‘My milk-fat infant formula is working wonders’ says Kendamil’s Ross McMahon
Kendamil’s boss is standing up for milk and lactose as a key ingredient, winning royal approval and listings in the mults. How else is he battling ‘the big boys’? So convinced is Ross McMahon in the merits of his formula milk, he has no qualms using it in his tea, his coffee – even his morning porridge. “I’m not joking, it’s so good I add a spoonful of our powder and it just creams it up nicely,” says Kendamil’s CEO and founder. “The taste is naturally sweet.” That sweetness comes from lactose, which “gets a lot of bad press for all the wrong reasons” as it is a key building block in early years nutrition, he argues. “Breast milk is 50% lactose, that’s what provides the energy for a child. When it’s metabolised, it’s done very slowly so the pancreas doesn’t get this blast of sugar and isn’t having to release insulin. “If you say the gold standard is breast milk and that’s where we want to get to, you won’t get there if you don’t use a mammal’s milk fat,” he adds. That position sets Kendamil apart from the category’s top formula brands, such as Aptamil, Cow & Gate, SMA and Hipp Organic. The “big boys”, as McMahon describes them – indeed the majority of the global baby formula market, have “the same recipes, more or less, and certainly identical vitamins and minerals”. By using cheaper, non-dairy ingredients, including soya, fish oil and even “ultra-processed” corn syrups and glucose syrups, many major brands have “destroyed the natural goodness” of dairy in their products, McMahon claims. “They have taken out the milk fat, put in vegetable fats and fish oil and created something that is not comfortable for many babies, not satisfying, is causing reflux, and colic, and leading to misdiagnosed lactose intolerances and dairy allergies.” McMahon’s message is getting through. Sales are growing fast: up 11% to £23.2m in its latest accounts for the year to 31 March. They’re up tenfold this year, he reports, thanks to recent listings with Tesco and Boots. So how has he done it? And what’s next? Born on an Irish farm and with a background in dairy microbiology, McMahon’s 34-year career in the food sector has comprised corporate roles in exports, purchasing, operations, and supply chain. He then set up his own supply chain consultancy. But his interest in dairy microbiology could not be quelled and in the wake of the 2008 Chinese babymilk scandal he spotted an opportunity to shake up the sector. “I spent five years researching the market, making sure I had overseas export customers in place, to be able to handle getting into a big league dominated by a few multinational brands,” he says.