Speaking to DairyReporter.com after Fonterra scientists presented recent research on the effects of probiotics and complex dairy lipids on infant health in Moscow, global director of innovation and marketing, Joanna Mobley said that the firm had an active programme based on ‘healthy ageing’.
She said: “Our number one goal is to improve the safety and quality of infant formula and improve its health and nutritional benefits. Having learnt in terms of research science and technology in this space, how can we cross-leverage this knowledge in future more into the adult and ageing nutrition space.
“Because there is such a significant increase in ageing population globally – in China, the US, Europe, Japan – we’re looking at ingredients that might perhaps historically have been used in the infant space, but that might provide benefits in the ageing space,” Mobley added.
She said: “We’re looking to see how we can cross-leverage those ingredients into adult nutrition and ageing nutrition. We have probiotics and lipids, whey protein isolate, and hydrolysates, and are doing significant amounts of work on new dairy-derived ingredients.”
Hitting Russian 'sweet spot'
Discussing Fonterra’s interest in the Russian infant nutrition market, Mobley said market needs there represented a “sweet spot” for the firm given its focus on probiotics and lipids, with the latter a new focus on the nation’s market.
“Russia is a significant growth market that is growing at 20%, and is number four in the world in terms of baby food and milk formula. So for a company like us investing so heavily in infant science and infant nutrition, it is a critical market to be involved in,” Mobley said.
“In that regard, we have been doing research with consumers and healthcare professionals in Russia. We found that mum’s top health concerns was protection against infection, then addressing allergy concerns, then digestive comfort and cognitive development.”
Asked how extensive consumer awareness of categories such as pro- and prebiotics was, Mobley said: “We tend to think of Russia as a developing market, and assume that awareness around the benefits of ingredients in infant formula is less. But, our research shows (and this is quite surprising) that mums are quite aware of specific benefits ingredients provide.
She added: “There is strong awareness with mums that probiotics support immunity and digestion, and there is quite widespread use of probiotics, particularly in the supplement space, amongst Russian mothers. So it is quite an established market.”
Complex dairy lipids
Elsewhere, Fonterra had sold complex lipids in different forms for over a decade, and Mobley said it had “driven new research around lipids over this time. We have interest and are working with some major pediatric customers in complex dairy lipids, on launches in that space,” she said.
At the Sixteenth Congress of Pediatricians in Moscow, Fonterra presented a new study linking its complex dairy limits to improved infant cognitive performance, and Mobley said: “What is exciting about lipids is that our science shows their strength relative to mothers’ needs – globally and in key markets such as Russia and China.”
Asked why it had taken Fonterra 10 years to publish this science, Mobley said lipids were a “relatively new ingredient” in the dairy space, so its researchers had spent time creating a methodology to isolate and measure bioactive benefits, then moved on to pre-clinical and clinical research.
Health of probiotics category
Despite Danone’s recent warning that the probiotic category risked extinction in the EU – under the Nutrition Health Claims Regulation – Mobley said that Fonterra was awaiting the results of a review of some claims, but admitted probiotics had had a hard time due to the “EFSA situation”.
“In many ways the final word on probiotics in Europe – on whether they will be able to substantiate claims – has not been given,” she said.
“Also, Europe is just one market, and we must not forget that probiotics are growing globally, and addresses the number one health concern of Chinese mums – again, protection against infection – and it addresses Russian mother’s needs protection and digestion."
Mobley also agreed that many consumers would make their own minds up on probiotics. “Because there such high awareness of the benefits they bring, particularly in the area of digestion of gut health, content claims alone satisfy consumers, and indicate that that product will have a potential benefit in these areas,” she said.
“So having a content claim around the inclusion of probiotics in an infant formula – this works in markets where there is already awareness of their benefits."
As for the future of the category? “I think there is a need for ingredients companies and brandowners to try and differentiate with probiotics, bring new probiotics to market, or demonstrate through existing probiotics the unique benefits they provide that are perhaps less well-known and understood,” Mobley said.