The range, called Australia's Own Diamond Pro+, comprises three products: Premium Infant Formula (for infants up to six months old), Follow-On Formula (for children between six and 12 months old) and Toddler Milk Drink (for children aged one and older).
All products feature a combination of probiotics and prebiotics, in addition to a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Both the Diamond Pro+ Premium Infant Formula and Follow-On Formula contain 497mg of galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and 1.32 million CFUs (colony-forming units) of Bifidobacterium Lactis (BB-12) per 100ml, while the Toddler Milk Drink contains 933mg of GOS and 2.64 million CFUs of BB-12 per 100ml.
Validating gut feelings
The inclusion of these prebiotics and probiotics was based on recent scientific research that suggested infant gut bacteria may take root in the mother's womb instead of after birth, albeit in non-pathogenic and non-inflammatory forms, signalling a normal gut microbiome.
While this is still being debated by scientists, Freedom Foods also looked at a study on infant intestinal microbiota development that reported that within a few days of birth, bacteria establish an active network in an infant's gut.
Its gut bacteria profile then undergoes numerous changes within its first year of life, after which its gut microbial population bears a general likeness to that of an adult, according to another study.
Meanwhile human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) — have been shown to benefit the infant's immune system and gut bacteria, particularly Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, which account for the majority of an infant's gut bacteria populations during the first year of life.
Probiotics are also present in human breastmilk, and according to a systematic review on the pros and cons of adding probiotics to infant formula, supplementation with BB-12 was found to markedly lower incidences of gastrointestinal infections stemming from insufficient probiotics.
Meeting infant needs and regulatory requirements
Business development manager Patrick Lim, who is based in Singapore, told NutraIngredients-Asia: "We wanted to add value to parents by enriching our infant formula with a high concentration of probiotics and prebiotics.
"We add these elements to the base milk powder, and use a proprietary technology to keep them alive and available for up to two years.
"We've conducted mid-shelf life and end-shelf life tests, and so far, the product has remained in good condition throughout its shelf life."
The Premium Infant Formula has also been reformulated with less protein, as per recommendations from paediatric health professionals, whose research pointed to higher protein intake in infancy, likely through formula milk, as a factor in childhood obesity.
Additionally, the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code published a document in April 2017 stating that infant formula must have "a protein content of no less than 0.45g/100kJ and no more than 0.7g/100kJ", while follow-on formula must have "a protein content of no less than 0.45g/100kJ and no more than 1.3g/100kJ".
In Australia, the range will be exclusively available at Coles Supermarkets across the country, while in Singapore, it will be stocked at major supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice.
Diversification amid expansion
Freedom Foods has operated in Australia for the past two decades, mainly producing grain and dairy products such as cereal and milk.
However, it only entered the infant formula market three years ago, with the original version of its Australia's Own Diamond Pro+ range.
The bulk of the company's sales come from its dairy products, and it wanted to maximise its resources and tap into growing infant formula markets in APAC.
Last year, as Singaporean authorities implemented stricter regulations in order to clamp down on rising infant formula prices, and sought to offer parents affordable yet healthy alternatives, NTUC FairPrice decided to import the range of products into the country.
According to Lim, the reformulated and repackaged range will likely be launched by Q4 this year.
He added: "I think most other infant formula products in Singapore are not enriched with probiotics or prebiotics, which is why we saw a gap in the market we could fill.
"We wanted to differentiate our products from our competitors', and offer something new to parents instead of just introducing a product similar to what they'd already seen. We also keep them affordable by matching the price point of the range in Singapore to that in Australia, despite the updated formulation, and import fees.
"While we do buy some of our dairy ingredients from third-party farmers, we also have our own farms, so we have greater control over the entire production process."
Furthermore, all Freedom Foods' manufacturing and processing facilities are said to be halal-certified, making the process of entering Muslim-majority markets easier, and allowing the company to sell to a wider audience.
Aiming for APAC
Apart from Singapore, Freedom Foods also has its eye on China, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Lim revealed that the firm set up an office in Shanghai four years ago and had been selling its non-infant products in parts of APAC for a few years, but was now awaiting regulatory approval to sell its infant formula range in China, as well as Malaysia and Vietnam.
In early July, Freedom Foods entered a binding agreement with Chinese firm Shenzhen Jialile Food Co. to establish a subsidiary company in China, tentatively called Australia's Own Dairy Company China.
The agreement entails an initial 10% investment on the subsidiary for a consideration of RMB22m, with the medium-term goal of having it listed on an international stock exchange.
Freedom Foods has also expressed interest in Myanmar, but is holding off until it knows more about the country's regulatory processes for foreign infant formula products, and is relying on its local partner for the relevant information.
Lim said, "We are still in the process of dealing with the respective authorities in these countries, but we are aiming to complete these processes within the next six months.
"Being an Australian company, we are confident in our product quality, so we shouldn't have any issues when it comes to the legal process, even though it is time-consuming."