Interview: DuPont’s Asia-Pacific president for health and nutrition

Li Yongjing: ‘Our business improves other people's lives'

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

DuPont executives inspect the Singapore ingredients lab with chief science officer Douglas Muzyka (second left) in tow.
DuPont executives inspect the Singapore ingredients lab with chief science officer Douglas Muzyka (second left) in tow.

Related tags Nutrition

Last month, DuPont became the latest food and nutrition ingredients supplier to open a flagship regional headquarters in Singapore, which is fast becoming a hub in this regard.

Li Yongling, DuPont’s Shanghai-based regional president of its Nutrition and Health division, will oversee the facility, which brings together the company’s development, distribution and sales operations for its various food, agriculture, materials and technology divisions.

Li Yong Jing
Li Yongjing

Taking up residence in Southeast Asia for one week each month, he will lead his division’s approach to developing ingredients for the regional market while also finding solutions to burning issues like food security and malnutrition. 

Food and nutrition became central to DuPont’s agenda after the American multinational bought Danish ingredients manufacturer Danisco for US$6.3bn in 2011, though Li stresses that the company’s heart remains in science.

Nutrition and health have to rely on science​,” he says. “The way the market has been changing, the life cycle for products that do not stem from science is very short​.” 

Such products are on the market at most for just a few years before they disappear, he says, whereas those with at least with a modicum of scientific development behind them will last well into the future.  

I use probiotics every day because I see the relationship between our products and the research that goes into them. Going forward, our research on nutrition will increase even further​.” 

This commitment is taken from a backdrop of DuPont’s overall revenues falling to their lowest level since 2009; whereas the Health and Nutrition division has been seeing growth, with Asia-Pacific leading the way—the “star of the company​”, Li says.

The Singapore labs will provide a local channel for regional applications, meaning that Asian customer requirements will be developed by Singaporean scientists. 

The lab is also charged with conducting fundamental region-specific research, such as running clinical studies with local hospitals and schools to prove that probiotics can reduce the risk of children catching colds.  

This is the beauty of having a local company​,” says Li. “In the past we would transfer a lot of ideas from Europe to Asia, but today it is different as a lot of things are happening in this market. We share ideas, and a lot of them we find are used in the US and Europe​.” 

To address food security, DuPont “wants to be a solution provider​” by combining developments in its seeds business to increase yield with Nutrition and Health solutions to reduce waste.

In a lot of the world, the grain after harvest may result in 20-30% waste, the fruit may be 30% waste; there’s a lot of seasonal wastage. We brought our pioneering in seeds to increase harvest yields and through Nutrition and Health methodology, we can reduce waste while at the same time increasing the efficiency of industrialised food​,” Li says.

On a practical level, this means creating cheap foods that offer fundamental nutrition for poor people while developing preservatives that reduce waste. And as populations grow older and lifestyles change, DuPont has been developing ingredients with probiotics and xylitol—“the kinds of stuff that will really improve health​,” he says.

We play a big role in fortification. We have a protein division that produces plant and soya protein. For children such as those in India and Asean, they need fundamental nutrition. They need protein. And our protein fortification in bakery, ice cream and dairy all play important roles because humans need good nutrition, they need good protein. While plant protein is different from animal protein, so too the combination will be much healthier for human nutrition​.”

On a personal level, Li says he has a passion for food development and seeing his products being bought by consumers: “You can see how you are part of their lives​.” 

Asked if consumers can live without his products, he says that maybe they can for a day, but not over time.

In one out of every two pieces of bread, you have my products inside; one in three ice creams will have my products inside, so you can’t live without me. Our business improves another person’s life​.”

He illustrates this by sharing some of his personal research, which he is currently conducting.

I’m doing my own body research,” he says. “We are developing products that reduce cholesterol. I take these rusks every day, and my cholesterol level in the first two weeks has reduced by 12%. 

I want to try it first, and if it works for other people, I will feel very happy. That’s my passion, even if they don’t taste so good right now​.”

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