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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 24, 2000. All rights reserved.
Juicing Up Nature’s Milk
Milk may be one of nature’s most perfect foods, but
there’s always room for improvement. That’s the thinking of one food
scientist in Princeton, anyway.
Reza Kamarei, an MIT-trained nutritionist, has figured out a way to
add a whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals to fresh dairy products
like milk, yogurt, and ice cream. He has patented his process, and
launched a new line of dairy products called Heavenly Nutrition —
milk, yogurt, and ice cream that has at least 10 percent (and as much
as 20 percent or more) of the daily value of all nutritionally essential
vitamins and minerals — roughly the equivalent to a well-balanced
meal. "We are taking milk as a gift of nature and elaborating
on that," he says. "Milk is a plentiful resource — it
already has all of the macronutrients and some of the micronutrients
— so we thought if we brought some of the other micronutrients
to the right level, we would have the perfect food."
For a food scientist like Kamarei there is no such thing as a naturally
perfect — nutritionally complete — food. Thus the need for
Princeton Nutrition at 116 Village Boulevard, which will license Heavenly
Nutrition products to dairy manufacturers soon. Kamarei hopes to get
them on the shelves later this year, at which point Princeton Nutrition
will focus on development of nutritional supplements and specially-fortified
Heavenly Nutrition products differ from other nutritional supplements
on the market, such as Ensure or Boost, because they are "fresh"
— cold and sold in the dairy case. "Freshness and taste is
the cornerstone of the product," says Kamarei. "In any population,
as you know, a percentage of people prefer canned stuff. We’re trying
to satisfy the demand of people who want fresh products."
Why milk, rather than, say, juice? Milk already has protein and is
a good carrier for nutrients. "Milk is a very balanced product
of nature," he says. "Milk is one of the best sources of protein,
and it is a very rich source of calcium and phosphorous and vitamin
B2. Juices don’t have that. Another technical problem is that juices
are acidic by nature, and it’s very difficult to put proteins or sensitive
vitamins in that situation because they will degrade."
Also milk has two features that are easy for food scientists
to tinker with: lipids (fats) and lactose. "Many people don’t
like milk fat, and it can be removed from the system," says Kamarei,
"and of course these days you can buy lactose-free milk."
Likewise, Heavenly Nutrition could include lactose-free alternatives.
Born in Tehran, Iran, Kamarei was the youngest of 12 siblings, eight
brothers and four sisters raised in household that was scholarly,
although not affluent. Science and study were placed in high regard;
Kamarei’s father was a social, religious, and historical writer who
published roughly 50 books during his lifetime. Kamarei thinks helping
his mother in the kitchen fostered a love for food. "Then, when
I was about 12, I began to hear about the lack of food for children
in underdeveloped countries, I became aware of the role that nutrition
plays in the physical and intellectual development of people and bringing
them to their full potential."
Kamarei earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food nutrition from
Tehran University, Class of 1970, and came to the United States for
a master’s and PhD in food science and technology from MIT. After
three years working in MIT’s department of food science he went to
a Boston pharmaceutical firm, Angio Medical, as vice president of
bioprocessing operations. "This exposed me to the other end of
the spectrum. After five years there I saw that food and drugs were
coming closer to each other and it prepared me to work in the gray
area between food and drugs — neutraceuticals, sometimes called
Then he was hired by Clintec, now called Nestle Clinical Nutrition,
to develop a supplement used by hospital patients. One of those products,
Peptamen, is now used by hospitals for fast absorption of proteins.
Transferred to Chicago, Kamarei led the R&D group at Clintec until
1995, when his wife, Zari Nakhost, also a food scientist, was offered
a position at Mitri-Nova in Somerset. "She said, `I have emigrated
two times for you, from Iran to U.S and then from Boston to Chicago,
so will you move for me once?.’ I said of course." The Kamareis
settled in Princeton, and they have a daughter at Stanford and a son
who works at Goldman Sachs.
Searching for his next project, Kamarei came up with the notion of
Heavenly Nutrition and applied for his first patent in 1996. "I
did research showing that babyboomers have a tendency towards healthy,
`natural foods,’ and I thought I could come up with nutritional products
that are fresh."
After applying for the patent, however, Kamarei joined National Starch,
the Bridgewater-based ingredient company, as director of nutritional
and medical food ingredients. After working there for a year and a
half, Kamarei got restless and decided to return to his field of expertise.
With help from his son at Goldman Sachs, Kamarei submitted a business
plan for Princeton Nutrition to Gary Pace, his former boss at Clintec
(now CEO of RTP Pharma Inc., the Canadian pharmaceutical company),
and received the necessary encouragement and financial support to
start the business. "I truly started from my garage," says
Kamarei developed the first prototypes in his kitchen and continued
development out of North Carolina University’s Department of Food
Science pilot plant in Raleigh. One of the challenges was to find
out just how big a dose of the missing minerals and vitamins could
be added without altering the taste of the product. "If you overfortify
it, it tastes vitaminy," says Kamarei. "When you drink milk,
you want to taste milk. If people drink a glass of milk and they can
taste the vitamins and minerals, they don’t like it.
"Also, we want to be scientifically and socially responsible because
it’s like the main food for the public, and if you overfortify that,
you’re overfortifying the whole population." He plans for one
serving of his product to contain 10 to 20 percent of the minimum
daily requirement of all vitamins and minerals that an individual
needs. "By mild fortification you give people a chance to have
more than one glass of milk."
Kamarei faithfully attended the New Jersey Entrepreneurial Network
meetings, where he met Bob Frawley, whom he engaged as his business
attorney. Also at NJEN he was referred to Jay Sexton of Withum Smith
& Brown, now his accountant, and Jim Scott, who works part-time as
CFO, investment banker, and website advisor. Peter Hutt, Washington
D.C.-based former chief counsel of the FDA, handles his nutritional
and labeling issues. Robert Donovan, chairman of the dietary supplement
strategic planning group of Consumer Healthcare Products Association,
is vice president of technical affairs.
The first official taste tests of Heavenly Nutrition products were
conducted by Q Research Solutions, an independent consumer testing
company in Manalapan. The study found that overall consumer interest
in Heavenly Nutrition milk was favorable, with two-thirds of respondents
willing to pay at least a 20 percent premium over regular milk for
both the plain and flavored variations. The vanilla flavored milk
had the highest overall ratings.
Children, by the way, seemed to like the flavored milks more than
adults, which implies a second potential market for Heavenly Nutrition
items: approximately 90 percent of parents in the study said they
would like to see Heavenly Nutrition products in schools.
In a culture where "natural" is usually synonymous with unaltered,
Kamarei feels certain that fortified dairy products will be easy for
the public to embrace because they are not so different from what
people are used to — things such as Vitamin A & D fortified milk,
orange juice fortified with calcium, even cereals. "My feeling
is that the public is very smart," he says. "They look at
what the scientific community has to say."
Kamarei says that of all the experts he has consulted, he has encountered
no negative opinions, no resistance. He attributes this to careful
consideration of these factors: the FDA Code of Federal Regulations,
scientific soundness, technical feasibility, patent and trademark
potential, profitability, and social responsibility.
Princeton Nutrition is in discussions with major dairy companies —
Kamarei does not reveal which ones — over a licensing agreement
that would put Heavenly Nutrition on the shelves later this year.
The company has also started a second round of fundraising and is
waiting on a patent for its fresh infant formula. Following the introduction
of Heavenly Nutrition products, the company will launch a line of
nutritional supplements — meal replacements that can be used in
healthcare institutions, and in the rapidly growing weight-loss market.
"The total market of milk is $9 billion," says Kamarei. "Even
if we take one percent of the market, it’s great for us."
— Melinda Sherwood
Suite 200, Princeton 08540-5799. Reza Kamarei PhD. 609-734-7400; fax,
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