Infant nutrition products currently sold in the market might seem similar with the use of common ingredients such as calcium and DHA.
However, innovation does not necessarily mean that novel ingredients should be used.
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, Julia McCalmont, global R&D head for VMS / Nutrition Health, Bayer’s Consumer Health Division, believes that it is more important to innovate to deliver the best benefits, even if common ingredients are used.
“When we look at future innovations, one might ask the question: ‘How do I innovate on the ingredients?’
“But we think it's more important to innovate on the benefits space, because the goal is not just to get the best ingredients. It's to get the best benefit for the baby at the end of the day. So that's really what we're searching for,” she said.
Last year, Bayer Consumer Health launched its first infant nutrition products in China under its flagship brand Elevit.
They include a vitamin D soft capsule and a calcium, zinc, and vitamin D soft capsule.
Prior to the launch, Elevit focuses solely on prenatal products designed for both women and men.
This year, the company added three more SKUs to its Elevit infant nutrition range in China.
They include a DHA product to support brain development, probiotics for supporting gut comfort, and liquid calcium for bone health.
Describing Chinese parents as “extremely ingredient savvy”, she pointed out that these parents would look beyond the face value of an ingredient, by taking into consideration its purity and concentration levels.
She believes that there are great opportunities for innovation by looking at the ingredient quality, rate of absorption, and synergistic benefits.
In this case, the company has innovated around the synergistic benefits that ingredients such as vitamin D and calcium could bring, specifically around bone health – a critical development milestone in early childhood.
“We know that calcium is an age-old molecule, we know a lot about it, we know its importance in bone health.
“If you look at the innovation launches which we have done previously, calcium was paired with vitamin D and zinc. It's that optimal combination that ensures that the babies are getting the best bone health development.
“We might in the future, as we look at other combinations of ingredients, that could encourage better absorption and also the better use of calcium in the body to ensure that bone health is at its optimum stage,” she said.
Similarly, when it comes to omega-3 and DHA, she sees innovation opportunities around the purity and absorption level of the ingredients.
At the same time, she acknowledged that there will be new ingredient trends, such as choline, which is gaining traction on its brain health benefits.
“There are other ingredients that are emerging in this territory of brain development. An example is choline, which we see is having a positive impact on brain development, especially when supplemented throughout the stages of pregnancy. There will be new ingredient trends like choline coming through that impact brain development.
“More specifically for the DHA ingredient, you might start to see things like higher purity oils or different combinations of omega-3s that seem to have a greater impact on either absorption or brain development, which is ultimately the health benefit outcome that we are seeking,” she said.
Chinese parents seek convenience too
Aside from being ingredient-savvy, the firm also noticed that Chinese parents are highly interested in infant nutrition products that come in user-friendly design.
“The other thing that we have noticed specifically for the Chinese consumers is that they're very keen on innovative and intuitive, user-friendly design,” said McCalmont.
In this case, the company has developed its liquid calcium product with an easily removed cap.
“In terms of the cap itself, it is easy to remove and easy to pour with one hand while holding another object, typically a milk bottle,” she added.
Opportunities in APAC
Parents’ desire in providing strong nutritional support in early life and policymakers’ interest in reducing childhood nutritional problems are driving opportunities for infant nutrition market growth in APAC, said McCalmont.
About 40 per cent of babies are born in the Asia-Pacific region.
While infant nutrition supplements launched under Elevit are presently sold in China only, the company has been introducing Elevit’s prenatal products to more APAC countries.
In July, Elevit was launched in Indonesia and in Vietnam last year.
“We believe that the best start in life starts with maternal nutrition and goes beyond those first 1000 days.
“From a strategic point of view, we definitely want to provide access to that full range, starting with mums and then eventually getting into infant supplementation in the future,” she said.
The launch in Indonesia also coincided with a significant policy change, she added, where the authorities are starting to move away from just an iron and folic acid recommendation to multiple micronutrient supplements as the standard of care for pregnancy.
“This is a great example of how we work to expand access to self-care, which impacts generations of women and babies. That simple change in policy, combined with additional access to these types of MMS ingredients for women who are pregnant, is going to make a significant impact on the health of babies born in that region,” she said.