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Whey more potential in protein market, claim new partners Fonterra and First Milk

By Jane Byrne , 05-Sep-2011

European food and sports beverage makers are set to benefit from a new dairy ingredients joint venture, which is aimed at increasing whey protein manufacturing capacity in Europe as well as improving the speed and reliability of the supply of such ingredients, claims Fonterra.

A first for the New Zealand-headquartered dairy company in terms of collaboration with dairy manufacturers in Europe, it announced today that it is teaming up with UK-based First Milk – a leading player in the UK liquid milk, dairy ingredients and cheese sectors – to develop ‘premium’ whey proteins for diverse food and drink applications.

Speaking to FoodNavigator.com this morning, Koert Liekelema, Fonterra Europe’s managing director, said that the venture is aiming to boost the supply of whey protein within Europe, where he maintains there is a shortfall. The parternship, he continued, was further prompted by Fonterra’s recognition of a need to source its ingredients locally rather than import from New Zealand to allow a more cost-effective and reliable supply chain.

Supply

The primary source of whey is as a by-product from cheese production, so in that sense availability depends on the amount of cheese produced, explained Liekelema. However, most of this whey is currently sold as a concentrated liquid to the animal feed industry. So, you can expand advanced whey proteins supply by diverting this more liquid whey to advanced processing options as we are doing currently,” he added.

Moreover, a secondary source of whey, he continued, is by directly extracting it from milk. This, added the Fonterra MD, is called 'milk cracking' and not common yet, but may become more prevalent when the economics improve.

Yoghurts and beverages

The new dairy venture, to be based at First Milk’s creamery in Cumbria, will be focused initially on developing whey proteins for use as texturisers in yoghurts and for use in beverages such as sports recovery and satiety drinks, remarked the MD.

“The European yoghurt market is huge, and we anticipate further growth within the segment based on the fact that consumers are increasingly seeking out yoghurts that contain fewer artificial ingredients.

Our whey proteins, which can be added at high concentrations without compromising on taste, can be used to replace gelatine, gums and starch and other stabilisers in yoghurts,” remarked Liekelema.

Egg replacement

The joint venture, will be operational in 6 months, said Liekelema, who added that the two dairy companies have also identified particular whey proteins for use as egg replacers, another market that the two firms estimate has huge potential. “Such protein applications will be on-stream in about 12 months from now,” added the Fonterra Europe MD.

First Milk’s role will be largely focused on the supply of the whey raw materials and the operational element of the venture, with Fonterra providing the IP expertise, in addition to being involved at the commissioning and start-up phase of the initiative, explained Liekelema. He added that Fonterra experts will have an ongoing quality oversight role.

Farmer benefits

Kate Allum, chief executive of First Milk noted that while the partnership with Fonterra is its first step into added value whey markets, it builds on the work the co-operative has done recently with a range of partners across the supply chain

"Obviously the UK market remains the bedrock of our business. However, it is also important that we explore opportunities, such as this one with Fonterra, that have the potential to deliver enhanced returns for our dairy farmers,” continued the CEO.

Liekelema said that Fonterra intends to team up with other dairy suppliers in Europe to further exploit the growth opportunities that exist for whey protein ingredients. “We are interested in talking to any cheese manufacturers looking to add value their whey side streams,” he added.

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