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Will an Israeli plant-based infant formula go mainstream?
‘It is a near-perfect alternative to breastmilk,’ says Else Nutrition’s cofounder about the almond-buckwheat product heading to market in 2020.
Providing an infant with proper nutrition seems like a no-brainer: Breastmilk or cow’s milk. But what if a child is allergic? Is lactose intolerant? Until now, there hasn’t been a good alternative.
Else Nutrition, a Tel Aviv-based company, hopes to solve this dilemma for infants and toddlers.
While Else was founded in May 2018, the product has been in research-and-development for five years. The company of only 10 employees has huge plans for expansion in the future.
Hamutal Cohen Yitzhak, one of the co-founders, says the plant-based formula composed of almond milk and buckwheat will launch on the market next year.
“It is a near-perfect alternative to breastmilk,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
Yitzhak and the company’s other cofounders launched Else mainly out of their own pockets. They each have backgrounds in the infant nutrition industry in Israel. Yitzhak was previously Israel’s category manager for Similac infant formula at Abbott Labs.
Born out of a granddaughter’s need
The story begins with cofounder Uriel Kesler. His 10-month-old granddaughter was rejecting breastmilk and cow’s milk and even a special hypoallergenic formula.
“She was allergic to everything the industry could offer her because she couldn’t consume milk or soy,” recalls Yitzhak.“She was vomiting up almost everything she was consuming, and she had respiratory issues as a result.”
At the time, Yitzhak and Kesler had been working together for nearly a decade of developing baby snacks.
They began experimenting to find a solution for Kesler’s granddaughter, and quickly found substantial similarities in the makeup of almonds to breast glands. Once they gave the child almond milk, her health began to improve.
But almonds alone did not provide the balance of nutrients a toddler needs to develop properly.
“We had a significant gap in terms of proteins and carbohydrates. So, we searched for another plant that could bring the full amino acid profile of protein. And we found buckwheat,” Yitzhak explains.
“The combination allowed us to imitate breastmilk composition in terms of nutritional value.”
Vegan and healthful
While the main target market includes infants and toddlers with an intolerance to mainstream formulas, Else is “absolutely” an alternative for parents who choose a vegan lifestyle and want their babies to have a plant-based diet as well, Yitzhak says.
“’ Vegan,’ however, is not a synonym for ‘healthy.’ You can have a vegan product that is intensely processed and that has many ingredients that are not good for you. Our product is plant-based, vegan and also extremely healthy and all-natural,” she says.
“It will take time, but we are going to educate people about this.”
Childcare expert and daycare owner Hagit Miller tells ISRAEL21c that there is no perfect alternative to breastmilk.
“But for those who choose not to breastfeed [or cannot breastfeed], there must be an option that provides a complete proper nutritional diet” without supplements, Miller says.
Up until now, the alternatives have been far less than perfect.
“There is scientific data that proves that soymilk can damage the hormone system,” Yitzhak says.
Soymilk was once the number one formula replacement. Another company is trying to develop a similar product using rice but was unable to eliminate arsenic from the composition.
Coming to online stores first
Product photo courtesy of Else Nutrition
Else Nutrition has spent the last five years developing and testing the product, and Yitzhak says it will hit online stores in North America in 2020, and a few months later in Europe.
The formula will cost around $27-$30 for 23 ounces of powder.
Yitzhak anticipates that Else eventually will be sold in health food stores, and even in supermarkets one day.
The plant-based baby formula already has claimed several awards including “Best health and diet solution” at the Global Food Innovation Summit in 2017 in Milan.
Else Nutrition was a finalist at the startup competition at FoodTechIL in September, and at the Foodbytes London pitch competition in November.
Recently, a group of Canadian investment brokers from Canaccord Genuity Corporation invested $5.7 million in Else Nutrition. As a result, the company is now listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, one of the biggest in the world.
Now the company is focused on mass production in order to prepare for next year’s launch. According to Yitzhak, this is just the beginning.
“We hope to develop products based on this concept for the entire family from infants to the elderly.”