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Though MFK's sales have been steadily increasing, Taviner says they only account for one-third of the organization's overall revenue. Most of the funding still comes from donations, from places like Google, Nestlé, Christian World Relief, the Macaulay Foundation, Novus International, Scottrade and Emerson Electric. Inmates and employees at three federal prisons in Illinois read about MFK and raised $2,200.
"In many ways, ironically, the earthquake was a remarkable opportunity," Taviner says. "It raised lots of interest and funds. The phone was going nonstop. We've raised $1 million since January 12."
By the end of next year Wolff hopes to build a new factory capable of producing enough of the peanut butter supplement to be able to supply UNICEF and USAID, the two biggest aid organizations in Haiti. It's a project that Wolff estimates will cost $2 million. MFK has raised half that amount already.
Wolff also hopes to set up a "farmer school" where MFK will till the soil and plant peanuts. Different plots will have different growing conditions, and the Haitian farmers will be able to see which strategy works best. Wolff wants to be strict: "We'll tell them, 'We will buy your peanuts, if you will do it right.' "
Wolff is still looking for donors. "I almost got on Oprah," she wisecracks, "but they went for star power, with Wyclef Jean instead. God knows why." She continues more seriously: "The development business is very complicated. It's not filled with altruistic people. But there are people within it who are altruistic. We need to find those people and have them pull the levers."
Six weeks ago, though, Wolff decided she needed to take a more radical step. The day after the land purchase was delayed, she got on a plane to Rouen to meet with executives from Nutriset, the parent company of Plumpy'nut, MFK's chief competitor in Haiti.
Nutriset once owned a 50 percent interest in Vitaset, a Plumpy'nut franchise in the Dominican Republic. "I made everybody feel bad about importing from the Dominican Republic," Wolff says. She's not entirely joking. But now Wolff wants to talk about becoming a Nutriset franchisee.
Working with Nutriset would give Wolff access to UNICEF and USAID. "Plumpy'nut taught UNICEF everything about RUTF," she says. "UNICEF takes its orders from Nutriset. We're trying to get the best deal we can."
In order to do that, Wolff is willing to compromise. MFK will start using Nutriset's peanut butter recipe. "It's a trade secret," Wolff says. The size of the peanut butter packets will also shrink. "Nurses prefer the bigger packets," Wolff says. "That way your neighbors won't ask you for [an extra packet]. You're not supposed to share. But UNICEF is the biggest buyer in the world."
More significantly, MFK will have to alter its plans for the new factory to meet Nutriset's production demands, which means more equipment and more training for the workers.
"It's the way to a sustainable future," Wolff says. "We're having growing pains, but we need to make it happen. It's a bigger and more complex vision than we had before. It's kind of exhausting, but it's never boring. Boring could be worse."
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