“The rise of e-commerce platforms and the growing demand for premium organic formulas pave the way for China’s infant formula market to witness a transformational shift towards innovation and international collaboration.”
In a surprising move, Nestlé has announced plans to shut down an infant formula manufacturing plant and R&D center in Limerick, Ireland. The factory, which produces formula exclusively for export to China and Asia, employs 542 people. Nestlé’s CEO, Mark Schneider, explained that the closure is a result of declining birth rates worldwide, particularly in China. The company is looking to rebalance its operations and meet the growing demand for locally manufactured products in China.
This decision by Nestlé reflects the challenges facing the infant formula market in China. The country has seen a significant decline in birth rates in recent years, and this trend is not unique to China. Japan, South Korea, and the global fertility rate have also experienced similar declines. However, stringent regulatory standards have also affected the market. The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) implemented new policies that led to a decline in infant milk formula product registrations, forcing many companies to exit the market. The regulatory changes have also driven consolidation, with the top five players now holding a significant market share.
Despite these challenges, there are still opportunities in the infant formula market. Rabobank’s consumer food analyst, Michelle Huang, suggests that manufacturers could focus on increasing market share through new channels or product differentiation. Additionally, expanding into regions with income and growth of newborn babies or diversifying into adult and medical nutrition could be viable strategies.
Several companies have already been exploring these opportunities. FrieslandCampina Ingredients is looking for growth through a new ingredient portfolio for fortifying products aimed at children aged 3 and up. Fonterra and Danone have also been strengthening their positions in China by exploring new opportunities for their dairy-derived ingredients. Lactalis Group has entered the pharmaceutical-grade lactose market to support customers’ growth in infant nutrition and dairy products.
The infant formula market in China may be facing challenges, but there are still avenues for growth and innovation. As companies adapt to changing market conditions and regulations, they have the potential to thrive in this highly strategic market.