Coke-crate entrepreneur abandons
award-winning design concept


Kit Yamoyo

News: the creator of an anti-diarrhoea pack for the developing world that was named product design of the year for the way it fits inside Coca-Cola crates has admitted that "hardly any" kits have been shipped this way, and has dropped the strategy in favour of more conventional packaging and distribution.

Kit Yamoyo

"Putting the kits in the crates has turned out not to be the key innovation," admitted social entrepreneur Simon Berry in a radio interview broadcast last weekend.

Berry, founder of the ColaLife charity and the brains behind the Kit Yamoyo medicine pack, conceded that despite winning the Design Museum's Product of the Year award last April for his idea, the strategy of piggybacking on Coca-Cola's distribution network to get the remedy to remote villages hadn't worked.

Instead, he said he is now focussing on creating a "value chain" to incentivise distributors and retailers across Africa. "That pack, sitting in that Coca-Cola crate, gets everyone very excited but it is quickly becoming a metaphor for what we're doing."

Berry travelled to the village of Kanchele in Zambia, where the product is being trialled, with BBC global business correspondent Peter Day as part of the programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

"I have to say Simon though, this is a bit of a con," Day said on discovering the innovative strategy had been dropped. "You got this award for the design product of the year, very ingenious, very clever, because it fitted into a crate of bottles. You've abandoned the crate of bottles distribution now, so it comes in very conventional, ordinary packs. You're nothing to do with cola now. In other words, the design is almost incidental."

Berry replied: "We are piggybacking on Coca-Cola in the sense that we're using their ideas, we're using all their wholesalers, who are very well respected and know how to look after stuff, but putting the kits in the crates has turned out not to be the key innovation."

Berry also conceded that the concept of delivering the kits in Coca-Cola crates hadn't worked in an interview with New Scientist magazine last month.

"In the end, hardly any of our kits have been put into [Coca-Cola] crates," he said. "Instead, what has worked is copying Coca-Cola's business techniques: create a desirable product, market it like mad, and put the product in a distribution system at a price so that everyone can make a profit. If there is demand and retailers can make a profit, then they will do anything to meet that demand."

Kit Yamoyo means "kit of life" in several African languages.  The pack contains oral rehydration salts and zinc to treat diarrhoea, and a bar of soap. The plastic outer shell, which was originally designed to fit in the gaps between bottles in a Coca-Cola crate, doubles as a measure and cup for the medicine.

Diarrhoea kills more children in Africa than HIV, malaria and measles combined. Last April, Berry's kit was named winner of the product design category in the Design Museum's Designs of the Year awards.

  • Simon Berry

    That’s right. But our focus on the packaging has paid real dividends. Without this we wouldn’t have come up with the idea of making it the measuring device for the water, the mixing device and cup. Fitting in the Coca-Cola crates ended up being a ‘feature’ and not a ‘benefit’ for our target group.

    Watch this space for our next format which will retain all the benefits of the award winning packaging (and even be a better measuring device, mixing device and cup) but will not fit in Coca-Cola crates. It will also be locally produced and 40% cheaper – crucial given that the ‘value chain’ is the real enabler.

    • Thanks for the update Simon. Please send us details of the new format when it’s ready!

      • Simon Berry

        Will do. With our packaging partners – PI Global – Jane and I are at the advanced concept stage. We should have something to share by the end of September.

  • Simon Berry

    Sorry, one more thing. Despite not fitting in crates, in the first six months and from a standing start, we have sold 20,470 kits to micro-retailers serving two of the poorest communities in Zambia.

    At the 6-month point 42% of children that had diarrhoea in the previous 2 weeks had been treated with one of our kits which means they got the WHO recommended treatment of ORS and Zinc. Before we started, 0% of children received this treatment.

    It turns out that more of our kits have been sold in these communities than Coke. It’s the space in the market, not the crates, that’s important.

  • TOBYhouse

    Fascinating. I compliment the design/project team for their original pack concept, but their subsequent flexibility – the ability to understand what Coca-Cola were telling them re the “Where’s the value?” question – is commendable. That ‘digestion’ is the mark of genius.