Developed by Israel-based Else Nutrition, the product’s greatest differentiation from conventional products, lies in its non-soy and non-dairy components.
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, Hamutal Yitzhak, the company’s co-founder, director and CEO, said that the product catered to toddler aged 12 to 36 months, would be available to Asian consumers within the next 12 months.
In fact, the company has signed a MoU with H&H for distribution of its products in China, Hong Kong, Australia, France, and Italy.
For a start, the company will first launch the product branded as ‘Else’ in the US market in Q2 this year.
The product is not only for toddlers allergic to soy and dairy and should be seen as a ‘third alternative’ for everybody, she emphasised.
The concept of the plant-based toddler formula is the brainchild of Yitzhak, the former head of infant nutrition at Abbott Labs Israel, and her two other co-founders.
These are Michael Azar and Uriel Kesler, who were the former CEO and chief food technologist at the Nestle-acquired Materna, and the former GM of PL infant formula at Promedico.
The idea of developing a plant-based formula came about when Uriel Kesler’s then 10-month-old granddaughter suffered a respiratory problem due to cow’s milk intolerance.
She was also allergic to soy and even the medical formula prescribed by the doctor was of no help.
“The last resort for his granddaughter was steroids prescription, he didn’t want that and tried to look for alternatives. He started off by mixing some almond with water and put some vitamins inside and it worked. Her body did not reject it and little by little, she started gaining weight.”
From then on, the trio began to conduct deeper research into the potential use of almond as a base for infant formula.
It turns that almond was a good fit as its lipid profile is almost similar to the human breast milk.
“Almond is a source of strong nutrition…Their essential fatty acids composition is very similar to that of the human breast milk. It is a good start to develop something (for infant and toddler nutrition).”
As for buckwheat, Yitzhak explained that it was used to complete the formula with amino acids.
“When we looked at the protein profile of almonds, we saw that there were many amino acids missing. And so, we have to complete the formula with another plant in order to mimic the breastmilk composition and we found the buckwheat.”
Tapioca, on the other hand, served as a source of carbohydrates.
Together, she said that the three formed “almost the exact composition of breast milk.”
Aside from the toddler formula that will soon launch in the US, the company has also formulated an infant formula based on the three key ingredients.
It is currently undergoing safety studies in clinical settings before it can be officially launched.
The process is expected to take about two years.
‘Although the product meets the standards in terms of its nutritional profile, we still have to demonstrate the product safety through clinical studies. We have started the process with a US agency.’
Five years in the making
After identifying the key ingredients, the trio took another five years to fine-tune the product, including its powder’s texture, taste, particle size, and its degree of water solubility.
Other key considerations include ensuring that the product contains a certain number of calories, fatty acid ratio, and amino acids ratio.
‘There are many criteria to fulfill. Sometimes, it seemed as though we have come to a dead end, but finally, after five years, we managed to create the perfect formula which is fully soluble and meets all the standards.’
The company currently has two production sites, one in the US, and the other in France.
Asked whether allergies to tree nuts and reported cases of buckwheat allergy would deter concerned parents from buying the product, Yitzhak pointed out statistics have shown that the extent of allergenicity to almond and buckwheat was ‘incomparable’ to cow’s milk and soy.
“Of all the tree nuts, almond is the least allergenic and if you look at the statistics showing the allergenicity of cow’s milk is 10 times more allergenic than almond.
“(This means that) you have 10 times more babies allergic to cow’s milk than to almonds.’
According to a study published in Asia Pacific Allergy, cow’s milk allergy is the second most common food allergy in Asian children below the age of 5, after egg allergy. Whereas the prevalence of tree-nut allergy is even lower.
As for buckwheat, while there have been cases of ingredient allergy especially in Japan, she noted that in other parts of the world, buckwheat was not considered an allergen as in the case of Japan.
“There are cases of allergy to almost every ingredient in the world, some people may be allergic to almond, some may be allergic to buckwheat, but the extent of the allergenicity of almond and buckwheat is incomparable to cow’s milk and soy.”
Source: Asia Pacific Allergy
Food allergy in Asia: How does it compare?
Authors: Alison Joanne Lee, et al