Tokyo-based Meiji and its Japanese rivals, Morinaga and MegMilk Snow Brand, manufacture a wide range of 'special needs' infant formula products that are “priced, supported and sold in cooperation” with the country’s government.
Among those developed by Meiji are infant formulae specifically for babies that suffer from conditions including cystic fibrosis, heart and kidney disease, and lipid malabsoprtion disease.
Speaking with DairyReporter.com, Richard Walton, R&D manager at Meiji, said that while it and its rivals would never promote 'special needs' products, breast is not necessarily best in 100% of cases.
“…some disorders result in infants not being able to breast feed,” said Walton.
“It is very important to emphasize that the companies that participate in this activity never promote formula over mother’s milk.”
“However, for infants suffering from the specific disorders covered, these special formulas are often these best and sometimes the only option,” he said.
Meiji currently boasts a ‘special needs’ infant formula portfolio of 27 products, which it separates into three categories – registered special formula, unregistered special formula, and marketed products.
The registered and unregistered products are available for free “only through doctor’s offices”
“They are offered free upon prescription from a pediatrician,” said Walton.
As an example, Meiji manufactures a product to meet the needs of infants suffering with cystic fibrosis.
Health organizations, including the British National Health Service (NHS), recommend that infants suffering from cystic fibrosis are breastfed, but acknowledge that if a baby is not gaining enough weight “a high-energy formula may be needed.”
Meiji’s solution for infants with cystic fibrosis is a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) amino acid formula, which has been reported to be useful in assisting growth and physiological development.
This product falls into Meiji’s registered special formula category, meaning that the company is “partially compensated by the government” for developing the product. It is, however, “not compensated at all” for the unregistered special formula products it produces for ailments such as lipid malabsorption disease, pediatric intractable epilepsy, and heart and kidney disease.
Meiji's marketed products, which are produced to meet the needs of infants that suffer from afflictions such as lactose intolerance, milk and egg allergies, and intractable diarrhoea, can be found with other standard infant formula products in stores and online in Japan.
Responsibility for "little-used products" is a job shared by Meiji, Morinaga and MegMilk Snow Brand, who Walton said “divide responsibilities.”
“Our lines in this area do not completely overlap,” said Walton.
“On little-used products, the companies divide responsibilities so as not to double or triple development expenses.”
With little or no money to be made from these products, why does Meiji invests time and money in the development of these products?
“Social responsibly,” Walton said simply.
"Obviously, this is very expensive," he said, ”but the companies consider this activity to be an important corporate responsibility, and also important both for how we view ourselves, and our customers view us, as companies.”