As a new parent herself, Bobbie co-founder and CEO Laura Modi remembers feeling extremely discouraged when weighing the options of infant formula available to her and her child. And despite not coming from the world of infant formula, or even food in general, she knew the industry could do better, she said.
"The feeling that I distinctly remember, other than disappointment, was also one of confidence that we have to change the industry especially when the product or brand you’re picking up was the same one you had as a child," Modi told FoodNavigator-USA.
After years spent in research and development, Bobbie launched its organic, clean label infant formula, which met higher nutritional standards than other products available in the US market, at the beginning of 2021 and strong consumer reception was immediate, recounted Modi.
"Within two weeks of launching on the market, we ended up depleting 10 months of inventory. It resulted in us having to build a waitlist of 7,000 people," she said.
"That was a real wake-up call to us for the product market fit and need for something like Bobbie. It had us wound up to get into gear very fast and say, ‘We need to get ahead of this growth.’ So we put in large orders of our product to get ahead of the supply chain woes that we now see."
By the end of 2021, Bobbie had fed over 30,000 babies, added Modi.
Meeting a higher benchmark for nutrition
While infant formula is one of the most heavily regulated consumer food products in the US, when it comes to nutrition, the standards are outdated, noted Modi.
"What became quickly apparent is that while we have some very strict regulations here in the US, many of those nutritional standards for infant formula have not evolved since 1981, which was the last time the FDA changed their nutritional standards for infant formula," Modi said.
"That was shocking to me."
Growing up in Europe, Modi instead decided to benchmark the nutritional profile of its infant formula against the European Commission's (EC) standards for industry.
For instance, per FDA guidelines, there is no minimum standard for DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid important for brain development) content in infant formula*. However, per EC guidelines (which were last updated in 2019), the inclusion of DHA is mandatory in all infant formula products.
"Following those standards puts Bobbie on the map as having very high DHA in comparison to other formulas on the US market," added Modi.
Bobbie infant formulas contain both DHA and ARA (arachidonic acid), a second source of fatty acids found naturally in breast milk to support the critical nutrition window of an infant's first year.
Another distinct nutrition feature and advantage of Bobbie infant formula is that it mirrors the 60:40 whey to casein ratio of breast milk, which according to the company makes the formula easier to digest for babies.
"One of the most predominant bits of feedback we get is that: 'My baby’s poop is amazing' [a good indicator of proper and strong digestion, explained Modi], which is like a badge of honor for moms," she said.
The company also sources all of its milk from small organic dairy farms that are part of the Organic Valley Farms' national cooperative adding an extra level of confidence and trust for the sourcing of its ingredients.
'Clean' infant formula
Aside from its strict ingredient and nutrition philosophy of what goes into its products, what does 'clean' infant formula look like? To Bobbie, it meant going through The Clean Label Project's rigorous lab testing for 130 and toxins, including heavy metals, pesticides, and antibiotics commonly found in the packaged consumer products.
Not only did Bobbie pass with flying colors, said Modi, but it met the additional criteria for The Clean Label Project's Purity Award -- the organization's highest standard -- which tests for more than 500 additional industrial and environmental contaminants and toxins, such as pesticides and plasticizers (i.e. substances that would never appear on a product label).
Bobbie also received certification as a Pesticide-Free product from The Clean Label Project, making it the first in-market formula to receive both awards.
"Our award is an example of what our consumers want," which is, "a lot of clarity around what they're giving they're consuming and feeding their baby," said Modi.
DTC future for infant formula?
Modi added that the direct-to-consumer path makes a lot of sense for Bobbie and that the company will continue to invest heavily in that area of its business as it is the most direct and convenient route for its target audience.
According to Modi, online sales of infant formula have increased 22% over the past two years.
"My belief is that infant formula is the most predictable and repeatable product within the space. There are very few products that make 100% sense to be a subscription product. Essentially, you don’t need to shop infant formula," she said.
"The idea of having to go out and buy your infant formula is a thing of the past. Our job is to make sure that you receive as much as you need, on time, wherever you are."