Protein Innovation Part 2: Using Culture and Collaboration
01 Jul 2020
Harnessing the power of innovation
Early days at New Zealand Dairy Research Institute. Source: FRDC Archives
From the humble beginnings of Fonterra’s Research and Development Centre (FRDC) more than a century ago, NZMP has since established an extensive knowledge and portfolio of dairy ingredients, with one of the broadest ranges in the industry.
This expertise was not built in silos; it was created in partnership – not only with our customers, but also our people, entrepreneurs, and universities around the world.
This belief has positioned us well to harness the power of open innovation and in this final part of our protein innovation content series, we delve into how NZMP has successfully unlocked new applications from milk through our ongoing drive to build strong partnerships and a sustainable culture of innovation.
Collaboration with partners
In 1991, the FRDC team launched a joint research programme with Massey University’s Chemistry Department looking at process technologies that separated milk into specialised components [such as lactoferrin, β-lactoglobulin or α-lactalbumin], including the use of ion exchange resins to separate whey proteins.
This technology was used in our first commercial production of whey protein isolate (WPI) at Whareroa, New Zealand in 1995, which the team identified as an ideal solution for U.S. customers who were on the search for new variations of low-fat WPC for beverages.
The success of the scaled-up production of WPI saw demand explode through the late 1990s, with capacity increasing by more than 600% over a couple of years. Today, NZMP is the sole New Zealand manufacturer of WPI.
We continue to use the same process developed by the research programme with Massey University, highlighting the endurance of our approach and technologies.
Our emphasis on partnerships and collaboration continues to reap rewards. In the past decade, we have partnered with several research institutes, experts and companies to build on our innovations in the protein space.
As we adapt to changing consumer needs, we have launched ingredient portfolios that suit a diverse range of applications. In 2007, we partnered with an innovative startup who was willing to push the limits of texture – enabling us to deliver whey with a crunchy texture that is suitable as a substitute for puffed grains like rice or wheat, to boost nutrition in bars, snacks and cereals.
This convenient and versatile product, SureProteinTM Dairy Protein Crisps, has changed the way we think about healthy snacking and allows us to meet the needs of active and nutrition-conscious consumers who are looking for healthier options and a great experience when they snack.
A culture that fosters curiosity and excellence
Since the first discoveries in 1912, our culture of innovation has been underpinned by the curiosity, creativity and hard work of our people. With their help, we’ve set the standard for research and development in dairy that’s respected by scientists, partners, and consumers around the globe.
In the 1970s and 80s, when academic research in the dairy sector was limited to universities, FRDC was one of the few places where cutting-edge research went hand-in-hand with practical, commercial applications. These years of rigorous R&D have given us a strong foundation to find new ways to build on and improve existing products and solutions.
FRDC is a place where product development is constantly taking place, driven by our people’s curiosity, and backed by strong research.
Brent Vautier | Senior Research Technologist
FRDC has since attracted hundreds of world-class researchers, including some of the most prominent engineers and scientists in their fields from more than 40 countries around the world.
With a diverse mix of over 40 PhD specialisations within the team, our experts continue to play a crucial role in keeping us at the forefront of dairy by enabling cross-functional collaboration and ensuring that our products address different consumer needs.
Our commitment to attracting and embracing the unique skills and fresh perspectives of our people continue to propel advances at NZMP. Through cross-functional collaborations that bring together global leaders in dairy innovation, we have successfully harnessed their skills to create market-leading products and improve efficiency.
In 2012, NZMP set a new industry benchmark with the launch of SureProteinTM WPC 550, the world’s first heat-stable whey protein.
The discovery would not have been possible without the collaborative approach of a highly connected organisation. While working on a separate project to develop SureProteinTM WPC 515, the team came across a sample that had the right qualities for use in heat-stable beverages and recognised the added value it could bring to customers if commercialised.
They shared it with their colleagues and, following several years of rigorous research from an international team of experts with diverse professional backgrounds and complementary strengths, SureProteinTM WPC 550 came to market. Since then, researchers have drawn on new developments and innovations from across the business to make continued improvements to its manufacturing process, ensuring the product can be produced more efficiently.
Learning at FRDC never stops… we are always looking to apply our learnings to unexplored spaces to uncover new products.
Dave Elgar | Senior Research Technologist
By placing people at the heart of our work, we are able to realise success through the culture they have built over the years – one that welcomes diversity and open communication, and encourages teams to work together to bring about innovative solutions.