Shining a light on innovation

A focussed approach is key for dairy innovation, according to SDT’s spring conference. Dr Liz Whitley and Andrew Wilbey report.

The UK Society of Dairy Technology (SDT) held its annual Spring conference on 10-11 June. Day one saw around 40 members visiting the new Arla Foods Dairy at Aylesbury. The plant has been designed to be completely carbon neutral and visitors were able to walk the viewing corridor and see not only the production facility and stores but also the bottle manufacturing plant. It was encouraging to see that Arla is promoting dairy education to young people by having an informative education and viewing gallery. The main part of the conference took place at the University of Reading on the following day with around 70 members attending. The theme was ‘Innovation in the Dairy Industry.’

The conference opened with Dr Ad Juriaanse of Nizo, the Dutch dairy and food research giving an overview of global trends and the drivers for innovation. He selected feeding the world, responsible nutrition and sustainability as the top three drivers, with inputs from new science and processes as important means of delivering innovation. Greater efficiency was needed at all stages in the food chain, delivered by a combination of better knowledge and its application in milk production and processing, for instance to minimise bacterial contamination and optimise the effectiveness and energy utilisation on heat treatment. He described how a detailed analysis of the gut flora can be related back to specific metabolic benefits. In the nutrition area, there are examples of modifying protein structure to provide high protein ‘thin drinks’ for vulnerable people, and to improving the sensory appeal of low fat/sugar products through restoring flavour release, rebalancing flavour profiles and modifying serum release to compensate for lower salt levels.

Three examples of emerging science as drivers of innovation were given. Miniaturisation of process technologies offers great opportunities for screening process parameter options in product and process development.

Examples shown included microcheese, microyogurt and the micro heater, which can now all be easily scaled up. Food informatics is another exciting area that brings the weight of the information organisation possibilities offered by IT to reduce development times and provide short lists of compounds important in new product concepts.

US side Dr John Brody presented dairy product innovation from the perspective of a large US cheese business, Sargento. It is the second largest US cheese brand behind Kraft. Dr Brody discussed the difficulties in getting new brands accepted by US consumers. The average family gets 80-85 per cent of their needs from only 150 SKUs, while consumers groups are increasingly fragmented and individual consumers are ever more savvy and sceptical. Against this background, a focussed approach is key. Sargento uses a four step gate process to funnel its ideas into successful commercial launches. Ideas have to pass through the stages of strategy development (opportunity scoping), concept development (leading to a successful concept test), product development (successful product test of the final design) and finally commercial launch. An example was then given of Sargento¹s latest new product, a sliced cheese containing only 45 calories per slice, which was an innovation award winner recently.

Food for Health Ireland

Professor Paul Ross of Teagasc gave insights into how the Food for Health Ireland initiative has opening up the possibilities for dairy innovation in human health and wellness. A key part of the programme is based around the mechanism of action of probiotics, and a number of platform technologies have been developed to support this: culture curation, genome sequencing, microbial transplantation and bio-IT, using informatics and biomedical research in synergy. These are being used to follow gut microbiota through the human age profile, where over 1,000 species have been identified as significant contributors. Work has demonstrated how gut microbiota correlates with diet and health in vulnerable populations, how microbiota changes are mirrored by changes in health, and even how the diet and training programme of the Irish rugby team sets their gut microbiota apart from normal fit adults. Professor Ross finished with some examples of how this work was already manifesting itself in real applications, including bacteriocin producing strains for pathogen inhibition, strains for producing healthy fatty acids, strains that produce neurotransmitters (psychobiotics), and strains producing polysaccharides for cholesterol reduction.

Staying upbeat

Julian Price of Volac International outlined the evolution of whey protein products before giving a more detailed description of the development of a whey protein-rich drink sold by The Good Whey Company as a healthy snack with particular benefits for those wishing to increase their protein intake. The product breaks away from the traditional use of whey protein simply as a nutrition drink for athletes and has an energy content of under 150calories, which was one of the drivers of the development. ‘Company innovation strategy’ was the theme of the paper presented by Cal Flynn, research and development manager of the Kerry Group. The original development process used by the company was shown and then the newer innovation driven process was discussed. The Food Advanced Training Partnership was introduced by Professor Richard Frazier. This partnership between the Universities of Reading and Birmingham plus Leatherhead Food Research and Rothamsted Research provides high-level training at Masters level for food industry professionals, with funding support from the BBSRC. Keith Goodby of Tetra Pak showcased innovations in the processing side of the industry. Drivers for these innovations varied from energy costs and sustainability to the ability to process some of the newer products on the market. However, the main focus was on environmental drivers. The final presentation was on an approach to innovation through digital marketing. Theo Izzard-Brown of W+K looked at the Lurpak Cooks¹ range marketing process, which has fired passion for the product. Dr Ken Burgess, president of the Society, drew attention to the contribution that informatics and biotechnology, both alone and in combination, were making in offering opportunities for not only product innovation, but in the processes that industry can use to drive innovation projects more effectively. He noted the need for the right culture to be in place for innovation to succeed; one of developing good relationships between the various team members, excellent communication and a culture of challenge and trust that was always looking for ways to do things better. Presentations are on the members¹ area of the website at www.sdt.org <http://www.sdt.org>

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