One company stakes a claim of patent protection, while another moves forward with an open-source approach to a similar product. Which one will triumph in their quests to feed the world’s hungry? If you want to prepare a truly comforting meal, one that says to those at your table “you are welcome here,” it’s tough to beat a good bowl of soup. And to really do it up right, make a big batch, one that will permit sharing nourishment and compassion with as many as possible.
New Jersey-based soup manufacturer Tabatchnick Fine Foods, applies this ethic to their product line of 30 varieties of soup, as well as a nimble, creative management style and a drive to do right in feeding those in need both here in the US and around the world.
Peanut Butter for Everyone
One very special humanitarian product that the company has developed is poised to play an important role in addressing severe and acute malnutrition, particularly in parts of Africa. Nutty Butta not only has a patent pending for it, but one that, once finalized, will be completely open source: anyone who would like to make and distribute the peanut-based product — that literally saves lives — will be able to do so with the benefit of Tabatchnick Fine Foods’ effort, insight and best wishes.
Nutty Butta was recently brought to aid a village in Kenya through a relief mission coordinated by the nonprofit David’s Hope International.
But to the bewilderment and consternation of Ben Tabatchnick, CEO of the century-old family business, not everyone shares the spirit of generosity he and his company are bringing to the matter of addressing hunger around the world.
Tabatchnick explained that one of the key challenges for helping the undernourished is that their biological functions, particularly the immune system, have been compromised, leaving hungry people ironically and tragically unable to absorb and utilize the nutrients that they critically need.
What Nutty Butta is able to do — to reset key biological functions and allow the consumed nutrients to be absorbed and put to good supportive use — rests on a very special compound called lactoferrin. This protein, derived from bovine colostrum (the first milk produced bearing properties especially beneficial to the newborn calf), offers anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties to people. As a component of Nutty Butta, it helps deliver the one-two punch of getting the immune system back on track while successfully delivering sustenance.
The product arises through the same collaborative approach Tabatchnick has used to develop more than 500 products for school lunch and shelter programs here in the US for more than a decade.
“We’re a think tank in the food business,” he explains.
“We assemble teams of professionals to develop products. If there’s an excess supply of dry milk, or cherries, or what have you, the USDA assists farmers to remove that surplus, to make it available to different programs.”
Describing his company as small, but very creative and positive, Tabatchnick explained that they work collaboratively with experts in nutrition, agriculture and packaging from the government, local universities, and other private companies to acquire surplus product, develop nutritious products that are shippable and offer good shelf-life, and then get it to where it’s needed.
“I know enough to be dangerous,” he quips dryly, adding “what I don’t know, I know who does. We bang heads and hit ‘em with a stick.”
People Before Profit
Nutriset, meanwhile, is private French company whose mission “for the enhancement of the nutritional status of children and other vulnerable people” certainly sounds laudable enough on paper. But having developed and subsequently patented a comparable peanut-based humanitarian product, Nutriset is aggressively guarding both what they claim to be their intellectual property as well as a substantial financial interest in selling it.
And as a result, Tabatchnick is left with a long line of eager, interested customers, many of whom don’t make the purchase from him for fear of being ensnared in an intellectual property rights battle currently underway.
On the grounds that humanitarian relief products are completely inappropriate for patents and private sector monopoly, Doctors Without Borders and US-based Mama Cares have recently filed a lawsuit that seeks revocation of Nutriset’s patent.
And even though he could well benefit from a decision that favors the Doctors Without Borders-Mama Cares suit, Tabatchnick has no part in the legal action, and no interest in getting sucked into it, although he observes that that remains a possibility.
“I find lawsuits extremely distasteful. They’re punitive, and they only enrich the legal system. I believe in the power of shame over the power of lawsuits.”
After a brief pause, he added: “and shame on them.”
“A lawsuit is only going to polarize the community. This is money that could be well-spent providing food for people. I mean, give me a break,” adding “… useless … hopeless … ” to punctuate his unambiguous thoughts on the matter.
Shifting tone from frustration to bewilderment, Tabatchnick notes that the US military has been making and distributing fortified peanut product for years, and that it technically runs afoul of the Nutriset patent. Astonishingly, so do several household-name brands of peanut butter he tells Tonic, to highlight the strangeness of it all.
He maintains, however, that his product is technically and legally clear from patent infringement–stating plainly that he has the documents to prove that claim–but even so, potential customers remain aware of the legal battle, leaving them too wary to purchase.
“I really believe that markets should operate on quality, on service, on ethics.”
As for explaining his open source approach, it comes down simply to making it easier for others to accept the invitation to do good in the world where it’s needed.
“You want to buy from me? Great! You want to make it yourself? Have a good time! You need help? Call me up and buy me lunch. We’ll talk.”
“That’s the way humanitarian aid should be.”
APPEARED 8-27-10 – www.tonic.com
Tabatchnick is Nutty for Butta
By David Bois | Friday, August 27, 2010 5:30 AM ET
Photos courtesy of Tabatchnick Fine Foods and Monty Philpot, used with permission.