Fonterra is aiming to “restock the cupboard” with innovative nutrition solutions and supplements to meet the shifting dietary demands of consumers in a post-covid environment.
Judith Swales, Fonterra’s newly appointed chief executive for global markets, said after extensive travel through Asia, Japan and the United States it was becoming increasingly clear consumers were aware of the need to take greater responsibility for their own health.
“They have realised that governments are not able to completely protect them and it does come down to taking more care of yourself.”
Coupled with an aging demographic through most developed markets, there was a burgeoning cohort of consumers who enjoyed a good income level and wanted to enjoy a lengthy, healthy later life stages.
Meantime, Fonterra’s current releases reflect the R&D efforts prior to covid and were starting to hit the market now.
These included a protein additive trademarked “Sure Protein” and the BioKoDelab brand, aimed at improving eyesight and cognitive health.
The two main streams of interest being further developed for the post-covid wellness market were focused around probiotics and proteins.
“The protein component is being increasingly recognised for its value in helping maintain muscle mass in later life, something that often declines for many elderly,” Swales said.
Research has shown that from about 40-45 years old muscle levels can slide by 1% a year and this can accelerate to 3% a year after 60.
“Visiting Japan, it was clear the awareness there of the need for more protein is high, and there are many products being supplemented with protein additives.”
Japan has one of the highest proportions of seniors in the world with about a third of the population aged over 65, while its population continues to shrink, last year by 820,000 with no sign of that slowing.
“It is probably at the most extreme end of the age spectrum, but it highlights where other markets are heading.”
Fonterra is seeing greater potential with long established clients in Japan, who due to the shrinking population are also looking to expand further into south-east Asia.
A study released last year highlighted the value of additional dairy sourced protein in seniors’ diets for improving muscle mass and bone density.
Based on a study of 7100 residents in Australian care homes with an average age of 86, those fed 1.5 times more serves of dairy products experienced a 10% rate of falls, compared to a control group where 60% suffered a debilitating fall.
The cost in broken hips from falls in elderly is estimated at about $1 billion a year throughout Australasia.
A diary-rich diet resulted in greater stability, thanks to increased muscle mass and stronger bones.
Estimates are that by 2050 the global over-65 demographic will comprise two billion people, double what it is today.
Fonterra is also exploring its 300-plus library of probiotic cultures, having already isolated and trade protected two specific probiotic strains LactoBHN001 and BifidoBHN019, aimed at improving gut health and reducing gut infection.
Developing the ability to capsulate the probiotics so they make it to the human gut without degradation has been a game changer. It enables them to be inserted into other products.
Swales said an Asian client is looking to include a probiotic “shot” in served coffees, for example.
“As we start to better understand the brain-gut health axis, we are working to unlock more strains that offer health benefits there.”
On the broader global supply of dairy, Swales said she saw little evidence of anywhere that dairy production was on the rise, although the USA could be harder to determine.
Fonterra has recently made an investment with Dutch company Royal DSM to ramp up precision fermentation R&D, coupling Fonterra’s dairy knowledge with DSM’s fermentation techniques to enable synthetic milk production to be explored.
“We do not see it as a case of either or, demand is strong for quality dairy products and there are still a further two billion people to come that will require nutritional products,” she said.
She said given the smaller volumes of milk alternative dairy species like goats or sheep generate it was unlikely the co-operative would be investing in such ventures in coming years.