When it comes to infant nutrition, what are consumers looking for?
“Infant nutrition is the most demanding food segment, and is currently being driven by megatrends around naturalness, clean label and transparency. Consumers, and here parents who are buying for their loved ones, are looking for healthy, ‘free-from’ and safe ingredients, but also more natural solutions for babies, especially in milk formula at the early stage of children's lives.
Socio-demographic factors – such as urbanisation and the rise of a female workforce in parts of the globe – also mean that the need for breastmilk alternatives is growing. Such baby food formula must be safe but also good for babies’ health, same for the growing-up milk or the cereals for older children.”
What current trends in this sector would you pick out?
“I like the ‘best for my baby’ wording that highlights nearly everything: infant food has to be tasty but safe and nutritionally balanced. Food safety is really a must in such a sensitive niche market, especially following food safety scandals. Trust is thus something important in baby food, reinforcing the power and the role of international brands.”
How are such trends impacting this sector in terms of reformulation?
“Safety, natural and simple ingredients requirements from consumers directly impact baby food manufacturers in their sourcing choices. They need to source the most sustainable ingredients as possible - locally and naturally sourced ideally, while ensuring traceability but also convenience and processability for infant foods.”
How would you characterise the regulatory environment?
“Before six months, in infant formula, no flavours are allowed according to the Codex Alimentarius, recognised as the international standard. Up to six months, only vanilla extract, vanillin and ethylvanillin are allowed in a very limited quantity.
Vanillin can be found in vanilla beans, produced via synthesis or by fermentation of other natural raw materials. Ethylvanillin is only obtained by synthesis. Due to the extremely limited supply of vanilla beans, which come from vanilla orchids in Madagascar, Mexico or Tahiti, the cost of such ingredients is very high, resulting in a limited usage of the vanilla beans, mainly in highly premium infant milks all the consumers cannot afford.
Solvay has been producing synthetic vanillin for the food and beverage, and flavour and fragrance industries, since the 19th century. In recent years, however, we have seen a shift in consumer sentiment toward natural flavours and ingredients. This shift is further enhanced by food regulations defining ‘natural flavouring status’ with very exacting requirements.”
What ingredient solutions does Solvay have to help manufacturers address these challenges?
“So, when Solvay customers in the food sector were looking for natural alternatives to synthetic vanillin, Aroma Performance developed a process to make a natural vanillin based on bioconversion, Rhovanil Natural CW. Starting from a natural resource, in this case non-GMO rice, ferulic acid is extracted from the rice bran oil and, through bioconversion, it becomes natural vanillin. It is the identical molecule to that of synthetic vanillin, but is all-natural, and thus compliant with the strictest European regulations.
To support the baby food market and its demanding requirement in terms of regulations, Solvay has launched an enhanced offering dedicated for the baby food segment with natural grades, including Rhovanil Natural CW Baby, and simpler dosing solutions that are perfect for baby nutrition.
We also have dedicated production areas for baby food ingredients and provide full traceability of what we produce, because we can’t compromise on baby food safety. This includes offering customers a full monitoring scheme, like a full-cover insurance policy. This means Solvay will check for any chemical or biological contaminants, allergens, as well any physical contaminants, and will make sure we have the means to control all these criteria through good manufacturing practices along with a documented certificate of analysis.”
What does the future hold for nutritive infant nutrition?
“Infant nutrition has started to be shaped by ‘free-from’ and allergen-free solutions. Such trends will continue, of course, along the various infant categories. Concerning milk formula, safety and simplicity will remain. Avoiding complex formulations and flavourings at such early stages of life is good news for everyone.
I think that concerns surrounding sustainability will be the main lever to come. For some leading infant players this is already the case, especially around issues such as circularity, non-GMO and other fundamental topics that touch on healthy food and a healthy planet.”