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LittleOak featured in The Australian

LittleOak featured in The Australian

Breast-fed is best, but our babies deserve a ‘good’ alternative.

Australian Elke Pascoe launched LittleOak, which produces formula for babies and toddler milks developed and manufactured in New Zealand, using local goats’ milk, and selling into Australia, New Zealand, North America and Singapore. The company, which has its head office in Melbourne, is expanding into new products, including yoghurts and snacks, which will be made here.

What’s so good about your formula?

We have a formula that we consider the most natural in the world. So 99 per cent of formulas on the market are made, as a starting point, with powdered milk. A cow or a goat gets milked, milk goes to a factory, gets put into a spray dryer (and) made into milk powder. Then that milk powder is reconstituted with water and oils and the macro nutrients that are not heat sensitive and then gets put back into that spray dryer again. It gets treated again, then put through a turbine that makes the base powder which then gets blended into final formula. So three big steps in a traditional sense.

We created a farm fresh approach which is a bit like cold pressed juice. We milk our goats, we then take the milk to our factory, we put our oils and our macros in and we only spray dry once. So that means that significantly more natural goodness is retained because every time you put heat on food it denigrates the nutritional profile. So we have a heating process which gives us significantly more natural nutrition for children. We like to call ourselves the “cold pressed juice” of infant formula.

Why did you decide to build this business?

When I had my children on formula … Back then we just assumed infant formula was OK (and if) they broke out in a rash, that was just all part of children growing up, but it actually turns out that’s not the case.

When I set out to do this, it was because my son was getting a big reaction from the formula that he was on. And with my background in the healthcare space (in pharmaceutical corporate affairs) and I had actually worked in a cold pressed juice company … so when I started LittleOak I knew I wanted to change the ingredients, because I didn’t want kids having palm oil and I didn’t want them having canola and I didn’t want them having cheap synthetics. I’d say to manufacturers can we turn down the heat? They would say, yes, but it’s going to cost you about 10 times more to do it. We spent about two years on the research in New Zealand.

Why New Zealand?

When I started the company I tried to do it in Australia, but nobody would talk to me here if I had less than $10m in the bank. As a single mum I didn’t have anything like that. But in New Zealand they were really open and welcomed me with open arms because I was trying to do something different. My two children were here so I went backwards and forwards as we did the research and then it was another two years before launch.

What is the ownership structure?

I’m still a majority shareholder, but we have investors. So in the beginning I funded it and then friends and family and then we brought in an institutional board and a private equity partner.

Have you ever done anything like this before?

I started my first company in Ireland when I was 21, in public relations and communications. It is still there, run by my old business partner, and then I set up a smaller stationery company. My dad always had his own businesses, so even though I wanted to be a doctor, when that didn’t come through, I always knew I wanted to create something that could make a difference in the world.

How do you deal with the politics of “breast fed is best”?

I don’t disagree with loads of vocal groups who say that the formula format was terrible – it was terrible. Without doubt, first and foremost, it absolutely is the best thing for a child (to be breastfed), but when a mum can’t breastfeed or chooses not to because she has to work … in those instances milk formula is a necessity. So we stand firmly alongside those who need to nourish their child and our argument has always been that breast is best, but if they’re going to have formula then it needs to be really good, as natural as you can get with no synthetics.

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Author - Helen Trinca
Follow @helentrinca

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