Protein Innovation Part 1: Our Customers

We've been working with dairy proteins for over 100 years. Along the way some of our key innovations have been inspired by our customers.

08 Jul 2020

5 min

#Global #Cultured and Beverages #Active Lifestyle #Protein #Innovation

Our protein expertise stems from a research and development centre which was established more than 100 years ago

photo collage of casein curd production and men during conference.

Early days at New Zealand Dairy Research Institute. Source: FRDC Archives 

In 1912, when the New Zealand Dairy Research Institute (now known as Fonterra’s Research and Development Centre or FRDC) first successfully mechanised the casein process, little did they know this would set in motion more than a century of innovation in New Zealand dairy ingredients.

Developed in Taranaki, New Zealand, this new process removed the more labour-intensive steps in casein production which were prevalent at the time, making us the first to produce casein on a commercial scale globally.

This initial step not only led to breakthrough development of new caseinates and methods of production, but also to the establishment of our whey protein ingredients range, which have been integral to NZMP’s success over the years.

Many of our researchers have devoted their entire careers to their fields of expertise

Our deep dairy expertise comes from generations of dairy farming experience and is enhanced by a research and development centre that was established more than 100 years ago.

Many of our researchers have devoted their entire careers to their fields of expertise. Combined, these elements enable us to deliver ingredient solutions that have unmatched performance and high levels of quality and consistency

Throughout the discoveries and advances in our protein history, three factors were crucial in enabling NZMP’s success (3Cs): 

  1. Unwavering focus on creating and delivering the right ingredients for Customers
  2. Willingness to Collaborate with a range of partners
  3. An open and sharing Culture that attracts a strong team of diverse and curious people

To better understand how NZMP has tapped on each component to build a strong momentum of innovation, this new, two-part content series will explore the role each of the three Cs (Customers, Collaboration and Culture) played in solidifying our leadership position in the dairy industry today.

In the first part of the series, we focus on NZMP’s approach to new product development with customers throughout the years.

Delivering for our customers

Throughout our journey, we have partnered with food and beverage companies to develop targeted formulations that deliver products consumers want.

We take a collaborative approach with our customers, not only supplying ingredients but working with them to create solutions – whether it’s providing technical expertise or supply chain solutions.

A key factor in our success has been our commercial model. From the outset, we understood the need to be in-market alongside our customers to provide dedicated focus and support.

Working alongside our customers has enabled us to find new opportunities for protein, for example in meal replacements and medical foods, as well as build strong relationships.

The honest feedback we’ve received from customers, combined with our willingness to take on new approaches, have facilitated rapid product development.

As we build our understanding of how key protein properties like mineral balance can affect viscosity, this knowledge has equipped NZMP to be the world-first in adapting to changing market needs. 

One of the first examples of our customer focus and readiness to try new approaches dates back to our work with The Coca-Cola Export Corporation (Coca-Cola) in 1969, who was looking to develop a new beverage line that offered additional nutrition for consumers.

Teams at Coca-Cola were hard at work to develop a new, acid-soluble whey protein but needed a reliable and consistent source of this protein – naturally, New Zealand dairy’s competitive advantage thanks to our early 20th Century casein production innovations, made us the partner of choice. 

The opportunity saw the New Zealand Dairy Board kickstart pilot studies using ultrafiltration for the recovery of proteins from whey to meet the specific protein needs of Coca-Cola. By 1970, this ultrafiltered whey protein concentrate (WPC) powder was being produced with high protein levels of 65%, clarity and solubility to ensure no sediment was left in the bottle.

What is Ultrafiltration?

Ultrafiltration is when liquid whey or milk is pushed through a thin membrane with small pores. This filters large molecules allowing us to concentrate protein, whilst removing water, lactose, salts and acids, to give us products like WPC & MPC.

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While the product was not brought to market at this time, the research and development undertaken during the period saw the New Zealand dairy industry develop the most comprehensive knowledge of whey ultrafiltration in the world.

Since then, there has been a revival of interest in the technologies used, which has kick-started years of intense development activity in the industry.

This knowledge of whey protein also established a sound platform on which we continued to build, pioneering advances in ultrafiltration technology to further concentrate protein levels up to 80% in 1980, opening up an even wider range of WPCs with increased functionality, that also met the specific nutritional needs of new export markets like Japan and Europe. 

Another key customer, a global pioneer in sports nutrition, approached NZMP in the late 1980s to help them address unmet needs of athletes and sports enthusiasts.
man and woman running

These consumers were tired of protein bars with extreme textures – at the time bars were often hopelessly sticky and chewy or hard, dry and brittle, so together we developed a high-quality protein with favourable textural properties: SureProteinTM Total Milk Protein 1104.

Having invented the new SureProteinTM Total Milk Protein in 1981, our new tailored formulation allowed our customer to finally create a high-quality protein bar with a pliable texture, an appealing and balanced end-product that suited their consumers’ tastes and preferences.

The U.S. market, in particular, saw an uptick in protein demand among sports enthusiasts and athletes in the 1980s. In response, FRDC tapped on the strong production and research capabilities of a local partner and worked closely with them to develop over 100 iterations of high-quality protein solutions including caseinates and Total Milk Proteins.

With a team on the ground overseeing the development and commercialisation of such ingredients, we were able to help our customers address emerging consumer needs and preferences at rapid speed. 

Ultimately, our enthusiasm for tackling new challenges and our customers’ willingness to collaborate have enabled us to be remain at the forefront of the future of dairy over more than a century.

Read part two of our protein innovation series

How we have unlocked new applications through strong partnerships and sustainable innovation

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