HAMUTAL YITZHAK, CEO OF ELSE NUTRITION - INTERVIEW WITH WBM TOP 100 INNOVATION CEO
Hamutal Yitzhak is a successful serial entrepreneur and inventor, with a series of global patents and innovations to her name, coupled with a portfolio of novel innovative foods that are nutritious, nourishing and preventive.
Hamutal has dedicated most of her professional life to infant & child nutrition, and in recent years has relentlessly focused on the mission of making healthier cleaner foods accessible and available to everyone. In the last few years, Hamutal has been a trail blazer in this industry and has challenged the global infant formula industry by developing and producing natural clean foods, focusing on the transparency of ingredients and manufacturing processes to provide the cleanest and healthiest products possible. In addition to bringing about paradigm-shifting change to the infant nutrition sector on a global scale, the advancement has also stemmed from placing new thinking and emphasis on early childhood nutrition – merging the sciences of both infant nutrition and alternative health food.
Hamutal is the Chairwoman, CEO & Co-Founder of Else Nutrition Holdings Inc, which developed “Else” – the first 100% plant-based, globally patented dairy-free and soy-free baby nutrition, providing the first-ever viable alternative to traditional infant nutrition based on cow's milk and soy - which have been the standard for over 100 years. Else Nutrition was recently recognized by the TSX, a 2021 Venture 50TM Company, for best performance.
13 years ago Hamutal Co-founded “HEART” vegan baby snacks, changing the face of the Israeli baby food industry, developing, and producing a series of 100% plant based, clean and healthy baby food snacks, which later became Israel's leading brand in the baby snacks category. Prior to that, Hamutal held various senior management positions within global healthcare companies. She also spearheaded the campaign against BPA in Israel, one of the first countries to recognize the dangerous substance, and increased public awareness of the use of BPA in baby bottles in the early 2000’s, offering consumers the first safe alternative, a step that drove other western countries to follow the same pathway, until banning BPA from baby products became global consensus. Hamutal holds a BSc with honors in Psychology and General Science and MBA from Tel Aviv University. She lives in Tel Aviv, married and is a mother of 4.
MAIN FEATURE INTERVIEW: HOW ELSE NUTRITION IS RESHAPING INFANT NUTRITION
WBM: Your career mission has been to improve infant and child nutrition. Share with us some milestones along the way.
HY: Throughout my career, I have always aspired and struggled to create better, healthier, and more sustainable nutrition to improve the lives of our little ones. As a mother of four who previously led Abbott’s infant nutrition category in Israel for many years, I was greatly exposed to the degree of difficulty that more than half of the babies had with the formulas available on the market, and consequently helpless parents who had to deal with it. These included intolerances (such as lactose intolerance that all my kids experienced), allergies, and failure to thrive, among other issues. A few years later, my dear friend, and Else’s co-founder, Uriel, had mentioned his granddaughter was severely intolerant to dairy and soy formulas – to such an extent that she was failing to thrive, and her life was at risk.
We could not sit on the sidelines any longer, something needed to be done about this crisis! This triggered the start of our Else formula development. As strong supporters of alternative medicine and plant-based nutrition, we knew that the formula would have to be free from soy, dairy, harsh chemicals, and ultra-processing – and of course, meet all the regulatory standards for infant nutrition. We found that the combination of almonds and buckwheat had a very similar fatty and amino acid profile to human breast milk – and these plant ingredients were natural, healthy, tolerable, and easily digested by the babies suffering from the above-mentioned issues. We tested the initial prototype on Uriel’s granddaughter, and, with amazement, it saved her life! Finally, a formula she could receive real nourishment from. We knew we were headed in the right direction, so we harnessed science and technology to complete the prototype development. It was a long technological and scientific trajectory to establish a product that met the nutritional composition of human breast milk like we did, as well as the rest of the regulatory criteria. Then we had to find a manufacturer, initial funding, grow a team, and market our product.
The innovation and excitement has yet to slow down for us as we continue to experience more milestones such as growing a team of employees and advisors from Nestle, Abbott, Mead Johnson Danone, and other known infant formula companies. We have expanded to retail stores and online platforms across America – Amazon, Sprouts, and iHerb to name a few. And we continue to work on developing new products to reach infants, children, and one day adults, such as our newest product launch: Complete Nutrition Kid’s Shakes in Vanilla and Chocolate flavors. It is excited to be at the forefront of the plant-based infant and children’s nutrition space and to change the lives of people around the world through clean, sustainable, healthy alternatives to their nutritional needs!
"We knew that the formula would have to be free from soy, dairy, harsh chemicals, and ultra-processing – and of course, meet all the regulatory standards for infant nutrition."
WBM: What is wrong with the status quo in the infant nutrition industry, how is Else Nutrition solving this?
HY: The status quo in our industry is virtually lack of choice. 95% of the $80BN global infant nutrition industry is based on a single source: Dairy. One problem with dairy is that it is a shrinking industry on a global level because of consumers’ concerns (allergenicity, intolerance, GMOs, contaminants and impurity residues, high levels of greenhouse gas emission, etc.). These issues are relevant to both general foods as well as infant nutrition.
The other problem that heightens the consumers’ concerns above is the fact that infant nutrition is typically made from ultra-processed ingredients. In other words, the formulas are usually based on fractionations and derivatives of cow’s milk (such as whey and casein, or isolated proteins) rather than being used in their optimally digestible, whole nutrition form.
Else Nutrition is creating the world’s first alternative that addresses these two issues by envisioning and creating an entirely new approach to nutrition. We have invented one that is revolutionizing the current protein source to a soy free, plant-based protein derived from clean, whole food ingredients that undergo minimal processing, because it is the way nature created foods to be naturally digested for optimal nourishment. We do not alter the chemistry of the plant, just the texture – making us the cleanest and most natural production process in our industry. Real alternatives are now a reality for parents who seek cleaner, whole, balanced, and sustainable ways to nourish their children. We are creating an entirely new category with next generation production processing, unlike the way infant and toddler nutrition have been produced since the beginning.
At Else Nutrition, we are using the cleanest, most natural, minimally processed method on the market for optimal digestive health and nourishment. On top of this, we have entered a market with no real choice for parents in the past 120 years by providing a soy and dairy free alternative to their toddler’s nutritional needs. This has improved the lives of our little ones immensely.
WBM: Talk to us about the scale of Else Nutrition's disruption of the industry and some of the reasons for this success?
HY: Before I dive into what we do, it is important to note that organic and/or plant-based labels on nutrition do not mean that the source is free from ultra-processing – a deteriorating factor in one’s health. At Else Nutrition, we are using the cleanest, most natural, minimally processed method on the market for optimal digestive health and nourishment. On top of this, we have entered a market with no real choice for parents in the past 120 years by providing a soy and dairy free alternative to their toddler’s nutritional needs. This has improved the lives of our little ones immensely.
We have very strong indicators coming directly from our growing North America (NA) customer base who have shared very emotional stories about how Else has touched their family, and their little ones’ lives. These stories range from solving digestive issues to being the only viable nutrition/formula choice their children will tolerate, to helping with failure to thrive, skin and behavioral issues. Else proudly records dozens of reported cases every month testified by its thankful customers in NA. They keep piling up and motivate the Else team to further develop solutions also for adults with special dietary needs as well as other groups of people in need.
We are continuing to expand and innovate our patented technology into other areas, to help solve other nutrition-related issues – malnutrition, chronic metabolic disorders stemming from consumption of inflammatory, highly processed foods and many more critical needs.
"Else is a disruptor in its field that brings a first and exclusive IP protected alternative to a huge $80BN global market with no real competition – this is a genuine Blue Ocean. Else has not yet touched the tip of the iceberg with its potential revenues and global expansion."
WBM: For the investors, why is Else Nutrition a great investment now and for the long term?
HY: Else is a disruptor in its field that brings a first and exclusive IP protected alternative to a huge $80BN global market with no real competition – this is a genuine Blue Ocean. Else has not yet touched the tip of the iceberg with its potential revenues and global expansion in both the infant nutrition industry, as well as in other fields it’s already expanded to (such as the kids’ market with our new Plant-Based Kid’s Shakes products or the adult nutrition series Else is currently developing).
Else's management has proven its ability to execute fast growth and provide fundamental needs. Else plays in the plant-based space where investment craze skyrocketed when Beyond Meat launched its IPO in 2018. The market has shown no signs of slowing since, offering plant-based food companies like Else Nutrition the opportunity to capitalize on the growing demands from consumers seeking healthy alternatives for themselves and their families. As mentioned in the last question, our nutrition has been making a clear and deep impact on the lives of customers, often in ways that were beyond our expectations. Else is bringing a real choice in a space where little was previously available.
WBM: Talk to us about the plant based industry - what are some of the trends in customer expectations and how is Else Nutrition responding?
HY: I believe that it’s becoming more and more expected by customers to be able to have the same satisfactory taste and texture from plant-based foods as their animal-based standard options – and even exceed them in some cases. Beyond palatableness, the health benefits and nutritional composition of plant-based foods should surely overshadow their counterparts.
Then there is the sustainability and morality aspects which drive consumers to pay comparatively higher prices for these more sophisticated food options. I believe Else succeeded in ticking these boxes in the toddler space – as can be told by our fast growth thus far, but still has a way to go with our constant desire to improve, invent, expand, and innovate in this plant-based space.
WBM: What are some of the challenges faced by the industry and how is Else Nutrition contributing to overcoming them?
HY: The industry is crowded with ultra-processed ingredients, especially derived from dairy. Health concerns include digestive and development issues, followed by more severe chronic and metabolic diseases. Environment concerns include large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and GMOs, among others. At Else Nutrition. we are dramatically helping to reduce the carbon footprint of the formula industry, since ours is significantly lower than that of the resource heavy cow’s milk-based industry options.
We are also ushering in a Clean Revolution, providing real, clean label healthy nutritional foundations for today and tomorrow’s generations. As we are a young company, we are going to be implementing CSR programs soon, which will be focused on feeding the world better, and promoting a greener future. More details to come.
WBM: Your background is scientific, you are an inventor with many global patents. How did you make the transition to become an entrepreneur and how do you balance both aspects?
HY: My academic and occupational background is commercial, but I have acquired an extensive, self-taught nutritional and scientific knowledge base in my many years of being involved in the medical nutrition, and specifically the infant nutrition space. The combination of the two, commercial and scientific disciplines, as well as my entrepreneurial spirit, has always pulsed through me and my other partners, bringing Else to where it is now. As far as I’m concerned, it's a winning combination as many founders with scientific backgrounds have a hard time in the commercial context, whilst executives find it hard to generate innovation due to lack of professional knowhow and expertise. The ability to look at this industry through an unconventional prism and not through the paradigm conventions has made all the difference in Else’s pathway toward global success.
"What motivates me every day is the constant desire to dramatically improve the health of new generations and the sustainability of our planet - which is, sadly, in a dismal state in many respects. My team and I want to carry the torch and lead this innovative movement for real healthy nutrition."
WBM: You lead a young company that has experienced fast growth in a short time. Looking back on this, what do you say to yourself and what drives you to continue breaking new records?
HY: I strongly believe that one day we will not need drugs for chronic and metabolic conditions at all. There will be nothing to cure in these areas when the focus shifts to preventative medicine through nutrition and lifestyle, rather than drugs or invasive treatment. Nutrition is the key to long-term health. Therefore, what motivates me every day is the constant desire to dramatically improve the health of new generations and the sustainability of our planet - which is, sadly, in a dismal state in many respects.
My team and I want to carry the torch and lead this innovative movement for real healthy nutrition – beyond just plant-based, but anti-inflammatory, minimal and clean processing! Of course, this desire must be embodied in an enterprise framework of strict business parameters for profitability, rapid growth, and concern for the benefit of stakeholders and investors. We strive to achieve all of these facets at Else on a day-to-day basis.
WBM: As a woman leader and innovator with many accomplishments and a track record of overcoming obstacles. What would be your advice for upcoming women entrepreneurs and leaders?
HY: My favorite life lesson quote is “How do I define success? Success has no rules.” Interpreting this lesson into my own life, I believe that a successful person is someone who has never given up on their dreams and never stops trying to achieve them, despite what obstacles get in their way.
So, my advice to women entrepreneurs and all leaders out there is: Never give up! This is the case even when you are downgraded, taken for granted, or not taken seriously at all. I won’t lie to you and say it was easy, before being a CEO I experienced all of this on a regular basis. When I first started this journey almost 9 years ago, people would continually tell me we are crazy, challenging the status quo in this way, and that there is no need in what we offer to the market. Skepticism was all around me and I had to remain focused and steadfast on our goal and mission.
This persistence has continued to serve me well with all the unexpected challenges posed by COVID-19 during our year of launch. I always kept a positive mindset. I removed myself from negative thoughts and continued on my persistent path toward success – I did not give up.
The other major factor in my success was to surround myself with positive, trusting people in business, from my community to employees to vendors and partners. Good people will allow you to continue with your positive, success-oriented mindset. While it can be difficult to follow your dreams against all odds, it is important to continue striving toward your goals. To add, once you successfully achieve one dream, continue to aim for new and higher goals. Never stop believing in yourself.
Find out more about Else Nutrition: www.elsenutrition.com
Read our other interview with Hamutal Yitzhak
Photography by YA studio IL
Hamutal Yitzhak, Else Nutrition's CEO and Chairwoman is featured on the cover of World Biz Magazine Q3, 2021 Issue - Click on the image below to view the digital edition.