This collaboration will lead to the development of a novel infant formula product catered specifically for the Chinese market, with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two companies stating that Jennewein's expertise in human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) and Yili's expertise in Chinese breastmilk composition will be instrumental in the process.
Jennewein CEO and co-founder Stefan Jennewein said the company was "committed to bringing the benefits of HMOs for the development of a healthy infant microbiome to Chinese parents and their children".
MD of Yili Innovation Centre Europe, Dr Gerrit Smit, said the firm had been "dedicated to Chinese breast milk composition studies for years", citing its establishment of the Chinese Breast Milk Database and adding that it was "looking forward to collaborating with Jennewein in the future".
Formulating for feeding
Jennewein has been marketing its HMO, 2'-fucosyllactose (2'-FL), in the US and numerous European countries for several years.
HMOs are known as prebiotics that support certain vital physiological functions, inhibit pathogen growth, and fight viral infections. However, they are still considered an emerging science in infant formula innovation, and most products in this space do not contain HMOs.
2'-FL is the most abundant of the existing 200 types of HMOs, the third-biggest constituent of human breastmilk. Around 80% of lactating mothers produce 2'-FL, in concentrations of up to 2g/l.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Jennewein a licence to market the HMO in 2015; this made the company's 2'-FL the first biotechnologically produced HMO to be introduced into the US infant-feeding market.
Two years later, the EU authorised the firm's 2'-FL under the Novel Food Regulation, paving the way for Jennewein to collaborate with international baby food companies. As a result, a number of major infant formula brands feature the firm's 2'-FL in their products, such as Abbott Similac.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Jennewein's 2'-FL is already being used in infant formula products sold in Singapore and the Philippines. With approximately half the world's infant formula market share, China presents great opportunities for foreign formula ingredient firms.
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, press officer Bettina Gutiérrez said of the partnership with Yili: "As one of the leading dairy companies in China, we believe Yili Group is a trustworthy partner. And as we knew China would be one of the most important future markets for the HMOs produced by Jennewein, our company started negotiations with Yili five years ago. The MoU signed now is the result of these negotiations."
She added that both companies would combine their respective areas of expertise for the purpose of research into HMOs, as well as the microbiome of Chinese children, in order to develop a high-quality infant formula tailored for the Chinese market.
Dr Hue-Tran Hornig-Do, who handles scientific communications at Jennewein, told NutraIngredients-Asia: "Jennewein will provide the HMOs and contribute its expertise in HMO and microbiome research, while Yili will complement the cooperation with its extensive knowledge of human milk composition and the microbiome — in particular, within the Chinese population — and expertise in the development of infant formula and dairy products for the Chinese market."
Potential in other parts
Currently, the companies have not finalised where in China the infant formula product will be sold, with Gutiérrez saying they are "open to all options".
With regards to whether the partnership would also cover other types of infant nutrition products containing HMOs, Hornig-Do said: "Concerning other ingredients and products, we cannot share any details at the moment. Infant formula is the main topic of this agreement and our future activities together. So far, our HMOs have been added only to infant formulas.
"We are, however, open to other applications. It is known that the establishment of the microbiome takes place over the first two to three years of life. Thus, using HMOs in other applications, such as yoghurt drinks, is also a suitable way to shape a healthy microbiome in younger children."
In addition to its existing presence in Singapore, the Philippines and China, the company also has its eye on other countries within the APAC region.
Hornig-Do said, "As a globally active company with a vision to contribute to human health and well-being, we would like to bring the benefits of HMOs to other APAC countries, including Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia."