Enhancing infant formula

Can we make infant formula more like breast milk?

AgResearch scientists are working to identify a unique new way to make infant formula more like breast milk and better for babies by using ingredients that could enhance brain development and overall health.

Research into this next-generation infant formula could potentially create new opportunities for New Zealand’s primary industries in a global market worth tens of billions of dollars annually.

The work started in 2021, thanks to funding from the government’s 2021 Endeavour Fund. AgResearch scientists Dr Simon Loveday and Dr Caroline Thum, along with collaborators from Massey and Monash Universities, are researching ways to enhance the ‘human-ness’ of infant formula produced from New Zealand ingredients.


Phospholipids in buttermilk could be the key

“We’ve recently discovered a new natural source of nutritional oil that is surprisingly similar to the fat in breast milk,” Dr Thum says.

“We will be combining this new nutritional oil with dairy phospholipids (a special kind of fat) in response to recent evidence that this component of milk enhances babies’ brain development.

Fortunately, phospholipids are abundant in buttermilk, which is a by-product of butter production.”

“We’ll then test our next-generation formula ingredient in the laboratory using equipment that simulates the conditions inside a baby’s digestive system. This will tell us how well the new combination is digested, compared to conventional infant formula.

We aim to show improved fat and calcium absorption, in addition to the positive effect of the phospholipids for brain development,” Dr Thum says. With the global markets for infant formula and baby foods expected to continue their strong growth, new products that provide a health advantage are in high demand.

Dr Loveday says, “This new funding will allow us explore a new high-value opportunity for New Zealand’s primary sector and contribute to New Zealand’s global reputation as a source of naturally healthy foods.

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