Cautious innovation in infant nutrition? Experts discuss quality standards and transparent safety measures
29 Sep 2021 --- “Safety always comes first, no matter how innovative the solution,” is a guiding principle throughout the infant nutrition sector. Besides microbiology, toxic elements such as pesticides and other contaminants are a sector-wide top priority to ensure high-quality products for the world’s most vulnerable consumers.
NutritionInsight speaks with Diana Food, FrieslandCampina Ingredients, Lactalis and NZMP about quality control procedures and addressing parents’ safety concerns.
Kaavya Raveendran, client success analyst at Innova Market Insights, also shares how the need for infant product safety taps into the market researcher’s top trend for 2021: “Transparency Triumphs.”
“Baby and toddler food companies are primarily focusing on increasing their sustainability quotient without compromising the safety of the product. For infant nutrition, ‘cautious innovation’ is the way ahead,” Raveendran predicts.
Trace elements detected
A high level of expertise is required from companies that put infant food products on the market to stay ahead in providing highly-qualified food safety. Here, agronomists play a major role as risk management starts long before entering into the factory.
“The independent food safety authority or the NGOs also contribute to continuously improving our control of the food chain,” Aurélie Pellé, global product line director – fruit at Diana Food explains.
“Each year, emerging contaminants are popping up, whether coming from fertilizers (phosphoric acid and fosetyl aluminum), food contact materials migration (mineral oil) or process contaminants (acrylamide). The infant nutrition sector needs to embark on its risk assessment to keep them as low as reasonably achievable on their final baby food.”
Diana Food deals with trace elements that are sometimes naturally inherent to foods such as heavy metals coming from soil and water.
“In that context, not all contaminants can be reduced to zero – this is just not achievable. Of course, the infant nutrition sector aims to reduce it to the lowest level as reasonably achievable, selecting the right varieties, the right terroirs, adapting cultivation methods to limit or avoid pesticides and fertilizers,” Pellé underscores.
“I would link [the sector still struggling to get all toxic elements out of baby food] with our top trend and the consumer demand for ‘clean’ ingredients, processing, sourcing and handling,” Raveendran supports.
“Manufacturers’ obstacle is setting up a clean and transparent supply chain. As the main point of contamination happens during crop growth, clean sourcing remains a big challenge.”
Starting with the milk
Setting up a clean and transparent supply chain arguably starts with cows’ milk itself.
“When we trust in the quality of the milk, where it comes from and how it is processed, then consumers can have confidence in the products they purchase,” notes Andrew Maude, NZMP global director of pediatrics.
“Our New Zealand dairy farmers focus on maintaining a healthy farm environment to ensure the highest quality milk is produced. Other ingredients used in infant formula must also comply with strict food safety limits to ensure infant health is protected. All products for infant consumption must pass rigorous testing requirements for safety.”
Diana Food also operates under full traceability of the supply chain from farm to fork, investing in a “trustful cooperation” between supplier and customer.
Own product safety programs
The challenge for growing infant nutrition brands is to demonstrate a robust record of, and stand-out commitment to, safety that addresses parent concerns directly, says Sophie Nicolas, marketing manager, early life nutrition, FrieslandCampina Ingredients.
“According to a recent parental insight study we initiated, ‘safety’ is the most important priority for parents when purchasing infant milk formula,” she adds.
To further address these concerns, FrieslandCampina established its own quality assurance standards.
“Our ‘FoQus Food Safety & Quality’ program monitors and controls every step in the production of our dairy products. The program sets strict requirements on safety and quality that enable us to achieve the highest standard in every respect, from processing and packaging to storage and distribution,” Nicolas explains.
Last year, FrieslandCampina launched its organic milk formula with smart packaging to enhance traceability. By scanning a QR code specific to each batch of milk formula tins, consumers can trace the milk collection to FrieslandCampina’s own farms in the Netherlands, through packaging, final quality checks, export permissions and date of arrival.
Soothing parent concerns
Parents are understandably concerned about what they feed their infants, especially considering some brands “misleading” customers, as recently evidenced in children’s cereal and yogurts.
How far does this development travel into infant nutrition? Raveendran points out the need for transparency here, running parallel with a disconnect between the front-of-pack label and ingredient list.
“Due to the scientific nature of the product, parents are often unaware and in some cases are misled about the contents of the product. This definitely can be addressed by manufacturers who are willing to engage in simpler ingredient lists and upfront communication.”
Charlotte Magnant, product manager at Lactalis, adds that correct communication is especially salient considering the first two years of life are crucial for the child in terms of nutrition and the establishment of eating habits.
“The baby food market and particularly infant formula is very regulated in terms of composition but also in terms of communication to the consumer. Indeed, no communication on infant formulas for babies under six months old can be made to promote breastfeeding,” she explains.
Magnant also spoke with NutritionInsight during World Breastfeeding Week 2020 about the latest infant formula strides in mimicking breast milk.
A high level of anxiety around parenting and making the right choices for young children may also explain why parents are choosing more “natural” products for young children.
“Natural means different things to different people,” Maude outlines. “When we think of this in a nutrition context with regards to children’s cereals and yogurts, it includes better nutritional quality such as wholesome ingredients that are inherently rich in dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, with less added sugars or other ingredients that parents wish to avoid.”
“Cereals, snacks and children’s foods and beverages can be high in sugars and refined carbohydrates, and some sugar may be needed to improve taste or palatability, such as with yogurt so that a healthy product actually gets consumed. Infant formula and follow-on formula are tightly regulated and updated international regulations governing toddler milks further limit sugars in these products,” he concludes.
NutritionInsight’s previous reports on the latest trends in infant nutrition range from personalized and plant-based offerings, addressing allergies and anxiety, as well as immunity trends.
By Anni Schleicher
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