Sometimes you will see them dressed smartly in the office or talking to a supplier. The next day you might hardly recognise them – clad from head to toe in white, complete with hood, overall and plastic-covered shoes. Another time, you will find them in a lab coat: the diverse worlds of our baby care developers. Whether they are in the office, in the lab or in the production hall – they are equally at home in all these places. But what do they actually do? They lay the foundation stone for our infant formula and develop high-quality formulations for the best Swiss formula. All with the greatest care, special expertise and in close cooperation with other departments. And that's just for starters.
There is more to creating a formulation than getting the ingredients and nutrients right; it must be suitable for production on our state-of-the-art equipment too.
The development and optimisation of a formulation only ends when the product is successfully produced. So the right production process has to be found for each formulation too.
Formulations influenced by many factors
The law stipulates the ingredients that may or must be present in an infant formula and in what quantities. Minimum and/or maximum values are set, which may differ from region to region. Infant formula must contain vitamins such as A, D, B6 and minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium. Substances such as chromium and fluoride, for example, may be added optionally.
Alongside the legal requirements, there are additional criteria that influence the selection of ingredients. These include scientific findings and trends in daily diets of infants and young children. Depending on the recommendations, the formulation is based more on the legal minimum or maximum value of an ingredient. In addition to its own formulations, HOCHDORF also produces infant formula to meet specific customer requirements, which often include additional specifications.
And the composition of a formulation is limited by a range of factors from the start. The next challenge comes during production. It is only when the trials and analyses are underway that it becomes apparent whether a product can be produced as planned. It often becomes necessary to optimise the formulation or the production parameters after the first tests.
New development – from deciding the ingredients to first production
HOCHDORF has its own product lines with fixed formulations as a matter of principle. However, new scientific findings and changes in legislation mean that it is always necessary to adapt formulations or, as required by the new EU regulation, develop new ones. A host of minimum and maximum limit values have changed with the new EU regulation, requiring the development of new formulations and processes. The development team started working on the new EU-compliant formulations three years ago with the first clarifications, preliminary tests and initial proposals for their own new premium lines for stages 1, 2 and 3. They compared the previous formulations with the new limits and considered the compositions that would make sense. They also incorporated new findings and changed some quantities, including or excluding optional ingredients and using the opportunity to "upgrade" HOCHDORF's own formulations and incorporate the EU updates.
Producing new formulations is a huge challenge. Chemical reactions among the substances may vary depending on the proportions, which can influence the individual steps in the process. The new EU regulation, for example, required a higher content of specific polyunsaturated fatty acids. The increase in these raw materials makes the powder more susceptible to oxidation, which means it can become 'rancid' during the best-before date period. It is the task of the developers, together with quality assurance and production, to look for a solution to such problems. In the case of the new EU formulations, it was necessary to adapt the production processes.
Test productions are planned after an initial development phase in the laboratory or on the pilot plants. This involves checking how the formulation can be produced on the regular, full-scale production facilities. Nutritional value analyses of the finished powder can be carried out subsequently and the powder characteristics checked. The powder produced during the trial production cannot be sold, although it is extremely important for providing customer samples and creating storage tests. It is also used for experiments and tests, like mixing or filling trials on the tin line. The remaining powder can usually be used as animal feed.
It is important to maintain control of the entire system – from the interaction of the individual ingredients to the behaviour of the entire formulation in the large spray tower.
If problems arise somewhere, the developers work closely with the other departments to find out where optimisations can be made in the formulation or the manufacturing process. Once the ideal formulation has been found and the optimisation potential has been exhausted in terms of the production process, initial production starts. It is the final result of months of intensive work – a milestone for the project and the entire team.
The crucial link between departments
In order to ensure formulations that are optimised and conform to specifications over the long term, the development department continuously monitors and checks the continued development of the formulations. This is a complex process in itself. In addition to constantly monitoring nutritional values, it also includes optimising costs, implementing secondary supplier strategies and adapting processes. Working closely with other departments is crucial in this regard. The purchase of raw materials is regulated by procurement, quality assurance is responsible for product analyses and compliance with legal requirements, and process changes are only carried out in consultation with production. There is also close cooperation within the entire Baby Care division; teamwork is vital with the Sales and Business Development Managers, as well as with Nutrition Marketing and all the product managers responsible for packaging and registration.
Baby food tasting – they know what counts
Whether it is the production of chocolate, biscuits or yoghurt, tasting is an integral part of the production and approval process for foods. It’s not any different when it comes to infant formula. The quality assurance team organises product tastings on a daily basis. The diluted powder is compared with a reference sample and evaluated. Each participant must first taste the products for themselves and evaluate them according to specified criteria. They pay attention to the appearance of the liquid, the smell and the taste. They also check factors like the characteristics of the powder – whether it starts to be lumpy mixed with water – and the consistency of the foam. Once all the criteria have been assessed, every individual makes a statement about the infant formula. A distinction is made here between “compliant”, “tolerable” and “rejected”. The results are then discussed and reviewed within the team, with the tasting attended by representatives from quality assurance, the laboratory, production and development.
The product developers at HOCHDORF deal with the most diverse tasks. In addition to these responsibilities, they also supervise audits, support sales with customer-specific formulation requests or discuss promotion opportunities in nutritional marketing, for example. Developing infant formula might not be a simple task – but the daily work of our developers is always exciting.