President's column Vol.5
The start of product development.
The result of one simple question.
Why are there so many people who cannot eat unless they are fed through a tube?
In my younger days, when I had very little experience and knowledge, I tried to figure out the answer by visiting a hospital.
One of the dietitians at the hospital let me enter the ward.
I was devastated by the view in front of me.
Behind a glass window, there was a row of beds that extended for about 30 meters (100 feet).
They were all occupied by old patients who were unconscious.
Every one of them was fed nutrients through tubes inserted into their noses.
They might have been screaming inside, begging for the tubes to be removed.
The thought was making me shiver.
I also went to see seriously disabled children that were being tube fed.
There was one that especially caught my eye.
Lying all alone in a dark room was a baby that had just turned one year old.
He was about 30-cm (1-ft) tall.
He was seriously allergic to light and could only live in a dark room.
In a very dimly-lit room, I could see the nasal tube that was feeding him and his chest that moved up and down as he breathed.
Not being immune to such a harsh reality, I had nightmares for the next few nights after my visit.
The deep layer of problems involving medical treatment that is not provided in accordance with the patients' will.
"Force Feeding and the Right to Self-Determination"
That is another theme on which I must write on another occasion.
Back then, there was one question that came to my mind.
How were the patients eating before they started being tube fed?
Aside from cases in which the patients lose their swallowing function all of a sudden due to an accident, many gradually lose their ability to swallow.
So it is not like they are suddenly switched from a regular way of eating to a tube fed diet.
I heard a story from a.dietitian
"There has been a lot of milk left over from the meals we serve to patients."
A thought came to my mind.
In hospitals where there are a lot of elderly patients, many have trouble swallowing.
The majority of them probably cannot easily drink milk.
Patients with dysphagia, or swallowing difficulty, have trouble drinking liquids.
There must be quite a demand for a milk substitute for these patients.
This was the starting point for my first product development.
Dietitians recommend milk since it is a good source of protein and calcium.
Jellies are relatively safe to consume for patients with dysphasia.
Therefore, I decided that the product should be offered in a jelled form in a cup.
However, jelly in a cup is usually fruit-based and the color is generally semi-translucent.
If I was to add milk protein and calcium carbonate, the jelly would get cloudy.
Then you could no longer call it fruit jelly.
My father invented ready-made instant meals containing a few side dishes packaged in trays that could be stored as emergency food.
(I can't remember the name of the product, but I do remember that many customers returned them after they were shipped out the first time.)
When my father heard this, he had a brain wave.
Liquid cold medicines packaged in ampules.
(I think this idea was genius. If had been better made, it would have been a big hit.)
How about Calpico with eggs?
It was completely undrinkable, and the product did not make it onto the market.
(I was one of the taste-testers, and I remember it was sheer torture.)
I was looking for an ingredient that contained protein and I found it at the company.
That was collagen peptide.
Now it is pretty well-known but my father already had his eye on this ingredient during his time.
I remember he deciphered some foreign documents, something that my father had rarely done, and told me of the effectiveness of collagen peptide.
Back then, the general use was as a finish on the surface of photography film and to make the head on beer creamier.
I believe it was only my father who had realized the nutritional significance of collagen peptide back then.
One of the characteristics of collagen peptide is that the chain of molecules is quite long.
The molecular bonds of collagen, or so called gelatin, are broken down with acids.
This process reduces the molecular count from tens of thousands to as low as 3,000.
They are called peptides.
This is similar to what happens to a human being after the stomach completes digestion.
Therefore, there is little burden on the stomach.
The second characteristic is that they become clear when dissolved in water since their molecules are short.
The third characteristic is that they do not contain any amino acids such as tyrosine and phenylalanine.
These two amino acids can actually be very harmful to patients with liver disease.
Since they easily accumulate in the body, in severe cases they can cause hepatic encephalopathy, which includes an altered level of consciousness.
My father sold collagen peptide in a powder form as a protein supplement for those with liver conditions.
These amino acids are vital even for people with healthy livers.
Protein that does not contain all the essential amino acids is generally not considered good quality.
Our jellies are primarily consumed by elderly patients.
You can tell that their skin lacks collagen and moisture since it is dry and wrinkly.
This makes them vulnerable to skin infections.
Collagen is rich in amino acids called glycine and proline, both of which can be synthesized inside the human body.
It is natural to assume that the skin on elderly people becomes dry and wrinkly because their bodies lack the ability to synthetize them.
Therefore, it is highly likely that taking in amino acids orally would be of great significance to them.
This is how we decided on using collagen peptide as the protein source.
Today this ingredient is widely used since it is common for women to take collagen supplements to maintain youthful skin.
But it was originally used to improve the skin condition of elderly people.
Now onto the source of calcium.
Calcium generally does not dissolve in water.
Egg shells and bones are made from calcium and need to be protected by something insoluble in water.
However, there is an exception for everything.
The calcium in milk is easily absorbed by the body.
What is even more absorbable is the calcium present in yogurt.
The calcium in milk, which does not dissolve in water, becomes water-soluble due to the lactic acid in yogurt.
This is why the calcium in yogurt is more easily absorbed compared to that of milk.
This type of calcium is called calcium lactate.
We decided on this ingredient as the source of calcium right away.
We took these ingredients, such as nutrients and fruit juices, to a company that makes jelly and had them work on perfecting a formula.
Through continuous trial and error, we finally developed jellies that were as nutritious as milk and rich in fruit juices.
They now come in three flavors: peach, orange and green apple.
Together, their colors look very beautiful.
In February 1993, the first product that I ever developed finally hit the market.
Now, over seven million are sold annually. But the product debut was anything but grand.
I named the product Procca, a term coined to describe protein and calcium.
Not bad, not bad at all….
Author : Susumu Kawaguchi
Chairman & CEO
Nutri Co., Ltd
Illustrator : Nakajo Junichi