Editor's spotlight: Startup focus

Serial entrepreneur battles sweet and sterile baby food with probiotic yoghurts

By Nikki Cutler contact

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Plume Creative
Getty | Plume Creative
A serial entrepreneur is on a mission to put an end to the cloaked industry of sweet and sterile baby food with his unsweetened prebiotic and probiotic yoghurt called Lovebugs.

Mats Lonne, founder and CEO of baby food brand Otto, is calling into question the fact that we feed babies food that has barely changed since the 1950's. 

The father-of-three and former brand manager for probiotic fruit drink ProViva started to question the state of the baby food market after the birth of his middle child Otto.

“Is it reasonable that baby food is older than the baby we feed it to? We don’t think so and our mission is to change this and provide healthier fresh and organic kids’ food.

“The baby food aisle has been the same since the 50's - other than the fact it's in pouches now instead of glass jars - but the 50's was a time when we were afraid of all bacteria. Now we are learning that we should take care of these guest bacteria as they are extremely important.

“Small kids are at their most sensitive phase of development, programming their defences and developing their organs and we offer them palm oil filled highly processed sterile formula. They need to be given the best start at this critical time.

“Instead of sterile, processes and a lot of heating we go for good raw fresh and organic materials, low heat pasteurising – below 100 degrees – and rapid cooling, with no additives and no sweeteners and excellent transparency.

"Our middle son, Otto, then just over two years old, contributed views throughout the process. Very definite views. So when we arrived at perfect taste and consistency, it was no more than right that he got the name of the whole establishment."

The Lonne family
Mats Lonne with wife and eldest children

Alongside Lonne, the business is run by a team of established businessmen in the industry including Rickard Öste, professor of nutrition and author of Oatly, and Lennart Alftrén, one of Sweden's most experienced food developers.

Why aren't we demanding transparency?

The trailblazing businessman says he is amazed that consumers aren't demanding more transparency from this industry. 

“The baby food category is a very closed and hidden industry and there hasn’t been any research into how probiotic foods effect children’s microbiota. We plan to be the first to carry out a clinical trial of this sort.

“It’s easier to study the tobacco industry than to find out the processes used in the baby food industry.

“Pouches are convenient for the parent, but that is all. You can’t see the contents inside them, the food has been through very hard heating so it provides no goodness to babies.

“We are talking about 2019, a generation that demands transparency and baby food should be the most transparent of them all."

Thankfully, Lonne says the internet is helping to make the food and drink market much more consumer driven, making it easier for small new startups to change the way things are done.

“The internet and social media is changing the industry. In the last 10 years, grass roots brands have been able to grow without being a large company and trends have become more consumer driven with communities building around new brands.

“We can see that consumers here in Sweden are quite aware of the micro flora and the microbiome and I think their understanding has grown thanks to a number of journalists covering this over the last two years.

“It’s a case of educating consumers and finding special target groups and making that kinship.

The end of pills?

Beyond changing the baby food industry, Lonne can see new research into the microbiome will cause such a change to the way people eat, that pharmaceutical companies will struggle to compete in this area of health.

"Research will find the specific combinations of bacteria and eventually big pharmaceutical companies will have to shut down large parts of their production as people will find individual solutions for their own microbiota. 

"Either that or they will have to invest in new startups making food and drink with microbiome health benefits.”

Training taste buds

Otto’s new Lovebugs yoghurts, for children aged from six months to 10 years old, have been made with fruit flavours to suit young taste profiles but they do still have a slightly sour flavour to them due to the probiotics.

But Lonne says babies who have tasted the product have loved the taste.

“Babies love the flavour. The problem comes with the children around four, five and six, who have gotten used to these sugary, very sweet tasting foods and therefore have grown a preference for sweeter flavours.

“It’s horrible that we give our children so much unnecessarily sweetened food that they get used to always having foods that sweet.”