Michel Lescanne

Nutritional paste that combats malnutrition

Technical field
Food chemistry
Nutriset & Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)
The life-saving food supplement, marketed under the brand name “Plumpy’Nut”, is changing the way humanitarian groups such as UNICEF and the World Health Organisation treat starving children. The brainchild of French food processing engineer Michel Lescanne, the nutritional supplement has reduced the mortality rate of children in famine-stricken areas drastically. Lescanne has been instrumental in making Plumpy’Nut an important source for nutritional rehabilitation and created the French company Nutriset, which is dedicated to tackling malnutrition issues around the world.

Finalist for the European Inventor Award 2015

Plumpy’Nut is a supplementary source of protein, vitamins and calories in a peanut paste form, developed to help children suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition. If these children are facing no other health complications, they can gain weight and stabilize without having to spend time in a hospital.

Because doctor supervision is not necessary for its distribution, Plumpy’Nut offers a noticeable advantage over its predecessors in the therapeutic food field. Unlike so many powdered foodstuffs which must be mixed with water before use, the paste is ready to eat straight from the sachet, thereby avoiding any diseases in the local water supply.

Societal benefit

Statistics on global hunger and malnutrition are alarming. Approximately 800 million people worldwide do not have access to sufficient food sources, with around 200 million of these being children suffering severe or chronic malnutrition. The World Health Organisation estimates that malnutrition is linked to roughly 45% of deaths of children under the age of five. In 2013, this amounted to nearly 3 million children whose lives might have been saved if they had access to enough food. And this number could have been much higher if not for the widespread distribution of the Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) Plumpy’Nut.

In 2007, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition, and the World Food Programme issued a statement approving the use of RUTF to treat malnutrition. Plumpy’Nut is currently purchased and distributed by UNICEF and other humanitarian groups in hunger-stricken areas. An seven-week treatment, often enough to take a child from starving to stable, costs approximately €30 per child.

Plumpy’Nut’s success stories include helping quell a food crisis in Niger in 2005. Using the product, Médecins Sans Frontières treated more than 60,000 children. Within a few months, 90% of the children recovered completely.

Economic benefit

Plumpy’Nut has become a key means of RUTF, making up 60% of UNICEF’s supply in 2014, in a market that was valued at around € 163 million (US$ 200 million). Today, procurement volumes by UNICEF are four times higher than in 2009, and Nutriset is prepared to further expand their production as orders come in from other humanitarian groups as well.

As of 2014, Nutriset had 160 employees and revenues of around € 110 million. Since 2005, the company has been working to establish production of Plumpy’Nut where the product is used locally. Their reports show that in 2014, over 11,000 metric tons of the paste were made in developing countries, out of a total of 46,000 metric tons produced that year. Furthermore, the main Nutriset factory in Malaunay, France, has extra production lines in case of a severe food crisis.

How it works

Plumpy’Nut is a patented Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) in a lipid-based paste category meeting UNICEF product specifications. It should be noted that Plumpy’Nut was the first paste developed for the market to meet these UNICEF specifications, so all subsequent RUTFs are built around its success.

Plumpy’Nut’s recipe calls for between 10-20% of skimmed milk and 10-20% of whey and meets the criteria for not having more than 50% of its proteins come from milk or dairy products. Mixing the ingredients in just the right proportions is vital to maximise nutritional value and stability in storage. The paste does not requiring mixing with the local water, which is often a health-risk in itself, and it requires no cooking either.

The food supplement was the first of its kind – paste not powder – to offer a long shelf life and no additional preparation steps or hospital supervision when used. Since 2005, over 25 million people have received Plumpy’Nut or Nutriset’s nutrient fortifier for infants Enov’.

The inventor

Michel Lescanne’s involvement in treating hunger and malnutrition issues extends back nearly four decades. He studied agricultural engineering and in 1976 completed his dissertation on the feasibility of using dry biscuit nutritional supplements for relief in famine-stricken areas. In 1986, Lescanne founded Nutriset and contributed to the creation of F-100 therapeutic milk, the first truly successful nutritional supplement to combat malnutrition. Working with paediatric nutritionist André Briend in the 1990s, Lescanne developed and patented Plumpy’Nut. In addition to Plump’Nut, Nutriset has developed several other nutrient supplements to help people in impoverished areas around the world.

Did you know?

Nutriset has promoted a network of local distributors in 10 famine-prone countries and bolstered the creation of other locally-sourced nutritional supplements where peanuts are not plentiful. By licensing its patents free of royalties, Nutriset has allowed not-for-profit entities in roughly 30 African countries to manufacture Plumpy’Nut thereby creating local jobs as well as increasing the availability of their life-saving product.

Patent numbers:


European Inventor Award and Young Inventors Prize queries: Subscribe to the European Inventor Award newsletter

Media-related queries:

Contact our Press team
#InventorAward #YoungInventors