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HMOs – a strategic lighthouse developing Human Milk Oligosaccharides

Important groups of milk sugars found only in human breast milk – driving the premiumization trend in infant formula

Children across the world grow up under very different circumstances, but what parents all have in common is the wish to give their children the best possible start. The development of a balanced microbiota – the bacterial colonization of our bodies – is key to health later in life, and it develops during the first years of our lives. Therefore, it is valuable to ensure that formula-fed babies, to the greatest extent possible, can have a good start in life by developing a bacterial profile closer to breastfed children, dominated by Bifidobacteria.

Chr. Hansen is already a strong player in probiotics for infant formula and entered the promising market for Human Milk Oligosaccharides in 2020. HMOs are important groups of milk sugars found only in human breast milk, providing different health benefits to infants in helping to develop a healthy digestive system and supporting the immune system and brain development.

The HMO business unit (the former Jennewein Biotechnologie Gmbh) under Health & Nutrition is an additional lighthouse in our 2025 Strategy. This exciting lighthouse holds great potential to leverage from our industrial fermentation expertise and to penetrate the infant formula market with premium ingredients that may play an important role for babies’ health. It also fits perfectly with our purpose to, ‘Grow a better world. Naturally’, as these are natural ingredients to create a formula closer to breast milk for newborn infants and young children.


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HMO market opportunities

HMOs are prebiotics, types of dietary fiber that the human body cannot digest. Serving as food for probiotics, they are synergistic with probiotic strains. Together they may help to support a well-balanced microbiota, supporting the development of a normal immune function. HMOs are authorized as ingredients for infant formula in North America, Europe, parts of Latin America and Asia with approvals pending in key markets such as China, India, Brazil and Argentina.

Functional ingredients, especially HMOs and probiotics, are driving the premiumization trend in infant formula and there is a significant potential to increase the penetration of these two ingredients, and to create synergistic blends, in the future. Recent studies indicate HMOs to be beneficial in adults as well due to their prebiotic effect1, implicating a broad range of potential applications.

The long-term market opportunity is estimated to be more than EUR 1 billion with an addressable market of more than EUR 400 million in 2025. With several commercialized HMOs, a strong product pipeline, a global customer base and a strong IP portfolio of more than 200 patents granted in key markets and currently building a large world-class HMO factory over the next years at Kalundborg, Denmark, Chr. Hansen is poised to be a leading supplier.




1 Craft, Kelly The Human Milk Glycome as a Defense Against Infectious Diseases: Rationale, Challenges and Opportunities, in: ACS Infect Dis. 2018 February 09; 4(2):p.77-83.

Elison, Emma, et al: Oral supplementation of healthy adults with 2’-fucosyllactose and lacto-N-neotetraose is well tolerated and shifts the intestinal microbiota, In: British Journal of Nutrition (2016), 116, p. 1356-1368.

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