Inside infant nutrition: Industry leaders prioritize nutritional density and environmental sustainability
06 Oct 2022 --- Diving into the field of infant nutrition, NutritionInsight speaks with Eurosérum, Vaneeghen, Kerry, FrieslandCampina and Symrise about the latest market trends, ingredients in the spotlight and how the sector has been affected by challenges caused by macroeconomic events.
The industry players highlight nutritional density, plant-based alternatives and environmental consciousness as important recurring topics for parents and caregivers.
“Brands are more likely to develop new formulas, either combining nutritional benefits from plant and animal proteins or exclusively from vegetal-based proteins,” says Karine Turlin, market analyst at Eurosérum.
“For the manufacturers of alternative proteins, there will be a need to comply with infant nutrition requirements, and the challenge will lie in the ability to conduct valuable clinical studies, as this has been observed with precision fermentation processes, for example, lactoferrin production.”
Another highlighted drive is producing infant formula that more closely resembles the nutritional profile of breast milk.
“An example of this is the increased usage of human milk oligosaccharides (HMO), prebiotics and probiotics in IMF to improve the nutritional profile of IMF. Parents are looking for IMF with enhanced immunity characteristics, especially in light of the COVID epidemic with increased awareness of the importance of immunity support,” says John Reilly, VP of Business Development Proteins at Kerry.
Trending in a highly specialized market
Turlin elaborates on three main health concerns that are driving the trends in infant nutrition.
“To fight obesity, through the lowering of protein rate in step-1 and step-2 formulas, large studies have highlighted that lower protein content in formulas reduces obesity. In terms of getting closer to breast milk, this trend has favored the rise of new and high-end ingredients like HMO, osteopontin and MFGM.”
“Lastly, to propose formulas with high digestibility claims, the development of sheep or goat dairy-based formulas, especially in Asia and the Middle-East, meet consumers’ expectations, as these milks are perceived as more digestible than cow milk,” she underscores.
Even though infant nutrition is a “highly specialized market,” it’s influenced by several factors that shape the nutrition and food industry. These factors include personalization, the rising use of organic and plant-based or hybrid options, holistic health, convenience and sustainability, according to Sophie Nicolas, marketing manager for early life nutrition at FrieslandCampina.
“Improved digestibility continues to be a market trend, with increasing usage of partially hydrolyzed protein (dairy and plant) to improve digestibility of the protein helping reduce cow’s milk protein allergy in infants – something that is on the rise globally,” says Reilly.
Erik Bakkers, innovation and marketing director at Vaneeghen, adds that mothers are more focused on the nutritional needs of their babies.
“The demand for healthier products allows certain ingredients to stand out. One may think of dihydroxyacetone (DHA), Lactoferrin, HMO, milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), A2 milk, goat milk, pre- and probiotics – to name a few essentials,” he adds.
In addition to health, parents are becoming more concerned about environmental impact. “Carbon neutral production, local sourcing, ethical claims and more sustainable agricultural practices are gaining importance for parents. They are looking for healthier and more sustainable options. Plant-based ingredients can serve as a premium concept and add value to products,” says Aurélie Pelle, global fruit product line director for naturals at Symrise F&B.
Ingredients in the spotlight
Philippe Vareille, R&D and marketing director at Eurosérum, explains popular ingredients from a dairy ingredients supplier perspective. Peaking demand lies in particular ingredients. He highlights four.
“HMO has been a strong and underlying trend for a few years now, especially since their approval in China is driving the demand. Regarding fats and fatty acids, on a much longer term and in particular, since 2019, OPO is also experiencing rising demand with a new offer in organic version.”
“With new consumers’ high expectations regarding health and immunity, some well-known ingredients like lactoferrin also benefit from great exposure and a post-covid demand renewal. Finally, another trending ingredient is MFGM, with a market which has been dynamized since 2020-2021 with the arrival of new suppliers,” he adds.
Nicolas also highlights dairy proteins due to their “superb nutritional profile.”
“They’re also easy to formulate with and offer a pleasant taste, so their popularity isn’t surprising. It’s been really interesting to see the rise in demand for MFGM (milk fat globule membrane) too, which is believed to support cognitive development and immune function,” she details.
Dairy or plant-based?
Nicolas continues to explain that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered market growth for the popularity of lactoferrin due to its strong association with immune health. On the contrary, Nicolas says she is unsure if the demand for dairy proteins in infant milk formula actually has peaked.
“Although more plant-based or hybrid alternatives are launching in certain markets, like Europe, demand remains buoyant when we look at the global picture. The key will be understanding and navigating the regulatory landscape, which remains disparate across regions and continues to change rapidly.”
Reilly highlights hydrolyzed whey and casein dairy protein. “When the protein has been extensively hydrolyzed and comprises peptides with a molecular weight less than 5000 Da, it can be considered hypoallergenic.”
Whey protein is used as a primary protein ingredient. However, plant-based alternatives made of soy and rice protein are the available alternatives for infants sensitive to cow’s milk, he underscores.
Challenges for industry
The challenge of ingredient availability during the infant formula shortage, as well as the supply chain crisis, have impacted the industry, notes Barbara Malmezat, global purchasing, sustainable sourcing & agronomy director for Naturals at Symrise F&B.
“The biggest challenge to come, for both brands and ingredients manufacturers, will be the increasing cost of energy and inputs, combined with a lowering purchasing power for households,” says Matthieu Raimbault, global sales director at Eurosérum.
Reilly elaborates that the main issue during the US formula shortage was “the short term supply of products, and now it is the availability of the specialist formulas to treat conditions such as cow’s milk protein allergy, colic. The Ukraine crisis caused some concern on the supply of specific nutritional oils such as sunflower, used extensively in the IMF industry to meet the daily fatty acid profiles required.”
Additionally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, birth rates slowed down, mainly in China, weakening demand for infant milk formula in a market unlikely to see volume growth in the coming year.
“With the macroeconomic context, there might be a shrinkage in parents’ revenue that will probably influence their consumption. To generate value, infant formula producers must offer a strong customer value proposition. We should see more and more nutritional and high-end ingredients on the market, especially through the valorization of all the micronutrients in milk,” highlights Eurosérum.
By Beatrice Wihlander
To contact our editorial team please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.