The Fonterra Research and Development Centre
Founded in 1927 as the New Zealand Dairy Research Institute, the Fonterra Research and Development Centre (FRDC) is one of the largest research facilities in the world dedicated to dairy. It is home to more than 280 researchers, engineers and scientists from 46 different countries, with more than 130 PhDs, 3,500 years of combined dairy experience and 350 patents.
Steve's role has encompassed implementing rapid test methods across the different parts of the business to align sites, and to unify testing strategy and software, to make sure all our ingredients are made consistently.
One unique rapid test method used is milk fingerprinting.
Steve says that by taking a sample from the milk collected on farm as it enters the tanker, the milk can be ‘fingerprinted’ almost in real time, leading to the right milk being used for the right ingredients.
“When you consider the amount of milk we process every single day – the produce of over ten thousand farms – it would be easy to imagine it is regarded equal.
“But milk is a natural product of amazing sophistication, and natural conditions affect it in subtle ways. So, some milk from one area will have slightly different qualities to others. This can be for a range of reasons such as rainfall or sunshine or the particular breed of animal.
“To figure out what any particular batch of milk is going to be ideal for, we take a ‘milk fingerprint’.
“The innovative technology we use is spectroscopy. Light is passed through the milk. Some of that light is absorbed by the milk, and some isn’t, based on the compounds inherent in the sample. We can detect quite subtle unique qualities, and that gives us the ‘fingerprint’ of the milk.
“Through milk fingerprinting, we’re beginning to get a better understanding of how environmental factors and changes on farm relate to the characteristics of a particular farm’s milk. And we can link up this data with our manufacturing processes, allowing us to match the milk we’re collecting at the farm gate to the product that it’s most suitable for in the factory – even re-routing our tankers to go to the specific farms that are producing the milk we require, right when we need it”, says Steve.
Setting the standard for consistent product quality
Steve says consistency of quality is the greatest benefit for customers.
“We use milk fingerprinting to help ensure we’ve got consistent milk quality across the season. This contributes to a broad range of NZMP ingredients. We can look at these quality factors in real time and make decisions such as, let’s pick up milk from that farm tomorrow and reroute it to a different manufacturing site than normal” says Steve. With an analytical dairy role, Steve uses science to solve problems every day. With the use of sophisticated instruments such as spectroscopy to look at the composition of milk with light, Steve gets to turn data into valuable information for the business.
“We are continually looking at new instruments with our vendors, or with start-ups, who will often have clever ideas about analysing and sampling foods.
“Because we measure by spectroscopy at every processing site, and have complete integration and uniform analytics across sites, I believe we are best in dairy and produce world leading dairy ingredients globally that our customers trust to be the same every time,” says Steve.
In addition to meeting high standards, Steve works with the International Dairy Federation to set them. As part of globally collaborative teams he works to write dairy product standards, creating consistent measures and expectations for dairy around the world.
Steve has been with Fonterra for nearly 20 years. Following a Chemistry PhD in New Zealand and post-doctoral work at Cambridge University, Steve worked in the UK oil and gas industry as an analytical chemist and on returning to New Zealand joined Fonterra as a chemical analyst for the dairy industry in 1998.
Combining deep analysis, site integration, tools like milk fingerprinting and rapid measurement strategies, Steve is at the forefront of innovation within the business, and representing New Zealand dairy on the world stage.