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Baby-friendly blend from palm oil

Publication Date : 26-08-2014

 

Tucked away in an industrial area in Pasir Gudang, Johor, is IOI Loders Croklaan Oils Sdn Bhd’s specialty oils and fats plant.

Amid the metallic structures that sit on the 9ha plot, where the strong and sharp aroma of crude palm oil permeates the air, lies a division – Betapol – that caters specifically to the needs of babies.

Invented in 1986 by IOI Loders Croklaan, Betapol is a blend of natural vegetable oils for infant formula which mimics the fat composition and structure of the major fats in breast milk.

Mother’s milk plays a huge role in an infant’s growth, as it contains the ideal mix of nutrients, as well as proteins and fat. In fact, the fat content in breast milk provides for 50 per cent of an infant’s total energy intake.

The problem arises when breastfeeding is not possible. How then can a mother ensure that her baby get the appropriate and necessary nutrition? This is where Betapol comes in.

Final approval

The Betapol division, which currently takes up 2.8ha at the Pasir Gudang plant, can produce 10,000 tonnes of the product per year.

IOI Loders Croklaan chief operating officer Michael van Sallandt says there is still room to expand to 20,000 tonnes per year, and potentially up to 30,000 tonnes annually.

However, the company which is the downstream processing division of IOI Corp Bhd has yet to receive approval from the health ministry.

During a recent visit to the factory and IOI Corp’s plantation and mill, Sallandt says he is confident that by the end of this year, the company will receive the green light from the ministry to distribute the product here.

“We are at the very last step of getting the final approval,” he says.

Betapol has been approved in many countries including in Europe, the United States, China, Australia and New Zealand, with Indonesia and India added to the list last year. Commercial infant formula products containing Betapol are now available in 14 countries.

Market share

Besides the Pasir Gudang factory, Betapol is also produced in the Netherlands.

IOI Loders Croklaan is in the process of building another factory in Xiamen, China, to cater for its existing and potential new clients there.

The Xiamen factory will be a specialty fats plant with a capacity of 100,000 tonnes and is targeted to be commissioned in 2016.

The 180 million ringgit (US$56.94 million) Xiamen factory on a 6.5-ha plot will produce oils and fats for chocolate confectionery, bakery and margarine industries. It will also have the facilities to complete the Betapol product.

The production of Betapol will be concentrated in Pasir Gudang, then shipped to China where the final blending, refining and packing and distribution will be done in Xiamen.

“It will put us in an even better position to gain more market share in China,” says Sallandt.

He says the company is preparing for growth between 10 per cent and 20 per cent a year, for Betapol alone.

“Besides Betapol, there is only one other similar product available in the market, which is important as most companies need two suppliers of such a critical ingredient.

"Both producers share the global market equally,” says IOI Loders Croklaan Asia R&D director for nutritional lipids Dr Youchun Yan.

Sallandt says the company intends to invest more in Betapol.

“The infant formula market is a strategic growth market for IOI Loders Croklaan and we will continue to invest further,” he says.

Fat structure

According to Yan, 30 per cent of Betapol is made up of fat, which is translated to 50 per cent of an infant’s energy uptake.

The fat in breast milk contains specific triglycerides of palmitic and oleic acid (O-P-O triglycerides), while fats in general are composed in the structure of P-O-P instead.

This structural difference has a profound impact on an infant’s digestion, absorption and metabolism of nutrients, which affects the infant’s growth.

It also often leads to constipation, hard stools, and low calcium and fat uptake.

“Using milk fat as reference, Betapol is a non-conventional vegetable fat that matches almost the fatty acid composition of human milk fat,” says Yan.

By changing the composition of the fatty acids, Yan says efficacy studies for Betapol showed that there were increases in calcium absorption, fat absorption, softer stools, as well as higher bone mineral density and content.

“In constipated infants, constipation was corrected 90 per cent of the time on Betapol formula versus 50 per cent on conventional infant formula,” Yan adds.

 

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