Our History of Protein Innovation
Learn about the highlights of our innovations over the past century in developing today’s world-leading ingredients.
First investment into Ultrafiltration (UF) plants for WPC
Our first breakthrough came from establishing ultrafiltration (UF) plants at scale, which were able to produce soluble Whey protein concentrate (WPC).
Unlike most other protein sources, Whey proteins are soluble in liquids with acid pH levels which means they can be used in novel formats like protein fortified carbonated drinks.
Dramatically increased protein content of WPCs
Our second breakthrough was when we pioneered advances in UF technology to further concentrate protein levels from 35% up to 80% protein. This unique process is still a Fonterra trade secret.
This allowed us to offer a wider range of WPCs with greater functionality, and meet specific nutritional needs of new export markets like Japan and Europe.
World’s first WPCs tailored for specific foods
The diversity and breadth of our portfolio allowed us to develop WPCs for specific food applications including ground-breaking:
Non-gelling protein takes shape
Increased use of WPCs, especially in a wider range of applications, uncovered a common theme in customer complaints – over time the Whey would form a gel creating unappealing lumpy textures. This was especially problematic for beverages and medical foods.
Analysis of complaint samples highlighted the potential for ‘inert’ (non-gelling) protein
and development of a new generation of Whey products began.
Initial pilot trials lead to ‘inert’ protein
After numerous pilot-scale trials investigating different Whey protein concentrations, production methods and heating vessel designs, we landed on the optimised process of heating and drying, which remains a trade secret to this day.
Surprisingly, this new Whey became a leading ingredient for cheese applications due to it’s ability to retain moisture to improve cheese texture and also improve the yield in cheese production.
WPC 515 is developed for use in protein bars
By the mid-2000s Fonterra Research and Development Centre had established a dedicated bars and snacking team to address the growing market opportunity as protein became mainstream, with snack bars and low-carbohydrate foods gaining in popularity.
Although ‘standard’ WPCs were commonly used in protein bars, these would harden dramatically over shelf life. We suspected that the chemical reactions driving these changes could be prevented by using our new ‘inert WPC’.
Innovative partnership develops protein crisps
The heat stability of our ‘inert’ WPC 515 allowed Whey to be used in food manufacturing processes which were previously too challenging.
As we explored these opportunities, we partnered with an innovative company who was able to create extruded Whey proteins crisps. This ingredient enabled us to deliver a Whey with a crunchy texture, making it a suitable substitute for puffed grains, to boost nutrition in bars, snacks and cereals.
Unique functional WPC discovered for UHT beverages
Decades of scientific research have shown that Whey was the best protein source for both sports recovery and medical rehabilitation. Protein powders has been the core format for Whey delivery, but as large sports and medical foods companies evolved to meet demands for convenience there was a strong shift to UHT drinks.
UHT products are subjected to high heat, which typically causes Whey proteins to clump together, resulting in a lumping undrinkable product.
However, during our development of WPC 515, we had tested a range of processing conditions revealing that our patented ingredient delivered outstanding results in UHT beverages so could offer our customers a unique advantage.
WPC 515 applied to high-protein yoghurt
The growth of Greek yoghurt, especially in the US, drove demand for higher protein levels in yoghurts.
However manufacturers found as they increased protein content, the thickness of the yoghurt became increasingly unacceptable to consumers.
WPC 515 presented an ideal solution, by allowing high protein levels to be achieved without creating a thick gluey texture.
WPC 550 becomes the second generation of functional WPCs
A second breakthrough was in understanding and articulating what we’d done: the specific processing conditions had created a protein structure that withstood the heat of UHT, providing functional stability during shelf life and low viscosity in beverages.
We’d found an important link between finely-tuned process conditions, favourable protein structure and ideal particle size. When processing was carefully controlled it produced a WPC with no sediment in beverage, and no detectable gritty particles in the mouth.
This new ingredient became WPC 550, offering a solution to creating palatable high protein beverages for sports and medical consumers.
World-first WPC 550 is released for sale
When WPC 550 was commercially launched, it was a revolutionary.
No other dairy provider had been able to solve the issues of Whey protein instability in UHT beverages, whilst still achieving the high protein levels required to deliver nutritional and physiological benefits. Even now, consistent customer feedback suggests no competitors have been able to match the functionality provided by our WPC 550.
Low viscosity functional WPC launched
WPI & Lactoferrin
Scaled Lactoferrin Process
Joint research with Massey University explores ion exchange
FRDC started a joint research programme with Massey University’s Chemistry Department exploring the use of ion exchange resins for the separation of Whey proteins.
The research looked at developing process technologies that separated milk into specialised components like BSA (bovine serum albumin), b-lactoglobulin, a-lactalbumin, etc.
Clear protein microfiltration & ion exchange are explored in the search for a ‘clear’ protein.
Increased requests from US customers for new variations of low fat WPC for beverages, challenged the NZDB innovation team to embark on a revolutionary new product - a clear dairy protein.
Microfiltration and ion exchange manufacturing processes were piloted, revealing ion exchange WPI yielded the superior combination of flavour and functionality due to its ability to extract only the most acid stable proteins from Whey.
First commercial production of WPI
Scaling-up the pilot manufacture of WPI to a commercial process presented new challenges. Key challenge was the low concentration of Whey protein in the cheese Whey.
It took 10 months to optimise this process and design an ingenious new ion exchange tank system at the Whareroa plant. This original design continues to be used to this day.
The success of Whareroa’s IX WPI resulted in an explosion of demand, requiring its capacity to be scaled up over 600% over the next few years. Further refinements created a new low-pH WPI which offered superior flavour in acidic beverages.
Ion exchange WPI helps to combat instability in acidic drinks
Increasing research on the role of protein in managing appetite caught the attention of mainstream food companies further growing demand for high clarity WPI. Other dairy players began to invest in this space, with several offering lower cost microfiltered WPI.
Unlike our IX WPI, MF WPIs were unstable in acidic drinks, quickly resulting in cloudiness (flocculation).
Our team quickly identified that our IX process naturally excluded denatured proteins that caused this.
Novel Lactoferrin process invented to increase quality and production
Lactoferrin is present in human milk in high proportions, and breast-fed infants will consume up to three grams a day during their first week of life. This abundance of lactoferrin in human milk is considered to be an indication of its importance in infant nutrition.
Because of this, our customers have invested in extensive research and trials on the benefits of lactoferrin particularly to the immune system, given its strong anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Whareroa continues to produce WPI
The Whareroa plant is still in full production today.
While microfiltration has overtaken ion exchange as the predominant method of manufacturing WPI for powdered nutritional products, ion exchange WPI still commands a premium in applications where its specific protein and mineral composition deliver superior performance, such as ready-to drink beverages and cultured products.
First to produce MPC at scale
In the late 80s commercial scale UF plants began to emerge. We leveraged the combination of this technology and our knowledge of WPC production, to make Milk Protein Concentrates (MPCs) from Skim Milk. Production of a 56% protein MPC began at scale at Whareroa.
Growing awareness of MPCs and their diverse applications (e.g. diet products, UHT meal replacements and sports protein drinks) drove up demand. To cater to this need we opened an UF-MPC plant at Hautapu, and began development of a 85% protein MPC.
Key challenges we had to overcome were:
- Ensuring production was economical enough make this a viable option for the market.
- Overcoming high viscosity & gelling during manufacture as protein concentration increased.
- Carefully monitoring the UF membranes to minimise the impact mineral or fat fouling.
First functional MPCs
During the early 2000s, improvements to MPC performance and function resulted of the launch of a suite of eight new MPC ingredients in 2004, and number of patents being filed.
Our ability to design new functionalities and flavours meant catered to the diversified applications including bars, meal replacement beverages, sports beverages, cultured foods, soups and more.
Low viscosity MPC developed
Our work in medical nutrition provided the insight that patients often struggle to consume the protein rich foods recommended in their diet regimes.
This is due to a combination of reduced appetite, and failure of these foods to deliver on sensory experience. This impacts patient recovery as it increases risk of nutrient deficiency, eventually leading to malnutrition.
The challenge was finding nutritionally dense ingredients, which could be concentrated in low volume liquid products. However, highly concentrated protein beverages were typically too thick. Additionally, mineral fortification could impact protein stability. Through a combination of mineral management and mild heat treatment during manufacture, we created – ‘Low Viscosity’ functional MPC.
Fast-absorption demonstrated as key for specialised proteins
Opportunities for new proteins emerged from international clinical research showing that muscle mass, muscle recovery, and age related sarcopenia (loss of muscle) could be mitigated by specialised proteins, provided they could be absorbed quickly by the body.
However consumer taste preference and price sensitivity challenged us to explore if we could modify Milk Protein to provide the same outcomes.
Clinical trials show promise of rapid protein absorption
Our first breakthrough came in a human clinical trial that showed which MPCs would enable rapid amino acid appearance in the blood. The best ingredient became “Fast MPC”.
MPC 4882 launched to target medical foods and sports applications
Targeting medical foods and sports applications, MPC 4882 could deliver 18g of protein in just 125mL beverage volume (>14% protein) with its key feature a cleaner flavour profile.
“Clean flavour” functional MPC is developed
From 2014, the growing high-protein Greek yoghurt trend drove the development of cultured applications, with demand for formulations with lower protein flavour notes but with higher protein levels.
As a result of that work, new ingredient MPC 4867 was developed.
Fast MPC launched
Further breakthroughs on fast MPC came from examining the physical behaviour of MPC ingredients under simulated stomach conditions.
The human stomach contains acid. When protein is eaten it typically reacts with the acid to form a ‘curd’. The physical properties of this curd can vary significantly, so we studied numerous digestive simulations to assess the amount of material that would flow quickly through to the small intestine.
Taking lessons from ‘clean flavour’ functional MPCs targeted for cultured applications, we developed options for medical foods with new benefits: “fast MPC with better flavour”.
High protein low-viscosity medical beverage formulation developed to support key customers.
Gold MPC launched
Second generation MPC targeting beverage & ready-to-mix (powdered beverage) applications with improved solubility, heat stability, dispersibility & reduced foaming for ease of processing.
We developed Total Milk Protein (TMP), by applying expertise and process developed from our Caseinate innovation.
This addressed key challenges for customers trying to expand use of Casein in food manufacturing, or manage changes to labelling conventions e.g. snack bar manufacturers noted that consumer responded more favorably to “Total Milk Protein” being listed as an ingredient, rather than casein.
Second Generation TMP patented
The major breakthroughs in TMP production enabled us to patent a proprietary process which allowed us to develop more variants of TMP.
Commercial product was originally in manufacturing facilities at Takaka, later moving to Reporoa, became an integral part of our success and leadership in protein expertise.
Major US sports brand champions TMP use in bars
A global pioneer in sports nutrition, became a key customer for TMP after we worked closely with them to identify the unmet needs of athletes and sports enthusiasts.
Understanding that these consumers were tired of protein bars which were hopelessly sticky and chewy, or hard, dry and brittle, we developed TMP 1100 – a high quality protein with which imparted favourable textural properties.
This innovation enabled our major US customer to create a high quality protein bar with a soft pliable texture that didn’t hurt to eat! The key factor of our success was our commercial model, where we understood the need to be in the market alongside our customers to provide dedicated focus and support.
Being on the ground enabled us to find new opportunities for protein (e.g. meal replacements & medical foods) and build intimate relationships with customers, whose honest feedback combined with our willingness to take new approaches, facilitated rapid new product development.
As we grew our understanding of key protein properties like mineral balance and viscosity, this knowledge equipped us to be the first to adapt to changing market needs.
Advanced bar portfolio launched, featuring next generation TMP 1104 as a key ingredient to manage bar structure & texture.
Casein & Caseinate
First to mechanise the Casein Process
Acquisition of innovative US Casein player Western Dairies
This provided access to manufacturing plants across the USA, as well as innovative Caseinate processing knowledge.
Expansion of Caseinate range
Research into the effect of different minerals on Caseinate production, dramatically expanded our Caseinate portfolio.
These new solutions offered unique functionality which allowed customers to fine tune their formulations (e.g. control the amount of air in foam, or to tailor viscosity) and opened up new application for caseinates, such as imitation cream.
First Caseinate production
Our knowledge and expertise in the effects of minerals on Caseinate production allowed us to quickly expand our Caseinate range. This also opened us up to new customers due to our ability to meet specific [formulations] or nutritional requirements.
Customer demand grows
Throughout the first half of the 80s, customer demand for functional protein continued to grow, particularly those catering for medical patients being fed through tubes, where viscosity of liquids is particularly important.
In recognition of rapidly growing market demand, NZDB set up New Zealand Milk Products (NZMP) in the USA, which would provide new protein ingredients to a wide range of customers globally.
Our Caseinates continue to meet demand from these same medical customers today, which is evidence of our robust, enduring and unique ingredient solutions.
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