Changing the game for infant nutrition

During a recent visit to Tel Aviv, Israel, Dr Kevin Robinson sat down with Hamutal Yitzhak, cofounder and Managing Director at INDI to learn more about the world's first non-dairy non-soy infant formula

From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success. So state the words of the song in the film version of Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

We’re probably all familiar with the concept, but it might seem to be an odd segue to an innovative non-dairy infant formula foundation in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Let’s turn the clock back a few years. A little girl, a relative, is ill. She has a viral infection and is unable to digest milk products. Just one year old, she’s losing weight, vomiting and is struggling to breathe. The obvious first move is to switch to soy alternatives, but that’s also an allergen risk. It’s no good. The parents then used a hydrolysed protein source to effect a solution, but not only did this taste and smell terrible — owing to the free amino acids — it was also expensive.

Turning the clock back a little further, cofounder and co-CEO Uriel Kesler cast his mind back 30 years to when he was working as a salesman in the orthodox sector neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.

He remembered asking the local grocer — his client — why so many pregnant and breastfeeding women from poor families bought almond paste products. Almond paste was, and still is, quite an expensive commodity, and Uriel wondered why the ladies would insist on buying it and why such a small grocery would stock it alongside essentials such as bread and milk, etc.

The grocer answered that, although it was very costly, it was also a superfood with extremely high nutritional properties that strengthen the body. For a breastfeeding or pregnant mother-to-be, this was a real necessity, which is why they bought it. Based on that memory, an almond paste drink was made for the baby, who started to consume it and an idea was born. The upshot? She’s now a fit, flourishing and healthy toddler.

And so INDI from came to be. A foundation for a world of proper nutrition, INDI seeks to overcome young children’s 21st century ills by reforming nutritional foundation from infancy.

The market

The infant nutrition sector is a dynamic $55 billion market with 8% annual growth, driven by growing demand in China and the emerging markets. With demand often exceeding supply, the fastest growing segments are organic cow's milk, goat milk and other specialty formulas that don’t actually address the challenges associated with cow's milk and soy.

Globally, the US accounts for 30% of the market, as does Europe and Asia, with the rest of the world making up the final 10%. However, Asia is expanding at a rate of 20% per annum.

Hamuhtal Yitzhak, Managing Director, INDI

From a supply perspective, the market is dominated (70%) by multinationals such as Abbott, Nestlé, Danone, H.J. Heinz and the like, wherein, because of the inherent conservatism and strict regulatory environment — and the fact that price sensitivity is low — innovation levels are comparatively low.

Cow's milk protein is almost exclusively the only protein source used to feed the world’s entire infant population, and it’s been that way for more than 100 years.

Breast milk is still very much the gold standard in global infant nutrition, benefiting from a complex-but-unique nutritional profile. In fact, ever since infant formulae were first introduced, the only two raw materials that have met this gold standard's strict regulatory status are cow's milk and soy.

But here's the rub: approximately 50% of the world's infants (0–36 months) suffer from a broad spectrum of allergies with no real solution.

Both of these sources are powerful allergens and are also associated with other negative factors such as high levels of growth hormones, antibiotics, gas emission, GMOs, phytoestrogens and others. Not to mention the increasing popularity of vegetarianism and veganism, which presents an additional captive audience group striving for an alternative infant nutrition solution.

Enter INDI

Developed by a team of highly experienced infant nutrition experts with more than 60 years of experience, INDI is the world's first non-dairy non-soy infant formula. Produced in both both powder and liquid forms, INDI is a total solution for allergic, sensitive and vegan infants (0–36 months). The formula is 100% vegan (comprising two plants) and is free from hormones, antibiotics and GMOs.

Managing Director Hamutal Yitzhak realised, though, that almond paste alone wouldn’t be enough to meet market expectations: amino acids would have to be present in the right ratio to comply with the definition of a formula; the product would need to be complete and balanced; and the macronutrient quotient would also need to be optimised. Issues such as intellectual property, performance, cost and scalability had to be addressed as well.

“Today,” says Hamutal, “INDI is sustainable, competitively priced with a superior taste profile and ready for full-scaled production. The formula has been approved by the Israeli Ministry of Health (for marketing to 12–36 month olds), endorsed by leading infant nutrition experts — as it fully conforms to strict international infant nutrition standards — and is patent pending in 85 countries around the globe.”

As a breast milk analogue/alternative, it boasts a full amino and fatty acid profile, meets WHO/FAO codex requirements, is cholesterol- and gluten-free, clean label and also offers certain environmental advantages. With a minimal ecological footprint, it’s free from greenhouse gas pollution and only uses 5% of the water and land used for livestock production.

Having overcome some formulation issues with the addition of vitamins, minerals and supplements, pretreating the ingredients to prevent separation and insolubility problems, and ensuring that the formula dissolves in the required amount of water for newborn consumption, Hamutal firmly believes that they now have a product that provides healthy and tasty whole protein substitute that’s comparable with the nutritional values of cow's milk — without its well-known deficiencies.

“In the long term, INDI will challenge the global dairy industry in terms of efficiency and sustainability,” she says.

Future applications are said to include medical nutrition and complementary balanced nutrition varieties for the vegan market, as well as high protein drinks and soy/milk substitutes. Current plans are to target toddlers and infants with severe allergies (10%), toddlers currently being fed with soy-based formulas (10% of the US market) and infants and toddlers from vegan families who seeking an alternative to soy (26% of flexitarian American families).

From a technological standpoint, the company has completed a series of successful industrial scale-up runs for the liquid version. Work is ongoing to test the powder form for scale-up and production and, says Hamutal: “We need to complete a final scale-up run, including packaging and stability tests to go to market.”

“We’ve been approached by two global companies and many potential distributors, all over the world, seeking to receive distribution rights, as well as enquiries from new mothers,” she adds with a smile. Currently available in Israel, INDI is also talking to American food chains about INDI who recognise the expected demand from their customers and are keen to put the product on their shelves.

“We’re ready to get a strategic partner on board,” concludes Hamutal, “having spent $500,000 on IP and technological development. And although we’re considering in-house production, we’re keen to talk to interested parties about contract manufacturing and franchising.”