*By Tan Heng Hong,

Concerned parents across the Asia Pacific region are turning to infant formula made with cleaner ingredient sources to minimise the risk of allergies and other health issues. They are opting for minimally processed, plant-based options to avoid potential allergens and other harmful substances in infant formula.

 At the moment, specialised nutrition for babies with allergies to cow’s milk comprises mainly of hydrolysed and amino acid-based formula as well as soy-based and rice-based formulas. However, according to a report by Healthy Eating Advisory Service in Australia, up to 40% of children who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to soy drink. The soy-free, plant-based formula can be an option for parents with toddlers with cow’s milk allergy. It can also target parents who want to give their toddlers cleaner sources of nutrients from plants. 

Going 100% vegan offers consumers a way to avoid animal milk protein that might be contaminated with antibiotics, hormones or even pesticide residues. Parents do have perceptions of plant-based foods as healthier. According to Mintel research, in Germany, three in 10 parents of children under the age of 16 see plant-based milk as healthier than dairy milk vs two in 10 of all adults. Whereas, over two-thirds of parents in the UK are worried that some baby/toddler food and drink products might contain harmful substances such as arsenic, pesticides.


Hence, brands that have turned to plant-based ingredients are also avoiding known allergens such as soy from their ingredient list.

Asia is a key market for specialised hypoallergenic infant nutrition 

With its rising middle class, Asia is becoming an important infant formula market for babies with cow’s milk allergies. 

Parents are increasingly aware of childhood allergies and are even carrying out allergy tests on their babies to ensure that the right type of infant formula is given. Seven in 10 Chinese parents aged 20-39 have run an allergy test on their baby, highlights Mintel research. Whereas one in four Chinese parents agree that ascertaining a formula’s suitability for their baby’s physical condition is the most important feature when choosing infant milk formula. 

At the same time, infant nutrition companies are actively offering concerned parents solutions and education. In China, Nestle Health Science China formed the “Anti-Allergy Alliance” with the Chinese Maternal and Child Health Association in 2020 to promote food allergy prevention and management in infants and young children.

Opportunities for plant-based, soy-free alternatives in Asia

Major infant formula companies have made their presence felt in Asia with specialised nutrition for babies with cow’s milk allergies. Opportunities do exist for plant-based, soy-free options. This is in line with Mintel’s Food and Drink Trend ‘Power to the Plants’ which highlights how there is an increase in consumer interest in the plant-based diet, especially in Asia. 

In 2020, Israel-based Else Nutrition officially started selling Else Plant-Based Complete Toddler Nutrition in the US for toddlers aged one year and above. The debut of Else Plant-Based Complete Toddler Nutrition on Amazon in August 2020 has renewed the spotlight on the use of 100% plant-based, non-dairy, non-soy options for toddlers with cow’s milk allergy. 

Else Nutrition also has plans to launch its plant-based infant formula in India and China. For China, Else Nutrition aims to enter the market in the coming two to three years through cross-border eCommerce, which facilitates the sale or purchase of products through online shops across national borders. 

In Malaysia, Nutriscience Global has captured a niche market through its Dale & Cecil brand which has plant-based, soy-free milk called Miwako A+ for children aged 1 and above. The company has started exporting to Indonesia.

The opportunity 

There exist a white space opportunity for soy-free and plant-based infant formula to fulfil the needs of parents looking for cleaner sources of infant formula for their babies and toddlers with cow’s milk allergies. Brands can also look at Asia for potential growth as awareness about cow’s milk allergies is on the rise. 

*APAC Food and Drink Analyst, Mintel