Danone owned Aptamil and Sprout Organic weigh in

In adult nutrition, plant-based is booming. According to EU-funded research​, Europe’s plant-based food industry grew 49% between 2018 and 2020, achieving a total sales value of €3.6bn. Meticulous Research estimates that Europe’s plant-based food market will grow at a CAGR of 10.1% from 2022 through to 2029, to reach $16.7bn by 2029.

In infant nutrition, however, plant-based is scarce. The baby formula market is dominated by bovine milk, with just a small percentage based on plant-based ingredients.

Why is this? Could there be potential for plant-based to take a greater share of the infant formula market? And what products currently exist for parents considering dairy alternatives? FoodNavigator investigates.

Is stringent regulation impeding plant-based innovation?

Regulation is at least part of the reason the plant-based segment of the baby formula category is so limited. In Europe, for example, just one plant-based protein is approved for sale in the infant formula market: soy.

“The infant nutrition category is one of the most strictly regulated product areas, and it’s understandable why that would be,” ​explained Jessica Burt, a specialist lawyer in food regulatory, marketing, and product liability at UK law firm Mills & Reeve.

“Infants are the most vulnerable sector of society…because of their development stage, but also because of their weight, and the restriction of variety within their diet means they will be most adversely affected by any contaminants in their food,” ​she told FoodNavigator.

While stringent regulations, therefore, appear necessary, they can also impede innovation. While on the one hand, regulation is helpful to researchers, providing a framework within which to work, it could also demotivate, suggested Burt. “If the entirety of plant-based products is excluded from infant formula and food, then there isn’t the incentive for research to go into [any relevant] safety issues could be avoided.”