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Swiss food giant Nestlé has posted a new opening for a specialist in mammary gland development and lactation biology, signalling that it could be preparing its entry into the cell-cultured infant milk sector. While still in its early stages, the cultivated dairy and breast milk industry could cause serious disruption to the soon-to-be US$103 billion infant formula market, providing mothers and babies with a sustainable and healthier alternative source of nutrition.
Nestlé is now looking to hire a specialist in mammary gland development and lactation biology, indicating a possible move into the cell-based infant milk space. In the job posting, the Swiss food conglomerate said the position, based in its Lausanne research centre, will require a biomedical background in the field and experience in laboratory research.
It will involve “lead[ing] scientific activities in the field of human mammary gland biology and lactation using state of the art laboratory technologies,” with the goal to “refine scientific strategies” and “prepare and launch external research”.
The move is seen by industry watchers as a stepping stone for the company to enter cell-based milk and infant nutrition, a sector that is poised to disrupt the lucrative infant milk formula industry that is set to grow to more than US$103 billion by 2026 and has long been at the helm of dairy giants.
Currently, a small but rising group of food techs are leveraging cellular agriculture technology to develop alternatives that will offer greater sustainability, safety and health benefits.
While cultured meat development has, in general, dominated the cultivated alternative protein space, cell-based infant formula will be particularly invaluable from a health and nutrition standpoint, such as for mothers who may not be able to breastfeed for medical reasons and other exceptional circumstances like babies in foster care.
It will also offer mothers access to an alternate form of optimal nutrition for infants, as recent data concerning the presence of PFAS or “forever chemicals” in 100% of human breast milk samples comes to light.
If Nestlé does indeed plan to enter cell-based infant milk, it will join the likes of TurtleTree Labs, a Singapore-based startup working on lab-grown cow’s milk in addition to human milk for babies, and Bill Gates-backed Biomilq, a women-led startup in the U.S. dedicated to culturing human breast milk.
Canadian food tech Better Milk, on the other hand, is focused solely on making cow’s milk directly from mammary cells.
Speaking to Green Queen Media in a previous interview, Biomilq co-founder Michelle Egger explained that the advent of cell-based infant milk cultured from human mammary cells could be huge, not just from an environmental standpoint of taking unsustainable dairy out of the equation but in terms of health.
“The leverage point of being able to intervene to provide adequate nutrition to prevent disease, cognitive challenges, malnutrition that can cause stunting – that’s something that can change the future generations of humanity,” said Egger.
Max Rye, co-founder and chief strategist at TurtleTree shares the same belief, and sees that it’ll only be a matter of time until traditional dairy companies begin tapping into possibilities of cellular agriculture, in addition to many already dabbling with plant-based – Nestlé included, with its latest Wunda brand of pea-based milks.
“In the early days, it was mind boggling even for dairy conglomerates to see the disruptive potential of producing mammalian milk using mammary cells as a production system,” Rye wrote in a recent post commenting on Nestlé’s job posting and the launch of Mylkcubator.
Mylkcubator is the world’s first incubator program dedicated to cultured dairy alternatives, launched by Spanish dairy giant Calidad Pascual’s innovation arm Pascual Innoventures.
“This next generation of milk products means our society will have access to nutrition that has previously been inaccessible; like from human milk,” Rye continued. “If we’re going to make an impact in sustainability, it’s going to take a combination of plant-based and cell-based technologies.”
Lead image courtesy of Alamy / Getty Images.