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Dylan and Will McMahon: brothers behind the UK’s only infant formula producer | Food industry

IInstead of hanging out with venture capitalists or tech entrepreneurs like they used to, brothers Dylan and Will McMahon, and their dad, Ross, hit up the Liverpool Babies and Toddlers Fair over the weekend last to talk to parents about infant formula.

Their family business, Kendal Nutricare, founded in 2015, is the UK’s only producer of infant milk, competing with multinational food giants Danone and Nestlé. The UK market share of their Kendamil brand has grown from 0.5% in April 2020 to over 10% now.

Royal endorsements have helped: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge used his follow-up milk and porridge when weaning Prince Louis, and Kendamil received an extra boost last month when he contributed 2million cans at Operation Fly Formula, Joe Biden’s presidential mission to tackle a sudden shortage of baby milk in the United States. The brothers hope to convert the temporary waiver obtained from the US regulator into permanent approval to sell to US parents.

Working together seven days a week “makes for some interesting Christmas dinners,” says Dylan, growth manager for the Lake District-based business. “Friday night beers now mean different conversations than we had a few years ago – less talking about Formula 1, more talking about formula in general.”


Dylan McMahon

Age 26

Family Hannah, longtime partner.

Education De La Salle College, Dundalk; University College Dublin (business and law).

Pay £50,000

Last holidays A long weekend in Marrakech at the start of Eid al-Fitr.

Best advice ever given “When the going gets tough, think what a great story it will make. It’s from dad.

Biggest Career Mistake “I tried my hand at investment banking, but quickly realized (as did my colleagues) that my talents were more in people than in PowerPoint.”

Word he abuses “I’ve been told that I caution virtually everything I say, but I don’t know how to put that in one word – so maybe ‘sorry’.”

how he relaxes “Take long walks or get lost in YouTube wormholes.”

Will McMahon

Age 31

Family Long-time partner Sara.

Education De La Salle College, Dundalk; University College, Dublin (economics and finance); Stanford University (MBA).

Pay £50,000

Last holidays “A trip to Portugal with friends.

The best advice I’ve ever been given “A speaker told me ‘Good results come from having attractive alternatives’.”

Biggest Career Mistake Not knowing how to say “no” in my first job. Skinny suit pants a close runner up.

Word he abuses “My brother tells me I use ‘opine’ and it sounds ridiculous! But that’s his opinion. »

how he relaxes “I’m slightly obsessed with the podcast The rest is history – and lazy Saturdays with friends.

HHis older brother, Will, who is a commercial director, intervenes: “There are ups and downs. It’s as weird for Ross as it is weird for us. How do you work with your sons? You remember when they were wearing diapers and suddenly they are discussing a decision with you.

The company won a Queen’s Award for International Trade, and for our interview, the brothers wear crown shirts emblazoned with the Kendamil logo.

The business was born seven years ago when Ross bought a loss-making factory site in Cumbria from Heinz for £1. After China’s baby milk scandal in 2008 – when six infants died after drinking melamine formula – Ross spotted an opportunity to shake up the industry. Initially Kendamil was only for export, especially to China, but today the UK accounts for half of the sales. During the pandemic, the company began offering an online subscription and free delivery service, and in the 12 months to March this year sales reached £34m.

Designed to mimic breast milk by using whole milk as the main ingredient and source of fat, rather than vegetable oils, Kendamil aimed to offer something different in a market dominated by Aptamil and Danone’s Cow & Gate, Nestlé’s SMA and Hipp Organic. .

Kendamil claims to be the only certified vegetarian formula in the UK, Ireland and parts of Europe. It is also halal and kosher. The milk comes from local farms, including 25 organic farms. Kendamil is also palm oil free and uses plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, rather than the more conventional fish oil.

A sign in an American pharmacy about the shortage of infant formula. Photography: Etienne Laurent/EPA

As well as standard and organic cow’s milk formulas, Kendal Nutricare products now also include a range of goat’s milk and infant pasta and cereals – and are now stocked in major supermarkets.

Ross, who is the general manager, says he sometimes puts a spoonful of their formula in his tea or coffee because “it creams well.” He grew up on a farm in County Monaghan, Ireland, studied agricultural and food science at University College Dublin and has always worked in the food industry.

Will and Dylan, who had pursued separate careers in finance in London and Silicon Valley respectively, then joined the new company. The brothers have “always been best friends,” Will says. When Will was doing an MBA at Stanford University in California, Dylan spent a few nights crashing on his floor in a sleeping bag.

Will first worked at JP Morgan, where he worked as an investment analyst for two years, then joined a London-based venture capital startup called Highland Europe. Dylan interned at JP Morgan as an analyst but ‘learned it wasn’t for me’ and later worked in Dublin for San Francisco-based tech firms Nex Group and Segment with travel regular in California.

Both wanted to join their father in Kendal. “It felt like something you would never regret,” Will says. “It helped us learn to appreciate him [Ross] a bit more. I reluctantly admit that when it comes to products, he has very good instincts.

Ross works closely with the research and development team to create new formulations, Dylan is responsible for online and offline growth, including brand promotion on social media – the company does not conduct expensive advertising campaigns – and Will is in charge of sales.

Last week, as part of Operation Fly Formula, Kendal secured clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to send 2 million boxes of formula – 100 truckloads – across the Atlantic to the course of the next six months. Supply chain bottlenecks in the United States became a real shortage this spring after Abbott Laboratories – the country’s largest producer, with a 40% market share – closed its Michigan plant. and announced a national recall. (This followed a federal investigation into four formula-fed babies who developed bacterial infections, two of them fatally. Abbott said there is no connection between its formula and diseases.)

The FDA has temporarily relaxed import requirements until mid-November, but the McMahons hope to be able to continue selling their products in the United States beyond that date. It’s a bold foray into a market that was valued at $3.7 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $5.8 billion by 2027, according to Allied Market Research, as more women join labor market and that most working mothers return to work shortly after giving birth.

Ross met Boris Johnson in Downing Street a fortnight ago, and Will says the Department for International Trade was also very helpful.

The trio further plan to more than double production capacity at the Kendal plant to 24 million cans a year by 2024 to meet demand from the UK, Asia, Europe and now the United States. Currently, it can manufacture up to 10 million 900g cans of infant formula per year.

However, it was not all easy. The company had been in negotiations with the FDA for five years before Operation Fly Formula.

“Part of the challenge is that what we want to bring to the United States is fundamentally different wording,” Will says. “We want to remove things like palm oil and add natural dairy fat, but some changes in the eyes of the FDA represent a new concept, and although we have a huge track record in Europe and are in 40 countries , the FDA needed more time to really analyze the science, but they have since responded positively to it.