By Oliver Morrison
Fats and oils specialist Bunge Loders Croklaan (BLC) has unveiled a new premium lipid ingredient for baby formula which it claims allows manufacturers to get closer than ever before to the gold standard of mother’s milk.
The solution, called Betapol Select, is an innovation that allows manufacturers to adjust to the regional differences in mother’s milk that are influenced by mother’s diet.
At present, the product has been designed to mimic the natural balance in Chinese mother’s milk fat and has initially launched for Chinese babies. China’s is the largest and most sophisticated infant formula market, accounting for almost half of all formula sales globally.
Other markets including Europe will follow, although the product is available for European infant formula manufacturers who sell to China (it’s estimated around 80% of infant formulas made in Europe are exported to China.)
Growing personalization trend in infant nutrition
Nestle, for one, has spotted the opportunities presented by personalization in infant nutrition. The head of Nestle’s Nutrition business Thierry Philardeau recently told FoodNavigator that personalized nutrition strategies will be a ‘game-changing’ breakthrough in the breast milk substitute category.
“Understanding the evolution of microbiome and its impact on health and development during the first 1000 days of life will help us develop more personalized nutritional solutions,” he said.
“We are also currently exploring how a mother’s diet can influence nutrients found in breast milk, in order to help us develop personalized solutions for mothers during preconception, pregnancy and while breastfeeding.”
BLC’s latest innovation ‘sets a new standard in infant nutrition market towards much higher level of personalization and higher nutritional standards’, the company told FoodNavigator.
“This is an important move to the infant nutrition market overall, not only China, because personalization is a clear trend in the market outside infant nutrition and it is starting to permeate into the infant nutrition market too,” said Dr. Emiliano Rial Verde, Vice President Nutrition.
“We are responding to the trend with Betapol Select now by targeting infant formula manufacturers who are offering premium products for the Chinese market, but this is just the beginning. The company’s objective is to cater to all relevant variations in mother’s milk composition and to accompany their customers in the journey to get closer and closer to nature.”
How does it work?
Betapol Select is designed to provide the right OPL-OPO balance (OPO and OPL are the uniquely structured lipids, or triglycerides, naturally present in mother’s milk) to mimic mother’s milk fat.
Fat is an especially important component of mother’s milk, explained Rial Verde. While mother’s milk fat contains only 3-4% fat, it provides 50% of a baby’s energy intake in the first six months. "As a lipids company specialising in the fat phase, we are able to replicate the fat composition of mother’s milk by using different mixtures of plant oils and different processing techniques of to create something that is very similar to the fat in mother’s milk.”
"Breastmilk is the gold standard of nutrition for a baby,” he added. “Therefore, we believe that by looking into as much detail as possible into the composition of mother’s milk and by trying to replicate that, we hope we will provide some of the same benefits that mother's milk provides to a baby."
Recent research into mother’s milk has shown regional differences. In Western mother's milk fat, OPO is the most prevalent triglyceride, followed by OPL (Oleic-Palmitic- Linoleic). In Chinese mother’s milk, it is the other way around: the fat composition contains a higher level of OPL, followed by OPO.
Betapol Select there aims to mimic the Chinese balance by providing a high level of palmitic acid in the centre position (SN-2 palmitate) with the right combination of OPL and OPO triglycerides.
In the past decades, SN-2 palmitate has been clinically proven to improve energy intake, increase bone mineral density, reduce constipation, increase healthy gut bacteria, reduce crying and improve sleep.
China vs Europe
While the personalization in infant nutrition is stronger in China than Europe – where the palm-free, organic, natural and clean labels infant formula trends are more prominent – Rial Verde Dr anticipates the trend will follow in Europe.
Compared to Europe, the Chinese customer is very well informed: a blowback from the 2008 Chinese milk scandal which gave the Chinese consumer the ‘extreme will’ to educate themselves, he explained.
“The Chinese parent wants a more tailored product that closely resembles mother’s milk and that science can justify,” he said. “That's why this concept will resonate very well with the Chinese consumer and why our European customers that manufacture for China are asking for this concept. It will take a bit more time to permeate the European consumer. But you already see many more younger parents in Europe that want to have more information available and who read the labels far more."
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