3 Questions with Brent Vautier, Senior Research Technologist

Blog

Brent Vautier shares his insights on what sets Fonterra's Research and Development Centre (FRDC) apart from other players in the dairy industry.

13 August 2020

5 min

#Blog #Global #Cultured & Beverages #Sports and Active Lifestyle #Protein

In addition to our interview below, Brent Vautier spoke with Dairy Reporter as part of their Dairy Dialog podcast series. Listen to the podcast here to hear more of Brent's insights. (Brent's sharing begins at 25:45)

Empowering our people to drive growth through innovation

New Zealand has pioneered dairy innovation from as early as 1927 when a dedicated Dairy Research Institute (NZDRI) was launched to advance product development and spur growth.

Today, the Fonterra Research and Development Centre (FRDC) is one of the leading organisations of its kind in the world, home to hundreds of scientific, research and technical staff from over 40 countries.

The innovative work undertaken by FRDC has not only kept NZMP at the forefront of the dairy industry but also provided employees with opportunities for personal and professional growth. Nurturing this is critical to fostering an environment for successful and consistent product development.  

With over 40 years of experience under his belt, we asked Brent Vautier, Senior Research Technologist, to share his insights on what sets FRDC’s culture apart from other players in the dairy industry.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your role and what you do? 

I started with NZDRI back in 1980 as a technician and have been with the company ever since. Today, I believe I am the second-longest-serving employee on-site at FRDC and that time has given me the opportunity to work with some of the best scientists and researchers in the world.

As a research technologist, I am involved in helping develop products and solutions for our expanding global customer base, including extensive work on creating protein ingredients such as caseinates and functional whey proteins. In the early years of my career, I saw the transformative work that NZMP was pioneering through our work with partners in the U.S., when we developed over 100 iterations of high-quality protein products, many being caseinates and Total Milk Proteins, to meet the demands of our customers.
 

stirred yoghurt on a spoon

Working…on the ground…showed me different ways of working and allowed me to better understand customer needs.

Brent Vautier |  Senior Research Technologist, FRDC

Working with employees on the ground at local processing facilities not only allowed us to produce and commercialise a consistent stream of new ingredients for a fast-growing market, but it also showed me different ways of working and allowed me to better understand customer needs. This has been instrumental in my professional development as I continue to work with global teams and drive ideation across different product categories.

Q. In this increasingly competitive landscape, how do you think FRDC stands out? 

Without a doubt, FRDC’s deep dairy expertise has allowed us to differentiate ourselves from competitors. Since day one, we were committed to driving research and development (R&D) activities to bring global consumers high quality, delicious and healthy protein products. 

FRDC is a place where product development is constant, driven by our people’s curiosity, and backed by strong research.

Brent Vautier |  Senior Research Technologist, FRDC
NZMP image - Female technical scientist testing product

In the 1970s and 1980s, academic research on the dairy sector was taking place in universities, but few were applying their findings to practice. This was not the case for NZDRI (FRDC) – we had some of the world’s most prominent scientists in the field conducting research and putting it into practice, both from a commercial and operational perspective. 

These early years of rigorous R&D has given our teams a strong foundation to find new ways to build on and improve existing products and solutions.

Brent Vautier |  Senior Research Technologist, FRDC

You can see our commitment to R&D in the development of whey protein concentrate (WPC) and the discovery of WPC 550 – the world’s first heat-stable whey protein. In fact, we discovered it while we were developing a whey protein ingredient for a different application.

During this process, one sample stood out to us as it had the unique properties for possible use in heat-stable beverages. Following years of trials, adopting new technologies and developing our own unique processes, we were able to introduce WPC 550 to the market in 2012.

This process was painstaking but the team I worked with on the development of WPC 550 was one of the best, with a diverse mix of professional backgrounds and complementary strengths.

Q. What aspects of the company’s culture stand out to you? 

One aspect that stands out to me at FRDC is everyone’s willingness to share information and knowledge and get involved in solving problems across disciplines and projects. Interestingly, FRDC’s cafeteria is one of the biggest “meeting rooms” in the company where everyone congregates, allowing discussions and cross-pollination of ideas to take place in a relaxed environment.

Female lab scientists making tests

That is not all – working in cross-functional teams has given me perspectives from a diverse mix of backgrounds and cultures. While New Zealanders make up close to a third of our workforce, we have also brought together people from across the globe in a single location, from neighbouring Australia and Tonga to far-flung destinations such as Singapore, India and Canada. We learn from each other’s experiences and it makes us consider different cultural approaches and viewpoints when developing products, which translates to better outcomes in our work.

Through my experience working directly with engineers when developing functional WPCs, their drive for perfection helped us elevate the quality of our products as it compelled us to pay greater attention to the finer details that may have otherwise been missed. This has been true for the four decades I’ve worked at FRDC, and I am proud say that this unique company culture has allowed me to grow professionally more than I would have ever imagined.

The human creativity and collaborative brain power behind FRDC

At the end of the day, you can have all the milk in the world and the fanciest equipment that money can buy - but you cannot replicate the human creativity and collaborative brain power that drives FRDC. Without question, our people have been the key ingredient to our history of successful innovations and their fortitude, judgement and creativity will continue to play a critical role in advancing NZMP and the wider industry. 

 

Our Expert

Brent Vautier

Senior Research Technologist

Brent is a senior research technologist who has been an integral part of the Fonterra’s Research & Development Centre (FRDC). Having started his career with New Zealand Dairy Board over 40 years ago, he has become an expert in functional whey protein over the decades.