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A product with a purpose: The A-Day Origin Story

A product with a purpose: The A-Day Origin Story

The global malnutrition challenge

Our journey began after an Oxford PhD student returned from volunteering at Calais refugee camp - struck by the poor nutritional profile of food rations.

This is not unique to Calais. 

“In the last ten years, the frequency and intensity of conflict, climate variability and extremes, and economic slowdowns and downturns have increased significantly.  This (...) has led to a rise in hunger and has undermined progress in reducing all forms of malnutrition”

(FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2021, p. 25)

Then question that emerges is why these issues remain so prevalent, despite being easily preventable in theory?

Why are tablets not working? 

These challenges are both linked to complex living situations combined with a lack of effective solutions for governments and NGOs to address these problems.

Food packs focus on providing essential macronutrients and calories for survival and deliver things like rice, oil, tinned vegetables, potatoes, or porridge. These meet calorie requirements, but not the nutrition people need to maintain health over time. 

Delivering a varied diet is far beyond the budgets that humanitarian organisations have at their disposal, and even if it could be funded - it would arguably be close to impossible to establish the storage and distribution infrastructure needed to deliver it. 

Vitamin pills are a great solution in theory, but fail in practice because the target users fail to use them as directed. Supplements are either provided in plastic bags or bulky containers, sparking scepticism or causing inconvenience. The recipients usually take them for a few days before they lose their rations and their motivation to maintain a habit to prevent ambiguous 'deficiencies'. 

In Calais, the police also regularly take all of the refugees belongings to discourage them from staying in the region - up to three times a week. And even if it was temporarily solved, this level of disruption guarantees dental health gets deprioritized and forgotten. 

An Oxford team on a mission

While reflecting on these challenges, an idea emerged. The issues were all clearly tied to compliance: the problem was that the affordable and practical tools were not used in practice by the target population.

While people did not use tablets in the camps, they loved chewing gum - so much so that it was given as a reward for completing surveys. Would it be possible to give people nutrients by adding them to a gum? And would this not also be a great way to also support healthy teeth and gums by adding Xylitol?

Back in Oxford, the idea immediately resonated with four other postgraduates. Our all-female founding team, made up of a biochemist, medic, immunologist and social scientist, launched into action.

Using epidemiological data on refugee vitamin deficiencies as well as knowledge on the micronutrients intake from the food rations provided by the UN, we developed a tailored formula to be distributed alongside food rations.

Next we needed money for prototyping and testing, so we began chasing grants and awards in the ferociously competitive Oxford Innovation eco-system. The amount we won in each competition ranged from £250 to over £10k, but each one contributed to our goal of making this product a reality. 

After years of prototyping, we received the first batch - 100 kg gum at the doors of our student halls in Oxford. We followed up with 5 pilot studies, focusing not just on refugees but multiple vulnerable groups such as people experiencing homelessness and substance addiction. Compliance demonstrably improved: people were actually taking their vitamins and gaining a much needed dental boost due to the improved format, giving them a better chance at evading devastating health conditions. 

Building an ethical, impact-driven business.

Now, all we had to do was to make a sustainable business model. We considered adopting a charity/NGO model, however we knew that the refugee space is tight on money, and we wanted to find a way to fund our impact without relying on limited grand funding and being in 'competition' with other NGOs that we ultimately want to partner with.

Around this time it also dawned on us that nothing like this product existed in the consumer market. Driven by our desire to find a more convenient format, we ended up creating a supplement engineered for oral absorption. In doing so we had stumbled upon a delivery mechanism that bypasses the problems other supplements absorbed in the gut are facing. 

We wondered if it would be possible to leverage commercial sales to fund the impact work instead of relying on grants and philanthropic donations. Adopting a social venture model, as opposed to a charity, would mean we could achieve our goal of helping vulnerable groups and launch as a business that could scale quickly and operate in the fast-paced world of consumer goods. This has allowed us to build a business model where we multiply our impact in every way: selling gum to NGOs at a discount while also donating 1 pack for every 10 sold through commercial channels. We are the only supplement company offering a revolutionary product to the market while also multiplying the impact we are making for at-risk groups. 

The road ahead

This takes us to the start of 2024, and the official launch of our product to consumers. After years of development this is a very exciting step for us, and a major step in building an impact and innovation driven business. Thank you to everyone that has pre-ordered and to all of the advisors helping us bring this to UK consumers. Team members have come and gone and things are rapidly changing, but what has remained since the start - the stable core - is the desire to make a genuine impact on peoples' health. We we hope to do this for every single customer that purchases our product, both for themselves and for the vulnerable groups that they enable us to reach.


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