COMMENTInfant formula is one of the fastest-growing dairy market segments globally, growing by more than €3.5bn in 2013. A large factor in this has been the ongoing increase in infant formula sales in China. Retails sales of infant formula in China is expected to grow by 21 per cent this year to 91 billion yuan (€11bn)

One common misconception is that infant formula is made-up mostly of cow’s milk. This is not entirely true. Cow’s milk and human milk vary greatly in composition. Consequently baby-food manufacturers need to formulate their products to mimic human milk, hence the name ‘infant formula’.

From the table below we notice see that even though cows milk and human milk contains similar amount of solids, cows milk contains much more protein, less carbohydrates and more minerals.

Component Human milk g / l Cow’s Milk g / l
Casein (Protein) 6.0 27.8
Lactalbumin (Protein) 9.0 4.7
Fat 41.0 37.5
Carbohydrates 69.0 48.5
Minerals 2.0 8.0
Total Solids 127.0 126.5

Source: Niro

Infant formula compositions have to be specifically formulated using various dairy ingredients in order to match the constituents of human milk. The formulations will also vary depending on the type of baby-food product produced, for example 0-six months formula, six+ month, toddler and so on. Within their production process, baby-food manufacturers will often formulate their products using demineralised whey products and lactose for the following reasons:

  • Protein: You will notice that there is a large variation in the protein types in both cows milk. During a cheese making processing many of the Casein proteins bind to the cheese and the resulting whey is high in Lactalbumin proteins. Consequently, Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) which is higher in the Lactalbumin proteins is often used by baby-food manufacturers in the their formulation process.
  • Demineralisation: The mineral content of cow’s milk is about four times higher than that of human milk. Quite often the whey products being used in the formulation will be demineralised by passing the whey through a membrane filtration process.
  • Fat: Human milk contains more fat than cow’s milk. Human milk is also contains more polyunsaturated fat acids, such as linoleic acid. Consequently baby-food manufacturers often add vegetable oils to help mirror the polyunsaturated fat content.   A key selling point of our Irish grass based production systems is the production of milk that is high in Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). 
  • Carbohydrates: Here baby-food manufacturers will use lactose largely derived from dairy products, often extracted as a by-product of some whey processes.

As we can see the manufacture of infant formula is a complex process, not only will baby-food companies require high-quality milk, they will also purchase in whey ingredients and lactose.

As we gear up to find new markets internationally for these products we are also seeing a significant increase in imports of these very same products into Ireland in the past five years.

Between 2007 and 2012 lactose imports into Ireland have increased by more than 250 per cent, Whey protein concentrate imports have increased by almost one and half times, and Skim Milk Powder (SMP) imports have almost doubled, see graph below for details.


With all the excitement post-quota dairy expansion industry stakeholders need to address the following questions:

  • Why have imports of key ingredients into Ireland increased so dramatically in recent years? In milk terms the increase in SMP and WPC alone equates to about 220 million litres of milk!
  • If farmers are going to be asked to partake in Dairy Quality Assurance schemes over the coming years, will both the Government and Bord Bia ensure that Quality Assured Irish manufactured dairy products contain ingredients of Irish origin?

Tom O’Callaghan has 15 years of global experience in the agri-food sector, including dairy, meat, consumer package goods, bio-fuels and farming-owned co-operatives. He is currently focusing on emerging area of improving efficiency through agri-analytics and is advising on agri-food and farm efficiency expansion across Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union countries. He is also the former ceo of ICOS.

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