Mum reveals how she developed a goat’s milk formula option after her son broke out in horrific hives
Little Oak owner Elke Pascoe risked everything to start her business, but she wanted to be able to provide babies with an alternative to cow’s milk formulas.
A busy mother of two has revealed how she became a major player in the infant formula business after her children had intense reactions to cow’s milk products.
Elke Pascoe, owner of Little Oak, risked everything to start her business after discovering that goat’s milk is more similar to human milk and less likely to cause painful reactions in children.
The 41-year-old single mother told FEMAIL she was eager to take a chance, investing her life savings, time and energy in the business, but had to do it “for the kids.”
Not only for her, who now benefits from the children’s goat milk range and her knowledge of dairy allergies, but also for the babies who will continue to suffer.
‘I wanted to make a difference for children and their parents, so they don’t have to deal with pain and discomfort every day because they don’t have access to good food.
“Good nutrition shouldn’t just be for wealthy families in the eastern suburbs,” he said.
Their first product went on sale in 2018 and they couldn’t be more proud.
“My lifelong dream is to make sure no child goes to bed hungry,” he said.
This passion has driven her to make the best product possible, drive down margins and stand her ground when people tell her she could make millions by adding a cow’s milk formula to her range.
The mother of two worked in pharmaceuticals and health, but it wasn’t until her two sons had a reaction to infant formula that she investigated what was in it.
She now sells 200 tons of formula a year and is praised by parents for helping them feed their baby without worrying about the painful side effects many experience with dairy products.
“People constantly try to tell me to look for the money that is offered with cow’s milk formula, but I’m not in it for my share of those billions, I want to make something that I would happily give to my children.”
“Sure we don’t make hundreds of millions of dollars, but we’re very proud of our product, and after all, we’re talking about babies and toddlers and they deserve us to do our best.”
He leaned on his previous career in health care, pharmaceuticals, and consulting to start the company, feeding his salary into his start-up company and using contacts in the field to make sure he did everything right.
“It’s a highly regulated industry, so I had to make sure we followed all the rules while still making a new product that could make a difference,” he said.
The company’s infant formula currently costs six times more than that of its competitors, but it sells for the same price in the store.
“This is not about margins, we are feeding the most vulnerable people in society, so the financial loss for us is a conscious decision because we will not reduce quality,” he said.
“It’s vitally important to me that everyone has an aspect of food for their children, I don’t want to put a high price on my product so that people in need can’t afford it,” he said.
Her son Charlie suffered from skin problems as a baby, she watched what she ate after getting desperate over the dozens of creams doctors recommended she use on him.
The young man’s face is now clear, and according to Elke, the family eschews cow’s milk and associated products, drinking goat’s milk at home.
She now owns her own goat farm in New Zealand, has around 8,000 goats across two properties and produces over 200 tonnes of formula each year.
And parents are constantly contacting her to thank her for helping them tackle their children’s skin reactions and digestive issues at the source.
“People share photos of their children covered in eczema, or with little hanging bellies and dull eyes.” she said.
‘Then follow up with a bright-eyed, happy and healthy picture three weeks later. And it’s a reminder of who we’re doing this for when the going gets tough,” she said.
Nearly two years of research went into coming up with the formula, which is “as crude” as it gets.
This was in addition to Elke’s years of research into why children often react to the formulas that saturate the market.
“We went with goat’s milk to make the formula, because we wanted something infinitely better, and the fats and proteins in it are more closely aligned with ours, so it doesn’t need as much processing,” he said.
Elke decided that the best way to ensure a long-lasting, high-quality supply of goat milk was to have a farm. These are some of her 8,000 goats in New Zealand
“For example, taurine, which is important for brain development, is found naturally in goat’s milk, while the additive they put in cow-based formula is more closely related to Red Bull,” he said.
“I was shocked when I first found out about it.”
The seeds of the business were planted by Elke’s eldest daughter, who, after struggling to digest regular formula, switched to a basic goat’s milk option.
“I had constant cramps, stomach pain and diarrhoea, it was terrible,” he said.
But it wasn’t until her second child was 18 months old that the mother really began to dig into the cause of her painful skin conditions and general malaise.
“I was constantly at the pharmacy or at the doctors, they were telling me to buy more products to put on his skin to help him,” she said.
“When I realized I should be watching what I was eating, not just adding another cream every time there was a new reaction.”
And when she looked at the ingredients in her baby formula, she was taken aback.
‘From palm oil to multidexterin, it was packed with ingredients I wouldn’t want to give my son. And not just one formula, but all the formulas on the market,’ he said.
Seeing her sweet boy in pain changed everything.
“Now we only have goat’s milk at home and it has made a big difference,” he said.
“In fact, when children stay elsewhere and are given cow’s milk, they complain that they are itchy and even burst,” he said.
The mother explained that humans have been drinking goat’s milk for a thousand years, and that cow’s milk has become more popular in the last hundred years.
‘The reality is that we struggle to digest it. Research shows that eight out of ten Asian children are lactose intolerant,” she said.
“We also know that breast milk is different for each animal, on the human scale we have our own milk, then polar bear milk, whale milk and goat milk, at the other extreme is cow milk,” said.
Elke and her team now produce 200 tons of the formula each year.
Little Oak is now growing ‘on the same trajectory’ as the Elke kids, with age-appropriate snacks like cheese sticks and yogurt being added to the assortment as they hit your kids’ radar.
But the path to running a successful company, taking on Big Pharma, has not been easy.
“Things were really tough financially for a while,” he said.
‘I separated from my husband before I started, so finances were a big consideration.
But Elke knew she had a chance to improve the world and end the suffering of millions of children.
So he worked full time, prioritizing putting food on the table and paying the bills, before investing the rest of his cash in Little Oak.
The Sydney mother says she dreams of a world where no child goes to bed hungry and families don’t have to sacrifice quality food due to financial constraints.
He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the company and “operated on very little sleep” to make his vision a reality.
“Being a father helped me, in many ways, but mostly because you learn to exist on very little sleep,” he said.
Now that her kids are older, she’s quit her other job to focus on her business and faces a new set of challenges: stakeholders.
“I wouldn’t do anything different, but hats off to all working single parents out there, it’s a tough role to fill,” he said.