VITAFOODS 2017

Infant nutrition: The business of ‘selling sleep’ and ‘peace of mind’

L-R: Will Chu (Chair), Jens Bleiel, Steffi Dudek, Nigel Baldwin and Steve French at Vitafoods in Geneva.

Infant nutrition is in the business of ‘selling sleep’ according to the CEO of Food for Health Ireland in a panel discussion at the trade event Vitafoods.

In trying to define the sector’s characteristics, Jens Bleiel remarked to an audience of fellow food professionals that infant nutrition wasn’t necessarily about the ingredients or innovation.

“What we are selling is actually sleep,” he said. “If the baby doesn’t sleep for three nights and the mother is exhausted, the mother will change the infant formula. So that’s what we’re selling.”

Fellow panellist Steve French, managing partner of Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) echoed these comments adding that infant food offerings were also selling peace of mind.

The comments come after the first day’s keynote panel discussion debate, in which the discussion aimed to identify areas of further research in order to bridge the knowledge gap and drive innovation forward.

Current issues in infant nutrition centre on balancing the need to improve and build on infant formula nutrition with adherence to increasingly strict protocols demanded by the regulatory authorities.

“The marketing restrictions also make it harder for companies to talk about the benefits and innovation of infant formula,” Bleiel added.

“The question for me is how we can overcome these issues. It almost becomes a challenge for society as a whole.”

Innovation in infant nutrition was also briefly discussed with panellist Nigel Baldwin, director of Scientific & Regulatory Consulting Europe at Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy, commenting that human milk oligosaccharides was a development worth keeping an eye on.

“To me the most advanced and the next thing that’s coming is infant formula that is identical to human milk.”

“If you look at the recent EFSA report into infant nutrition, there is much emphasis on individual lipopolysaccharides. EFSA had stated more or less that it was not possible to make these molecules. I can tell you it is possible.”  

Regulatory wrangling

The regulatory aspect formed the main pillar of the panel discussion in which fellow panellist Dr Steffi Dudek, senior consultant at analyze & realize, was vocal in what opportunities as well as limitations were presented.

“The regulatory environment is super tough, we all know that” she said. “We’ve just seen the human milk oligosaccharide (HMO) authorisation that allow the use of HMOs in infant nutrition.”

“These kind of things define the research areas and can discourage manufacturers to bring infant formulas to the next level.”

In October of last year, Abbott became the first company to add an HMO to infant formula, after the inclusion of 2'-fucosyllactose (2'-FL), the most abundant HMO found in most human milk.

Infants fed this new formula were found to have an immune response similar to breastfed babies.

Consumer is king

The panellists then set out a series of recommendations based on their own experiences both on the regulatory path and product innovation. Here Bleiel commended the benefits of collaboration.

“If you share the research and development costs with other companies you obviously bring down the costs dramatically but once the science is established then each of these companies can bring a new product or ingredient to the market in a competitive way.”

When French queried the issue of intellectual property (IP) rights, Bleiel said that in his case one could have the IP rest with the universities, with all the companies involved having standard licenses for this IP.

“It may not always be exclusive, but I don’t think it’s necessary to have global exclusive rights to support a certain outcome.”

“In fact in a non-exclusive license, you may even be able to share that certain application with a certain geography. So there’s many different ways of dealing with the IP question.”   

Finally, when asked whether the consumer or the infant formula manufacturers would determine the functionality of the composition French was confident about who would have the final say.

“There’s only one answer to that. It’s the consumer,” he stated. “They’re the one buying the product.

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