Company profile: Diet dedication
Mead Johnson has developed special products for children with diet-related problems for over 200 years, as Yfke Hager reports
When New Jersey businessman Edward Mead Johnson Sr established Mead Johnson in 1905, he didn't realise that his commitment to science-based nutrition would soon become personal. Inspired by his eldest son's severe feeding difficulties, Mead developed the carbohydrate milk modifier Dextri-Maltose, the world's first clinically supported infant nutritional product. Today, the company's product range includes specially formulated products for infants with diet-related problems such as cow's milk allergy, colic and eczema, as well as for children with inborn errors of metabolism, such as phenylketonuria.
Eduard Poels, vice-president of discovery, joined the company in 2007. 'Mead Johnson is genuinely passionate about providing optimal nutrition to infants and children,' he says. 'But we operate in a heavily regulated industry. This makes R&D into novel ingredients and their synergies, health benefits, biomolecular pathways, and product development both complex and rewarding.'
Mead Johnson is a global company with an international workforce. 'On many occasions there can be as many nationalities in a meeting room as there are participants,' says Poels. An overseas posting - what Poels considers 'the ultimate international experience' - is a common occurrence, allowing employees to increase cultural awareness and enhance their career options.
One such employee is Yung-Hsiung Lee, infant formula director (Asia-Pacific regional R&D), who has worked at Mead Johnson for 27 years. 'When I started my career in Mead Johnson's mid-west US operations centre, I was very impressed by the welcome I received,' he says. 'Over the years I have seen more and more foreign-born professionals hired at Mead Johnson and have a great career. With the fast growth of our Asia business I found an opportunity to work in our Asia-Pacific regional headquarters in Bangkok two years ago. It has been a great experience for me.' As a manager, Lee is responsible for making things happen efficiently. 'A food scientist spends most of the day looking for ways to deliver nutrients on target and developing manufacturing processes that deliver the highest product quality in the most cost-effective way,' he explains.
The company offers opportunities in product development, regulatory affairs, sensory analysis, quality control, production, and procurement. In R&D, there are two clear career paths: those interested in a purely technical career path could start as an entry level scientist and progress to research fellow, or make the switch to R&D management.
Carlos Aguilar, associate director of process engineering and product development for Europe R&D, is a food scientist with 16 years experience in product development and an academic background in chemical and food engineering. 'I've worked at other food companies and had a lot of pride and satisfaction when succeeding with a technical challenge or when launching a new product,' he says. 'However, I cannot compare it to the pride and satisfaction that I feel now at Mead Johnson when I hear stories of a young infant or a child with health problems but able to survive, grow and thrive when using our products.'
According to Poels, there is no such thing as a typical day at Mead Johnson. 'I could be talking science to our science advisory board, talking fundamental protein chemistry with a dairy company, or managing the innovation portfolio with marketing and development colleagues in Bangkok or Mexico City,' he says. Aguilar agrees: 'The only common denominator about my days at Mead Johnson is diversity.'
Enfamil LIPIL infant formula put Mead Johnson on the map; it was the first company in the US to include the fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) - thought to play a role in mental development - in its products. 'In the last five years our R&D budget has increased, so we have a robust innovation pipeline,' says Poels, who notes that much discovery work is carried out as open innovation. 'This means that we have the opportunity to solicit the help of world-renowned experts in a certain field and collaborate with the most prestigious knowledge institutes or vendors across the globe.'
Yfke Hager is a science writer based in Manchester, UK