adapted version of the Imamura index (Imamura et. al., 2017)
  • Nutrition knowledge 
  • Willingness to pay for nutritious products
  • Changes in consumer demand under different information treatments about product nutritional value
Unit of Analysis:
Firms (SME), members of COP, Food Retailers, and low-income consumers

We plan to test the following hypotheses:

  1. Does participation in the COP foster trust and improve prospects for potential business collaboration among its members? This will be measured through our lab-in-the-field intervention. 
  2. What type of retailers make food available to consumers in (selected) poor areas of Kenya? How available are nutritious / unhealthy foods at these retailers? 
  3. What is the impact of TA on business growth, and capacity to produce and market safe and nutritious foods? Do firms that receive TA improve their business performance (e.g., sales, revenues, etc.). Are they more likely to launch new nutritious products (or expand the production of their existing nutritious products)? We will address these questions through before-after comparisons of firms that received and did not receive TA. 
  4. Does availability of GAIN-supported nutritious products from nearby retailers increase consumers’ demand for these items? Are there any nutritional gains in the households with access to these products? Are there any substitution or complementarity effects in households’ food consumption patterns and diets? We will use the results from our field experiment (i.e., exploiting random variation of access to GAIN-supported products across market segments) to answer these questions. 
  5. What is consumers’ willingness to pay for foods produced by GAIN supported firms, and how does this differ by their exposure to these products? How responsive is consumer demand for nutritious foods to information? We will use discrete choice experiments to evaluate these questions.


Unit of Intervention or Assignment:
The intervention at the retailer and consumer levels will be randomized among geographic clusters.
Number of Clusters in Sample:
There are 40 clusters each in the treatment and the control group.
Number of Individuals in Sample:
72 businesses in TA evaluation, 80-100 COP members in trust games; 2,137 outlets in retailer census; 470 outlets in shelf-space survey; 327 retailers and 1,280 consumers in the RCT for FA
Size of Treatment, Control, or Comparison Subsamples:
½ businesses for TA eval in treatment and ½ in control group; 80-100 COP members in trust games (play both sender and receiver); ½ retailers / cons in FA eval assigned to treatment and ½ to control

Outcomes Data

COP survey (COP experience, benefits derived) Trust experiment (investment behavior) Firm survey (company & product profiles, business performance) Retailer survey (business and owner profile, # of customers, business performance) Food environment monitoring (prevalence and shelf-space devoted to pre-defined food categories among retailers) Consumer survey (HH & main shopper characteristics, food purchases, expenditure & cons., knowledge, preferences, information effects)
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Registration Category

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Prospective, Category 1: Data for measuring impacts have not been collected

Completion Overview

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Study Stopped