Yili Group’s net-zero plan for the future

Sustainability has become one of the top priorities for the dairy industry.

This year, Yili Group has launched net-zero carbon products and factories, issued the Roadmap to a Net-Zero Carbon Future, and set concrete targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050. Yili is one of the global dairy top five companies and Asia’s dairy company. It now owns 15 R&D and innovation centres and 74 productions bases globally. Its products are on the market in more than 60 countries and regions.

Dr. Zhanyou Yun is responsible for support and management of technical innovation, including managing technical innovation compliance and intellectual property rights, building the ecosystem for technical innovation at home and abroad, and introducing and communicating Yili’s innovation outcomes. Meanwhile, he also serves as the vice president of the Probiotics Branch of the Chinese Institute of Food Science and Technology and as the expert for the IDF China National Committee.

He notes, “Our increasingly health-conscious consumers are calling for nutritional, customised and functional dairy products. As a consumer-centric, innovation-driven company, Yili is exploring the value of dairy products and seeking to launch health products to meet the full-lifecycle, all-scenario needs among all types of consumers.

“Climate change has brought about a significant impact on mankind and the world’s ecosystems. As a result, consumers look for products that both meet their nutritional and health needs and impose no harm upon the environment. Embracing the tide of sustainable development across the globe, we aim to advocate greener, healthier and more sustainable lifestyles.”

Innovation is the key to Yili’s growth, according to Dr Yun. “The dairy industry features a long industrial chain. In keeping with our philosophy of ‘No innovation, no future.’ we have built an innovation system covering the entire industrial chain, in a bid to establish a community for innovation that integrally incorporates all of our upstream, midstream and downstream partners.”

The supply chain

Upstream, Yili has developed a series of natural, functional raw milk that is rich in selenium, DHA or other elements through nutrition modulation technology and innovative feeding methods, which may help with methane emission control. At the midstream, Yili applies milk fat catalysed by enzymes to flavour in order to reduce fat in its products.

The group has also launched an intelligent platform on sweet-tasting design, creating tailored solutions for sugar reduction in dairy products. It employs digitalised, intelligent technologies to build green, smart factories with higher production and operational efficiency as well.

Downstream, Yili uses big data tools to capture and study market demands, so as to innovate and upgrade products on a constant basis. “With these efforts, we are able to provide our consumers with more nutritional, healthy products and better experiences,” Dr Yun says.

When manufacturing, the production of high-quality, sustainable products essentially indicates the optimisation of natural and human resources, he points out. “When pursuing sustainability, dairy companies are often challenged by the transition towards low-carbon operations. But I’d like to deem the challenge as an opportunity for growth. Green, low-carbon, sustainable operation and development can not only ease burdens imposed by climate change but also drive down costs and create economic value for the farming and dairy partners, thereby fostering their long-term competitiveness.”

In 2022, Yili’s Satine A2β-Casein Organic Pure Milk became the first net-zero carbon milk in China. With emissions reduced by applying the integration of planting and breeding on pastures, using clean energy for manufacturing, employing recyclable packages, and purchasing carbon credits, Yili makes up for the emissions from milk production, thus realising “net-zero”. Its sustainability aspect became a differentiating factor and made the product a great success in the market, Dr. Yun says.

Research and development are also key for dairy manufacturing, he notes. “Dairy manufacturers must improve their R&D capabilities and enhance their strength through innovation. We’re committed to the ‘consumer-centric’ and ‘no innovation, no future’ philosophies. Guided by these, we have developed innovative products tailored to consumers’ demands and received positive feedback, resulting in a large market share and widespread recognition. For example, through a decade of experiments, we discovered and applied a series of probiotic strains such as bifidobacterium lactis BL-99, which can promote digestion, regulate intestinal flora and enhance immunity.

“In addition, manufacturers should pursue industrial chain-wide, cross-disciplinary collaborations in order to make breakthroughs in fundamental research and translate innovative outcomes. In our case, Yili has teamed up with institutions including Wageningen University in the Netherlands,the University of Cambridge in the UK and Lincoln University in New Zealand via our innovation centres across the globe. We also pursue stronger cooperation throughout the industrial chain.”

Further proof of the group’s innovation is in the opening of integrated facilities, he says. “Four projects of Yili’s Future Intelligence and Healthy Valley are coming into operation in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, including a liquid milk production base, a milk powder production base, the Chilechuan Ecological Smart Farm, and the Yili Intelligent Manufacturing Experience Center. The Valley comprises a roughly 38-square-kilometer core area. It is a large complex integrating industry, urban life, and tourism, with the dairy industry as its core. It is not only establishing green, smart production bases, but also the development of dairy-related enterprise clusters and the integration of primary, secondary and tertiary industries. We look forward to cooperating with our fellow industry colleagues in the future.”


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