New survey:

What drives infant/baby formula purchases?

A multi-country study of mothers’ buying criteria reveals product preferences, knowledge of and attitudes toward specific ingredients, as well as brand loyalty in seven countries around the world

For infant/baby formula manufacturers, knowing more about mothers’ purchasing decisions is an important part of developing or refining products. And, for the ingredient producers that serve such manufacturers, it is also essential to understand the knowledge and perception of the ingredients in these products. Arla Foods Ingredients sponsored a global survey, conducted by YouGov across 7 countries: China, Indonesia, South Korea, USA, UK, France and Germany. Its target was educated women aged 18-45, with children aged 4 years old or younger, and/or who were pregnant when interviewed. And the answers, as expected, have provided useful insights into how best to meet the needs of this important group.

The web-based survey, answered by 5,658 respondents, was fielded in two rounds*, with the second round yielding deeper data on geographical split and specific preferences. Three aspects, in particular, were examined:

  • Buying preferences
  • Ingredient knowledge and prioritisation
  • Brand loyalty

The results for each aspect are briefly summarised below.

Buying preferences
The study began by updating knowledge of mothers’ buying preferences for infant/baby formula ingredients of all common types. To evaluate the suitability of infant/baby formula products, respondents primarily relied on advice or information from pediatricians, previous experience and their own research. Features ranked as most important were high quality, health benefits for the infant and brand reputation, while price was of far lesser importance, especially among Chinese mothers. When asked about the preferred health benefits, mothers preferred products that encouraged healthy growth and which supported the immune system and gut health, with the least interest shown in aspects of sleep improvement or avoiding reactions in children with allergies. The results also indicated that product claims about being GMO-free and organic may increase buying interest most across the markets.

Ingredients knowledge and preferences
Which ingredients did respondents claim to know of? Lactose, probiotics and prebiotics topped the list, while OPO and osteopontin were at the bottom. Knowledge varied by region, with Chinese mothers claiming to know most about the various ingredients typically associated with infant/baby formula products, while Europeans were least knowledgeable (with the notable exception of lactose). 

When asked about the ingredients they favoured in infant/baby formula products, mothers most frequently chose probiotics, DHA and prebiotics. Lactose and OPO, however, were most frequently indicated as ingredients mothers would prefer their product not to contain. 

In the second round of the survey, mothers were also asked to prioritize among the ingredients they had categorized as preferable. This time, the top-ranked ingredients were DHA, followed by probiotics and whey proteins, while the least prioritized were casein protein, ARA and lactoferrin.

Respondents were then asked which whey-derived ingredients they knew of. Whey proteins closely followed lactose, prebiotics and probiotics on this list, with 46% of respondents across the countries claiming some knowledge of whey protein as an ingredient in infant/baby formula. When asked about whey protein hydrolysates, phospholipids and alpha-lactalbumin, respondents indicated somewhat lower awareness, with 32%, 31% and 29% respectively – though they were slightly more familiar with these ingredients than with milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) and osteopontin (OPN) at 20% and 16% respectively. 

Across all countries, 38% of women who claimed to be familiar with specific ingredients stated a preference for a product containing whey proteins. This preference was highest in China with 55%. Alpha-lactalbumin and whey protein hydrolysates were popular, too, scoring both 31% across all countries and highs of 55% and 53%, respectively, in the Chinese market. At the end of the whey derived ingredients list were OPN, phospholipids and MFGM, scoring 28%, 28% and 25% respectively. 

In the second round of the survey, mothers were asked to prioritize among their preferences, and this time whey derived ingredients were frequently scored high among the others: Whey proteins (3rd), MFGM(4th), whey protein hydrolysates (6th), Alpha-lactalbumin(8th).

Brand loyalty
The survey also touched upon brand loyalty aspects. Here, most of the respondents with children had, at some stage, switched brands. In fact, just 27% of respondents had never done so. UK and German mothers were the most loyal, with 44% and 37% of them not having switched brands, respectively, while only 11% of Chinese mothers had remained loyal to a single brand. Interestingly, 24% of those who have made a switch have done so between multiple brands, and few return to a previously tried brand (only 11% of switchers). Reasons for this varied greatly from country to country, but overall, the child’s nutrition needs and ability to digest the product drove switching behaviour.

Curious for more?
An executive summary of the survey can be downloaded below. If you work for an infant/baby nutrition manufacturer or distributor, you are most welcome to contact our experts for access to the complete data set and insights.


*The first round of the survey was conducted in China, South Korea, France, and UK ; while the second round was conducted in China, Germany, USA and Indonesia

Arla Foods Ingredients supports the WHO recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two or beyond in combination with nutritionally appropriate complementary foods.