At FI Asia in Bangkok, Innova Market Insights' Kevin Xiao revealed that digestive health was especially important to consumers in the Philippines, China and Japan.
As a result, manufacturers have taken to including hydrolysed protein in their formulas to ease digestion in infants, as well as to help them better avoid allergies.
Another ingredient that has seen high demand of late as a digestive aid in infant formula is the protein lactoferrin.
One consistent pattern observed in the Asian infant formula market is the widespread use of prebiotic fibres in formula across all age stages, while the inclusion of hydrolysed protein and probiotics depends on the stage.
The amount of hydrolysed protein in formula typically decreases gradually across the older age stages, while that of probiotics increases.
Asia is also experiencing the global trend among infant formula manufacturers to produce formula that is as similar to human breast milk as possible.
To do so, they have been adding ingredients found only in breast milk to their formulas. This includes milk fat globule membrane, which has been popular in the Asian market over the past year thanks to its purported benefits for brain health.
Also in demand are oligosaccharides, which are known for their immunity-boosting properties.
Companies like Mead Johnson have gotten in on the action, investing significantly in innovation that focuses on incorporating human breast milk ingredients in infant formula.
While protein content and digestive aids remain top priorities for parents when it comes to buying infant formula, allergies are also a significant concern.
For this reason, manufacturers will continue to include hydrolysed protein in their formulas, especially for earlier stages when children’s immunity is weaker and they are therefore more prone to allergies, said Xiao.
Hydrolyzed proteins are less allergenic for babies who are at risk for food allergies or immune diseases.