WATCH - Danone Nutricia: 'Some stakeholders don't appreciate highly regulated formula industry'

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Danone Nutricia says it is committed to a new Code of Practice encouraging responsible infant formula marketing and transparency in what is already a highly regulated industry, in which it believes ‘is not appreciated by some stakeholders’.

Speaking to NutraIngredients, the firm believed the Code​ added further clarity and uniformity of standards, setting out ‘our guiding principles helping to clarify how and with whom we work’.

“The infant nutrition industry acts in a responsible, ethical, and professional manner,” ​a spokesperson for Danone Nutricia said.   

“Although we are one of the most tightly regulated food sectors in the world, this is not always appreciated by some stakeholders. 

“It has been modelled on other industry codes, such as the ABPI Code of Practice for the pharmaceutical industry, setting a new minimum standard for the infant nutrition industry.” 

Nutricia Early Life Nutrition, who were sponsoring an event ‘The Power of the Baby’s Microbiome’ in London last week, were keen to explain how its postbiotic-enriched Aptamil formulations, could help support a healthy gut and immune system development in infants.

“Our First Infant Milk as well as Follow On milk and Growing Up milk products introduce postbiotics to the formulation.

“Nutricia’s prebiotic oligosaccharides mixture provide a formulation closer to breastmilk with demonstrated benefits of microbiota composition and activity changes closer to breast-fed infants.

“This includes stool consistency, stool frequency, lower pH, lower clostridium difficile levels and higher secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA) levels in stool samples.”

‘Big 5’ of the infant formula industry

As one of the so-called ‘big 5’ of the infant formula industry, the intense scrutiny of its business practices, particularly in the UK, is an inevitability that comes with the territory and responsibility of feeding the nation’s young.

This scrutiny came to a head back in June this year when Danone were the subject of reports​ claiming its newly reformulated Aptamil baby milk formula was making some infants ill.

Danone’s infant formula had incurred the wrath of mothers, who dismayed at what the formula had apparently caused, took to Facebook to complain to the manufacturer.

In response, Danone said, We have since reassured consumers and we can categorically confirm that there were no safety issues with the product, as confirmed by the UK Food Safety Act at the time”.

“Furthermore, 94% of mums who tried our follow-on product before launch said they “would recommend” the follow-on formula to other mums (5% neutral), and we see very high levels of in-use satisfaction based on a broad base of current users, even superior to the previous recipe.

“The level of social media activity is back to normal and the brand is still number 1 on the UK infant formula market, and still with the broadest franchise of any brand.”

Packaging issues

As well as reformulation issues, ongoing complaints posted on Twitter​ have expressed dismay at the changes to packaging as well as the products’ size.

Customers have accused Danone of reducing the infant formula tub size from 900g to 800g while keeping the price identical at around €12.40 (£11) a tub.

“Shoppers now visit an average of 12 stores per month and smaller, more frequent shopping is on the rise in even larger stores, so retailers have to respond to the rise in mission-driven customers,”​ responded Danone.

“Given this trend, we’re working closely with retailers to make the baby feeding category easier and more enjoyable to shop.

“This includes improving both the product packaging of our own brands and also the effective merchandising of stores across the whole category.”

Innovation and Big Data

Danone recently revealed its plans​ to incorporate digital technology and machine learning as a means to provide precise, tailored nutrition particularly in early life adding "We are always looking at how we can use the latest technology to keep improving".

"Our research centre in Singapore opened a new lab earlier this year aimed at developing real-life, self-service tools that capture and analyse parenting data to help parents and healthcare professionals."

Example innovations include an app that measures baby stool consistency and help parents gain insights on their baby’s gut function and development. 

Danone also spoke of an artificial intelligence conversational tool that addresses parents’ uncertainties and worries to gather data around parental feelings.

"This approach combines data science and machine learning to help generate insights on early life nutrition,"​ the firm said.

"These insights enable researchers to discover new biological mechanisms, predict the risks of certain diseases and eventually drive nutritional solutions for the long-term health of individuals."

Related topics: Regulation & Safety, Danone, Nutritionals