Dairy, A Reliable Source Of Safe And Complete Nutrition

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Dairy has been part of the human diet for centuries, but beyond fulfilling basic nutritional needs, it can also provide targeted nutrition to meet the needs of different groups of people such as infants, seniors and more. By Harmony Villemin, food engineer & professional writer – on behalf of Epi Ingredients, Dry Ingredients Division of French Dairy Cooperative Laïta

With the world’s population projected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050 according to the United Nations (UN), and over 80 percent of the current population consuming milk and milk products as reported by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, the global dairy industry is faced with a major challenge: provide sustainable ways to help feed the growing population with healthy and nutritious products.

According to the International Farm Comparison Network (IFCN), in 2015, global dairy consumption averaged 114 kg per capita (in milk equivalents) and it is expected to grow 12 percent (an additional 13 kg per capita) by 2025. However, it is worth noting that wide geographical disparities are observed.

Although demand for milk and dairy products is growing in developing countries due to rising incomes, population growth, changes in dietary preferences and increasing numbers of people moving to urban areas, for now, consumption remains higher in developed countries.

In regions such as Argentina, Australia, Europe, Israel and North America, to name but a few, dairy consumption is very high (over 150 kg per capita per year) whereas most of East and Southeast Asia as well as Vietnam, Senegal and others are consuming very little dairy (less than 30 kg per capita per year). In this context, the highest increase in consumption is expected to take place in South Asia which is projected to reach an average consumption of 174 kg per capita by 2025.

Consumers Looking Beyond Nutrition

Being a well-known and cost effective source of nutrients, both versatile and palatable, dairy is ideal to fulfil basic human nutritional needs. However, many consumers are now aware of the influence of their diet on their overall health and wellness and are therefore increasingly looking for nutrient-dense foods going beyond basic nutrition.

As a healthy source of energy, packed with nutrients ranging from high-quality protein to micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B12 and zinc, milk can definitely cater to the needs of today’s demanding consumers. As such or in the form of tailored specialty dairy ingredients such as demineralised whey, milk protein isolates, whey protein, etc., it can contribute to supporting the health of people of all ages and origins.

Besides nutritional and sensory aspects which are essential to consumers, product transparency and quality are also extremely important as a result of the numerous food scares of the past decades.

Dairy Manufacturers Taking On More Responsibility

In addition to these core characteristics, people are increasingly focused on sustainability and want products that promote workers’ wellbeing and fair treatment as well as animal welfare. Most dairy companies have been integrating features linked to quality management, sustainable development and human growth in their strategy for many years.

However, more recently global dairy producers seem to be stepping up their efforts with the creation of more structured and unified corporate social responsibility initiatives including built-in targets and accountability tracking. With such programs, major dairy cooperatives take a stand for enhanced product quality, sustainability and corporate responsibility.

These types of forward-looking initiatives are aiming at bringing together all members of the milk supply chain around shared values of progress, transparency and product excellence to better serve today’s and tomorrow’s customers and consumers.

Companies set the stage for continuous improvement in offering diversified, responsible and healthy nutrition that consumers can fully trust. These quality management and sustainability programs are usually centred on four major areas for progress:

  • Quality & Safety
  • Land Stewardship and Development of the Individuals involved in the supply chain
  • Environmental Sustainability, including Carbon Footprint reduction
  • Animal Welfare

In the current context of consumers increasingly seeking reassurance, corporate social responsibility initiatives are useful tools in setting a framework for streamlined operations, efficient supply chain and sustainable milk supply. They also perfectly fit within the growing demand for ‘natural’ and ‘clean’ products which are perceived to be safer and of higher quality.

As food producers, major dairy companies also have a responsibility to contribute to enhancing people’s lives with natural and nutritious value-added products. By keeping full control over the entire value chain, from cow to fork, and making sure that the milk is processed shortly after collection, global dairies can offer the highest quality, most natural and safest ingredients possible to meet the needs of ever more demanding customers.

Taking Care With Infant Nutrition

This enhanced transparency and product excellence is particularly important when it comes to babies’ nutrition as it is an area in which reassurance regarding the origin and transformation of the products offered is crucial.

Infant nutrition is indeed one of the most important factors, not only influencing immediate child growth and development, but also setting the stage for health outcomes later in life. Although breastfeeding is recognised as being the best way to provide young babies with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development, it is not always possible or chosen. In such cases, infant formulas are used and they must be designed to mimic breast milk as closely as possible to properly fulfil the nutritional needs of the child.

Infant formula (0-6 months) and follow-on formula (6-12 months) are heavily regulated and the amount needed for each specific nutrient (protein, carbohydrates, fat, mineral substances, vitamins and certain other ingredients) is laid down by competent authorities in each geographical area. It includes, when necessary, minimum and maximum levels. Considering the great disparities observed between breast milk and cow’s milk, creating a nutritionally complete infant or follow-on formula matching the mandatory guidelines is a complex and time-consuming process.

Going Further With Demineralised Whey

One of the commonly used ingredients in these infant and follow-on formulas is demineralised whey as it improves formula versatility and offers several advantages to product formulators. It can represent as much as 50 percent of the finished product in some formulas.

Demineralised whey is produced by physical separation techniques such as nanofiltration, electro-dialysis or ion exchange which each have their drawbacks and advantages. Some methods allow for a higher degree of demineralisation while others offer the possibility of customising the mineral profile. Besides a low mineral content, demineralised whey usually provides a high lactose content, 10-15 percent protein and less than two percent fat, nutrients that are all required for healthy baby development.

Most global dairy companies offer total traceability from milk to demineralised whey powder, with in-house whey production (from cheese-making or casein production). This total control of the entire value chain ensures a sustainable supply of demineralised whey powder of the highest quality. Extremely high standards from the farm on, associated with very short processing times, as low as 48 hours “farm-topowder”, make it possible for these companies to offer infant grade demineralised whey powder.

In addition, by integrating whey production, they are able to maintain a very consistent mineral content between batches. Combining ion exchange and electro-dialysis also allows dairy ingredients manufacturers to tailor the mineral profile of the powder to the specific needs of each customer.

Demineralised Whey: An Ingredient Of Advantages

One thing that only a very limited number of demineralised whey suppliers are able to offer is a highly heat-stable powder. Most ingredients currently on the market are stable up to 80 deg C but some suppliers were able to drastically reduce the levels of instability-inducing minerals to the point where a 15 percent solution of 90 percent demineralised whey powder displays no flocculation for 10 minutes at 100 deg C. This unique feature allows higher usage rates in applications and represents tremendous opportunities for industrials.

Beyond outstanding functional properties and superior quality, highly demineralised whey (70-90 percent) is perfectly adapted to infant nutrition as it allows developers to adjust the protein ratio of their finished formula to better mimic breast milk, which is higher in whey than cow’s milk (40:60 vs 80:20).

Being extremely low in naturally-occurring minerals, it provides a blank slate’ for formulators to adjust the mineral content for each individual component in order to reach the desired profile matching the exact needs of the target population. The very mild flavour of highly demineralised whey is another asset in formulating infant products, allowing it to be well tolerated without the need for extra ingredients to mask an unpleasant flavour.

Although mainly used in infant nutrition, the features of highly demineralised whey described above makes it a great fit for other nutrition segments where adjusting the nutrient content can provide specific health benefits, such as senior or sports nutrition. The ability to fine-tune the mineral profile of the finished product, combined with high heat-stability (if available) can give some industrials a competitive edge on these highly specialised markets.

Completing Nutrition With Dairy

Demineralised whey powder is only one example of a dairy ingredient going beyond basic nutrition. Other solutions offering specialised nutritional benefits to targeted groups of people include lactose-free dairy ingredients, milk protein isolates, caseinates, etc.

Committed to providing the best natural and nutritious value-added products to meet the specific needs of targeted groups of people, some dairy companies are going one step further and allocating dedicated resources (R&D team of experts, process engineers, investment in facilities, marketing & regulatory support) in order to offer fully finished products packaged for retail and ready-to-market under the customer’s own brand.

Thanks to their expertise in dairy processing, proven experience in health and nutrition markets and a total control over the entire supply chain, these would make a reliable partner for companies who wish to reduce their time-to-market and are looking for a strong and long-term partnership.