June 2, 2022
Despite the fact that instant baby formula represents a $50 billion global market, a recent shortage shows the need for innovation in the space, reports Fortune.
America has been facing a severe—and already deadly, in several cases—shortage of formula since March, when the FDA found traces of a potentially deadly bacteria at Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan, and shut down production. Recently, the United States imported 70,000 pounds of baby formula from Europe to ease the crisis.
However, as young entrepreneurs in the food industry innovate, an alternative to baby formula is in the works. A case in point: 29-year-old Laura Katz has always been passionate about the food industry. As she learned about its broken parts, she decided to gravitate towards innovation and advancement. Aiming to revolutionize instant formula, she launched Helaina.
Helaina uses fermentation to recreate the proteins found in breast milk. At the company, the design and build team makes sure the yeast will produce first-of-its-kind, nature-equivalent breast milk components that build immunity.
These technologies will give parents access to a healthier option than instant formula, Katz believes. However, once the product hits the market, it will look like instant formula. The founder says the product will be “powdered” and “pretty recognizable,” but it will be different because it will be composed of the proteins that the yeast creates through the fermentation process. So “instead of relying on conventional sources of agriculture,” the founder explained her product was more
Six years ago, when Katz was 23, she learned through a podcast that there was a black market for breastmilk out there, and parents would go on the internet to buy breast milk from strangers because they wanted to give their infants the benefits of baby milk.
“As a food scientist at the time, seeing all this innovation going into alternative dairy and alternative meat, ok, we can make a burger bleed, but why aren’t we channeling that technology towards making the things that are so essential for babies and for parents?” she questioned.
So she set on a quest to make a product that empowered these parents and recreated the immunity properties in breastmilk, and Helaina was born.
“The infant formula category is highly regulated” and “there are a lot of safety steps.” The company has to prove that its product is safe in many different ways, which will take time, explained the founder. This means it could take years for the product to hit the market.
The founder is proud because they are the only company putting human proteins in food. “No one has done that before,” Katz said.
While the company still has a long way to go, Katz is hopeful that innovation will give many parents and infants the immunity they desire and that the food industry will shift towards healthier options.
“I think within the category that we’re in we’re starting to see—and I’m hoping to see—people shift more from focusing a lot of their effort on figuring out how to make food taste better” to “how we can use technology to make food healthier for us and more accessible,” shared the founder.
Research contact: @fortunemagazine