For many years, global consumer brands have looked for ways to expand their distribution networks to the most remote regions of the world. Even in the high mountain passes of Nepal, it is common to find a Coca-Cola vendor selling his or her wares to weary trekkers.
In countries such as Brazil and India, micro-distribution is well established. It is providing employment for the community, and new customers for the wide range of products global consumer brands have to offer.
There are many underprivileged communities in north-east Brazil, and the worst affected group are women. Danone Brazil launched a program to provide employment to women distributing their products while raising awareness of balanced nutrition among the low income communities.
The Danone Ecosystem Fund and its partners, the Brazilian NGO Aliança Empreendedora and its distributor Querokit, have co-created the Kiteiras Project, which has established a micro-distribution network of door-to-door vendors.
In the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, L’Oréal created a social inclusion model to provide ‘micro-entrepreneurs’ with the opportunity to distribute the company’s Matrix hair products.
Backed by Banco Santander and the Dialogue association, there are now 43 micro-distributors creating jobs for 65 people; providing vocational training for hair salon employees. In 2014, the project offered 195 courses, providing training for 2322 people.
Nestlé Brazil uses a network of micro-distributors and individual sellers with handcarts who are able to reach customers in impoverished districts of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Most of the sellers are women from the favelas or shanty towns who know the people and areas very well.
The vendors are recruited by local micro-distributors and offered training to help them sell more effectively and advise customers on the nutritional aspects of the products.
In India, Unilever has endeavoured to overcome the problematic last mile deliveries to customers through its Shakti model. This program has, to date, employed 70,000 women promoting its products in rural areas of the country.
The women work as independent business ‘units’ and sell Unilever products in each of their villages.
Also in India, Drishtee has set up a national network of kiosks or Rural Retail Points in collaboration with local shopkeepers. The ambitious aim is to reach 100,000 remote villages during the next 10 years through building a last mile micro-distribution network throughout the country.
Underpinning the network will be information and communications technology and the development of ground level entrepreneurship.
While poor infrastructure and fragmented traditional distribution networks are commonplace in many developing nations the advent of micro-distribution provides empowerment, income and hope for many communities in Asia and around the world.