IOI Corp upbeat on Betapol

KUALA LUMPUR: IOI Corp Bhd is upbeat on the prospects of its palm oil-derived nutritional additive Betapol, which is increasingly being used to fortify infant milk powder globally, especially in China.

“Breast is best. But don’t be sad, if you can’t. Uncle Lee can help,” said its chairman Tan Sri Lee Shin Cheng in reassuring mothers of newborns, who are unable to breastfeed.

He was responding to a media query on IOI Corp’s supply of the nutritional additive to global baby milk powder manufacturers.

When breast-feeding is not always possible, infant milk powder fortified with Betapol provides the next best option, Lee told Business Times in a telephone interview.

Betapol is the first and foremost vegetable fat blend created specifically to mimic the human milk fat structure, said IOI Corp, adding that it offers the same nutritional benefits and positive health effects as breast milk.

Its studies have shown that infant formulas containing Betapol reveal better calcium absorption, rise in the babies’ bone density and softening of stools.

Infant formula is generally used from birth through 12 months, but more targeted nutritional products may be used till up to 24 months. The global market for infant formula has been growing, particularly in China, despite its one-child policy.

Lee said China’s Ministry of Health has approved Betapol as an additive in infant milk powder since 2008.

Milk powder is a sensitive matter in China after a 2008 scandal involving milk tainted with melamine that led to the deaths of at least six infants and made many thousands ill. The incident hit the reputation of local dairy firms but boosted the market share of imported brands, such as Danone SA, Nestle SA, Mead Johnson Nutrition Co and Abbott Laboratories.

In recent years, domestic milk powder makers in China, in their bid to boost the quality of their products, started incorporating Betapol into their formulation. They include Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Co Ltd, China Mengniu Dairy Co Ltd, Feihe International Inc and Heilongjiang Wondersun Dairy Co Ltd.

The global human milk fat replacer market is a duopoly, of which Betapol competes with InFat. The latter is marketed by Advanced Lipids, a joint venture between Enzymotec Ltd of Israel and AarhusKarlshamn (AAK), the downstream arm of United Plantations Bhd. 

InFat is a palmitate fat that mimics the composition and properties of human milk fat. Peer reviewed research and clinical studies have also shown InFat, like Betapol, is beneficial to infant intestinal health and bone strength.

When asked if IOI Loders Croklaan has an upper hand over rival AAK in capturing China’s market, Lee said his team is committed to better serving the clients.

He said IOI Corp’s arsenal of 17 patents provide worldwide intellectual property protection for the process currently used in the company’s dedicated Betapol facilities in Malaysia and the Netherlands. 

It involves the enzymatic acidolysis of a palm stearin component with oleic acid to produce an OPO-type fat. By protecting its product ideas, IOI Corp is seen to increase its dairy customers’ chances of success with their premium offerings.

Separately, while conducting a media tour of IOI Corp’s refinery complex in Pasir Gudang, IOI Loders Croklaan Asia chief operating officer Michael van Sallandt assured milk companies security of supply.

“Our Betapol plant here in Johor is able to churn out 10,000 tonnes a year. We’re also setting up a blending facility in Xiamen, China, so as to be closer to our clients. So far, there are 25 infant milk powder brands using Betapol,” he added.