Growth Asia Summit 2022

East meets West: Yili on how dairy is improving public health in China – exclusive Growth Asia Summit insights

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Chinese dairy giant Yili has highlighted the vital, science-backed role that dairy is playing in improving consumer nutrition and public health in the country, by combining both Eastern and Western technologies. ©Getty Images
Chinese dairy giant Yili has highlighted the vital, science-backed role that dairy is playing in improving consumer nutrition and public health in the country, by combining both Eastern and Western technologies. ©Getty Images

Related tags Yili Growth Asia 2022

Chinese dairy giant Yili has highlighted the vital, science-backed role that dairy is playing in improving consumer nutrition and public health in the country, by combining both Eastern and Western technologies.

It is no secret that the Chinese government has rapidly accelerated its focus into the dairy sector​ over the last few years, believing this to be a core of a balanced diet and vital source of protein and minerals that needs to be strongly encouraged amongst local consumers, advising a daily intake of 300g.

One of the country’s largest dairy companies Yili has taken the importance of dairy a step further, beyond the provision of just protein or vitamins of calcium from milk and other common dairy products.

It has conducted in-depth research to develop dairy-based products specifically targeting consumers at different life stages with the help of both Eastern and Western nutritional and healthcare knowledge.

“To achieve healthy ageing, diet is definitely one of the main modifiable lifestyle factors to prevent disease and maintain good health status,”​ Yili Group Research and Development Manager Oceania Dr Philip Andrew Wescombe told the floor at the recent Growth Asia Summit 2022.

“And within diet, dairy is a very key source of nutrition – it is not just Yili that is saying this, studies in prominent publications such as The Lancet also support this, showing that in the next several decades more dairy – not less – is what is needed to improve nutrition for consumers everywhere.

“Dairy has its fair share [of naysayers] linking it to issues such as greenhouse gases (GHG) and climate change – but research has shown that of the 20% to 30% GHG emissions worldwide that comes from the food sector, dairy makes up just 2% to 3% of that but in return for that dairy can give consumers many more nutritional benefits, providing some 49% calcium, 24% vitamin B2, 22% vitamin B12, 18% essential amino acids, 15% vitamin A and 12% of overall protein needs.

“So as can be seen, the trade-off is really pretty good, and definitely the industry is still working on the many opportunities out there to maximise dairy efficiency from a sustainability point-of-view.”

Wescombe also highlighted that instead of pitting Asian versus Western technolologies and knowledge against one another, dairy has emerged as a good platform for the merging and combination of these to deliver maximum benefits depending on the desired health outcome.

“Using the power of in-depth science and innovation, Yili has developed dairy products targeted at consumers with various needs to improve their health,”​ he said.

“Many of these have been achieved using a fusion of Asian and Western knowledge – for example, we have developed the XinHuo anti-diabetes milk powder for diabetic consumers from our Retrieval Platform for Traditional Healthcare Chinese-medicinal food ingredients, which combined low-GI and high-fibre input (from Western concepts) with kudzuvine root and solomonseal rhizome (Traditional Chinese Medicinal ingredients), all of which were combined to aid blood glucose control.

“We also have the XinHuo Bone Energy milk powder product which contains solomonseal rhizome and barbary wolfberry fruit to boost bone health, backed by many modern scientific studies to prove efficacy to all consumers.”

Dairy for all life stages

Yili also has a focus on providing specific dairy products suitable for the different life stages, from infants up to the elderly, and also firmly believes that dairy is in a prime place to provide this nutritional boost to all these consumers.

“For infant health, the focus is usually on breast milk and that is what Yili has specialised our research in in China, establishing the Chinese breast milk database using data from over 150,000 ml of breast milk collected from all over China between 2003 and 2021, so as to see what is needed to make the best infant formula suited for Chinese infants,”​ Dr Wescombe added.

“This culminated in the formulation of Yili POKI-DO, a China-specific formula based on this research targeted specifically at Chinese infants, important to supplement them with the nutrients, minerals and so on that still need to be supplemented.

This innovation also extends into the area of probiotics, with Yili also having developed a BL99 probiotic strain which it has declared to be ‘by Chinese for Chinese’​ and found to be active in not only restoring bone health but also improving gut health by regulating intestinal flora, relieving indigestion and multiple other mechanisms.

Overcoming lactose intolerance

That said, a major challenge for the dairy sector as a whole in Asia is the high level of lactose intolerance in the region, limiting the number of consumers willing to consumer dairy at effective levels.

“The high levels of lactose intolerance in Asia makes things more difficult for the dairy sector, making all this R&D and innovation less useful in a way,”​ he said.

“This is why we have developed a specific milk to target this group, the lactose-free Shuhua milk – this was shown to be consumed by 96.6% of consumers with lactose malabsorption (a milder form of intolerance) without a problem.

“We are of course not limiting this discovery to just one milk – it will be used as a base to fortify and deliver the nutrition of dairy in many different formats, so everyone will be able to benefit from this nutrition.”

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