Advancing infant health


The power of milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) Lipids in infant formula and beyond.

Fonterra's research and development efforts, particularly in MFGM lipids, are driving significant advancements in infant nutrition and cognitive health. Their works aims to bridge the gap between breastmilk and formula, providing parents with options designed to incorporate elements of breastmilk composition to help deliver more optimal nutrition for formula fed infants.

Their research extends beyond infancy, showing potential benefits for adults' cognitive health and mental well-being, exemplifying the Co-op’s dedication to shaping a legacy of ingenuity in infant nutrition and cognitive health across all life stages.

At the Fonterra Research and Development Centre (FRDC) in Palmerston North, New Zealand, a group of science experts are at the forefront of innovation on milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) lipids. MFGM is a hot topic in infant nutrition for cognition which is found in breastmilk but only in low concentrations in standard infant formula. Angela Rowan, Head of Innovation Specialty and Powders, Alastair MacGibbon, Principal Research Scientist, and Kevin Ma, Research Scientist, collectively spearhead Fonterra’s efforts to understand breastmilk composition to inspire the development of infant formula ingredients that provide the best possible nutrition for formula fed babies.

Angela Rowan, Head of Innovation Specialty & Powders at Fonterra Advanced Nutrition

Improving breastfeeding rates and supporting the evolution of infant formula

Breastfeeding is the best start for babies providing gold-standard nutrition, and global efforts to educate and enable women to breastfeed their children have seen exclusive breastfeeding rates rise to nearly 50%1. However, a lot of parents can't or choose not to breastfeed and therefore infant formula is only safe and suitable alternative.

"We know that these parents are looking for a formula that incorporates elements found in breastmilk and designed specifically for their baby's nutritional needs." Angela Rowan emphasises. "We embarked on this journey to help bridge that gap and provide options for advanced formula design that aligns with parental preferences."

Catering to changing parental preferences 

An infant formula that is designed to incorporate elements in breastmilk is a key purchase driver for parents who formula feed. Dr. Alastair MacGibbon notes, "Understanding the complex composition of breastmilk is an important starting place for innovation in infant formula. But beyond thinking about composition, we also need to make sure that any new ingredients deliver benefits for infants that parents are looking for, such as supporting brain development. We have conducted 3 clinical trials on MFGM ingredients involving over 500 formula fed infants - the most recent is still underway. Our results show that MFGM-fortified formula has positive effects on cognitive and behavioural outcomes. It's about ensuring optimal development for formula-fed infants in a changing landscape." Fonterra’s MFGM Lipid ingredients are patent-protected for their cognition benefits for infants and children.

Dr. Alastair MacGibbon, Principal Research Scientist at FRDC

Our innovation lies in our deep expertise on milk and being able to translate that to the development of ingredients that will improve the composition gaps in traditional formulas.

Kevin Ma, Research Scientist, fonterra Research and Development Centre

Deep expertise in milk composition

For almost a century, researchers at FRDC have performed meticulous analysis of dairy, including understanding breastmilk composition and identifying gaps that traditional formulas fail to address. Kevin Ma has published these data2 and underscores their importance, saying, "Our innovation lies in our deep expertise on milk and being able to translate that to the development of ingredients that will improve the composition gaps in traditional formulas. This approach is not just about meeting nutritional standards, it's about pushing the boundaries to enhance developmental outcomes for infants."

Kevin Ma, Research Scientist at FRDC

Fonterra's MFGM Lipid 100 and MFGM Lipid 70 offer the ability to restore key MFGM components and play important roles in brain structure and function. Key points about these products include:

  • MFGM Lipid 100 and MFGM Lipid 70 can restore key MFGM components such as gangliosides and phospholipids to be more similar to breastmilk. Ganglioside and Phospholipids play important roles in the brain structure and function.
  • MGFM Lipid 100 has been clinically tested in infants and showed improved cognitive development.
  • MFGM Lipid 100 is used in Fonterra's ANMUMTM consumer brand infant formula, launched in 2015.
  • Their ingredients portfolio also contains MFGM Lipid 70, a whey-based MFGM-enriched ingredient.

Impacting beyond infancy to all stages of life

Fonterra’s innovation programmes on MFGM phospholipids extend far beyond infancy. Having invested over NZ$10m in MFGM research looking at brain development and cognition, Angela Rowan reflects on the impact: "Our research has shown that increasing formula MFGM content positively influences various aspects of infant brain development including cognition, memory, behaviour and social-emotional development. The exciting part is realising these benefits may not be confined to infancy. We continue to investigate the benefits of consuming MFGM phospholipids across the life stages and establish their impact on adults' cognitive health and mental well-being. Our most recent study in 120 young adults aimed at investigating the effects of MFGM phospholipid supplementation. The results showed that the participants experienced improvements in mental well-being and a reduction in stress levels.”

Fonterra’s research and development programme on MFGM has been recognised by industry, receiving several innovation awards. The journey from innovation in infant formula for cognitive development benefits to uncovering mental wellbeing solutions for adults is a testament to FRDC's generational impact over almost 100 years. Angela Rowan emphasises, "We're not just addressing current needs; we're laying the groundwork for future generations. FRDC's commitment to scientific excellence in milk is shaping a legacy of ingenuity in infant nutrition and cognitive health, across the life stages."