Baby Milk Action monitors the baby feeding industry against international and UK marketing standards and campaigns for companies to bring their practices into line.
We received complaints about marketing of Kendamil infant formula at events in the Lake District, where Kendal Nutricare is based, and online. We contacted the company on 6 October 2016 raising concerns about marketing practices and labelling. After promises over several months for a detailed response, we sent a preview copy of the company profile in our Look What They’re Doing in the UK – 2017 monitoring report. This brought the following response from CEO, Ross McMahon, the next working day.
This includes promises to end some of the practices in the report and to change labels. The Kendal Nutricare profile has been updated with this information.
The response received on 13 March 2017 is included in full below in italics, with undertakings for changes highlighted in bold. Baby Milk Action comments clearly marked.
Thank you for your email. I have been overseas exhibiting “Kendamil” as part of a British Trade Mission at Gulfood in Dubai, so have had no opportunity to reply to you sooner.
Firstly we fully support the new bill being debated in Parliament on the 24th March 2017 “Feeding Products for Babies and Children (Advertisement and Promotion) Bill” and are the only manufacturer to come out in full support of MP Alison Thewliss. The draft bill contains measures that Kendal Nutricare helped propose, for example, introducing proper traceability by printing the factory export number on each tin, so that parents are not misled by seeing UK addresses on products when the products are actually packed overseas.
Our factory in Kendal is independently audited yearly and after 55 years in production has being upgraded to BRC grade AA. These audits ensure that our raw materials contain no pesticides, no heavy metals and no GMOs. We also do not use the following allergens – eggs and nuts. Our facility has been through a very thorough assessment recently and received approval from the Soil Association for the production of Organic infant formulas.
‘Kendamil’ as a new brand genuinely wants to put the best quality ingredients in to infant formula, which is why we try to educate consumers about the benefits of “whole full cream milk” sourced locally from farmers in Lancashire and Cumbria. Consider for example that “whole milk powder” costs £2,500/ton and then look at competitors’ ingredient lists beginning with Lactose at £800/ton or “Skim Milk Powder at £1,500/ton, then you will realise why the multinationals are using up to 25% vegetable oils at £1,200/ton combined with skim milk in their formulas. It is purely to save costs.
[Baby Milk Action comment: On the basis of these figures, Kendal Nutricare spends just over £2.00 for the whole milk in a 900 gm tin of formula that it sells for £9.49. While there are other processing and marketing costs, these cannot be very significant if the cost of the milk is the most significant one to consider. Not for nothing is formula seen as a highly profitable way of selling milk.]
Has anyone investigated the side effects of putting so much oil inside an infant’s stomach? is this why the multinationals have developed so many products to deal with these side effects? Kendal Nutricare is not selling ‘comfort formulas’ or ‘Good Night Sleep formulas’, because we have gathered evidence from parents that Kendamil is more wholesome and filling and more settling and that infants sleep better as a result. Please note again that, following your previous correspondence on this matter, we have not mentioned this in any material that we have produced for external use.
[Baby Milk Action comment: These are not permitted health claims for infant formula or follow-on formula and anecdotal evidence from customers does not provide the necessary substantiation. The Kendamil website continues to claim:
“Better suited for sensitive babies’ digestive systems than skimmed milk products.”
This is not a permitted health claim either.]
I believe that Baby Milk Action and First Steps Nutrition genuinely want to inform parents about which formulas are for sale in the UK and whether manufacturers are making unfounded claims. I enclose links below to scientific evidence of studies into the beneficial effects of using “whole milk fats” which contain naturally palmitic acid in the sn-2 position and I also attach a scientific paper from UC Davis and a paper from Dr Emma Derbyshire. Manchester University is finalising a report from their research study this September. The evidence attached exposes the reality that, although certain vegetable oils are needed to provide ‘Linoleic acid’ and ‘alpha linolenic acid’, the multinationals, over the years, have increased the use of vegetable oil blends only as a cost saving measure. I hope that the government Agency proposed under the new law, will carry out independent research into the benefits of whole milk fats in formula production and, in the interim, I call on First Steps Nutrition and Baby Milk Action to carry out their own independent scientific studies. The use of formulas with over 25% vegetable oils could be leading to later life obesity and this should be investigated.
[Baby Milk Action comment: Under current regulations claims are only permitted after expert assessment by the European Food Safety Authority. We have no resources to conduct our own research, nor is that our role. We have highlighted that a UK agency such as the Food Standards Agency or that proposed in the Feeding Products Bill will be necessary following Brexit to ensure claims are reliable.
[Baby Milk Action comment: First Steps Nutrition Trust publishes guides on infant milks available on the UK market and will critically appraise these references. We note, some are blogs or editorials, rather than research papers. The paper by Emma Derbyshire is an opinion piece, not a scientific study, and has been submitted for publication in the British Journal of Midwifery, which we note runs misleading formula advertising (some to be featured in the monitoring report) and published a highly-flawed article on Nestlé’s practices with multiple errors. One study supplied (Bourlieu et al) states: “Data on the structure of human milk throughout lactation and its evolution during digestion is still lacking to get a basis of optimization for infant formulas”.]
We are a large employer in the Lake District of 118 staff and we often get asked to sponsor local Food festivals and Agricultural shows who then print their own literature. In future we will refrain.
[Baby Milk Action comment: This is welcome as seeking direct contact with pregnant women and new mothers is prohibited by the marketing requirements. As the monitoring report shows, sponsoring a Baby and Chill Zone promoted the Kendamil range, including infant formula.]
The literature that Kendal Nutricare printed has already been shown to Trading Standards, and depicts stage 2 and stage 3 formulas and cereals only.
[Baby Milk Action comment: As the monitoring report explains, the leaflet refers to infant formula and quotes a mother of a 5-month-old child (too young for follow-on formula). Including pack shots of products for older babies is insufficient to bypass the law according to the Guidance Notes to it.]
We have not engaged with any toddler groups since early autumn 2016, nor have we posted anything on social media that you may see as linking doorstep milk to Kendamil.
[Baby Milk Action comment: It is unclear if this is an undertaking to permanently stop these practices. Marketing formula direct to parents is prohibited. The promotion of Kendamil “whole milk” infant formula through supposed benefits of whole milk for older children and adults is a concern because it undermines the message from the NHS and independent experts that whole milk should not be fed to babies under 12 months of age.]
Our latest formulations, with no palm oil and reduced vegetable oils and increased ‘whole milk fat’, will go for sale nationally in the UK in July 2017. This formulation is already on sale in China.
[Baby Milk Action comment: It is a particular concern if the “whole milk” claims are being made in developing countries because there is a known problem of mothers living in poverty using whole milk powder for infant feeding if they are not breastfeeding because it is cheaper.]
A mammal’s milk contains over 50% saturated fats which are needed to transport fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K into the blood. The phospholipid layer in full cream globules binds with calcium to help absorption through the intestinal wall into the blood. Vegetable oil globules are much smaller and do not help the bio-availability of calcium, because the palmitic acid is not in the sn-2 position. The Multinationals have confused parents and led them to think that saturated fats and cholesterol are bad for infants, but they are the building blocks of tissue cell structures. All mammals produce colostrum in the first 15 days of lactation, which is full of proteins and which has vital immunity properties. Thereafter mammals’ milk fats provide the nutrition and energy for their offspring. Proper nutrition with the full goodness of whole milk fats helps combat illness, as milk fats protect against bacterial LPS toxicity. As a parent of two grown adult sons, one breast fed for three times longer than the other and then both formula fed. I am thankful to say they are both equally strong and healthy.
[Baby Milk Action comment: Animal milks all differ. Cow’s milk is not necessarily closer to human milk than that of other mammals, but it is more readily available and so it is used.]
Mike, Kendal Nutricare has listened carefully to your previous recommendations and are redesigning the front of our cans to replace the word “Whole Milk” with “Contains Formulated Full Cream Milk Fats”.
[Baby Milk Action: It is welcome that the “whole milk” claim is being removed, even if this is the first time we have been informed. It is misleading: the formula has 47 other ingredients or ingredient types to address some of the differences between cow’s milk and human milk, including the whey:casein ration. Any front-of-label claims are promotional and should only be used if approved.]
We are also going to replace the illustration which was not actually a “Heart” but a drawing modified after our original submission to the Dept. of Health.
[Baby Milk Action: While it is a legal requirement to send a copy of labels to the Department of Health it does not approve these, but uses them to register what is on the market. The current formula label with what we saw as a heart logo is shown below.]
We are also considering going forward with the NHS recommendation of “First Infant Milk” from Birth to 12 months, but we wonder will this confuse parents if they just see two formulas on the shelf when our competitors have three. It would be helpful if we could state on the packaging “as recommended by WHO guidelines or NHS guidelines”.
[Baby Milk Action comment: All infant formulas on the market are currently labelled for use from 0 – 12 months and have a feeding table giving number of scoops to add to a feed throughout this period. There is no need to add a “recommended by WHO or NHS guidelines” phrase, which is ambiguous and could be read as a product endorsement. Companies promote follow-on formulas for use from 6 months of age to bypass the restriction on infant formula advertising, but they are unnecessary products according to WHO and the NHS. The same is true of the milk for older babies Kendal Nutricare suggests it will continue to market. It would be more of a public service to note on labels that all infant formulas are for use from 0 – 12 months and other formulas are unnecessary.]
We do not intend marketing products on TV.
[Baby Milk Action comment: This is a very welcome undertaking. Aside from undermining independent information on infant feeding, the cost of such advertising goes onto the price of formula for parents who use it.]
Instead we aim to offer the best quality ingredients at a competitive price to consumers. Although butter fats have increased in price by 120% so far this year, we have not increased our prices. We work closely with the British farming communities in the North West to have full “Red tractor” traceability. We also work with them to build export markets, by promoting the benefits of full cream whole milk.
[Baby Milk Action comment: We will ask Kendal Nutricare to make the same changes to its “whole milk” marketing strategy for exports, not just for the UK market.]
We encourage them to produce organic whole milk sustainably and we pay them twice the price for organic whole milk, that we would pay for normal whole milk.
We help create livelihoods for hard-working people in Britain and help feed nutritionally the most vulnerable in our society, to allow them grow up to be healthy citizens of this country.
(Response from Kendal Nutricare please reproduce this email in full, thanks)
[References are being critically appraised by First Steps Nutrition Trust]