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Glanbia solves whey protein problems with R&D

By Jess Halliday , 03-Oct-2005

Since it opened two years ago, Glanbia's R&D center in Twin Falls, Idaho, has set about addressing some of the problems that plague formulators working with whey protein ingredients. Jess Halliday speaks to Eric Bastian, director of research and development.

The use of whey protein in food products began in the early 1990s, but for the first seven or eight years it was used mainly for sports nutrition. Over time, however, it began to spill over into the more mainstream food market.

According to Bastian, Glanbia, the number two company in the US market behind Davisco, was initially producing 20-30,000 pounds of its 90 percent whey protein isolate a week. Having gone through six phases of expansion, it is now producing four or five times that level.

With this expansion in production and in the market has come a whole new set of issues for formulators, which Glanbia seeks to address through its R&D.

At the Twin Falls center, there are four departments: process development, where the ingredients are developed; analysis, where the components are measured to ensure they are at correct levels; applications, where prototype products are developed; and clinical trials, where prototypes are used in human and animal subjects.

In the applications division, the company is growing its team from two to four and has recently invested in a bar extruder and a pilot plant for beverages, which allow it to test ingredients in prototypes.

"We want to both show the ingredients and show our customers how to use them," said Bastian.

He told NutraIngredients-USA.com that bars currently make up 40 percent of the protein business. The benefit of bars as a delivery mechanism for protein is that, unlike with beverages, there is no need for heat treatment, which can knock out bioactive function.

However there are far greater growth opportunities in beverages, and this is an area that Glanbia is putting a lot into at the moment.

For example, when whey protein beverages first came to the market, they were generally more acidic, with a pH of around three. In an acidic environment the product is better protected against bacteria, so there is less need for refrigeration or asceptic processing.

But drinks makers would like to be able to offer protein drinks with less 'tartness' and a pH of around 4.5, without needing to go through the asceptic process.

So far, Glanbia has come up with a rather complex method of making a pH 4.5 smoothie, but investigations are continuing. The company is aiming to perfect the process next year.

The US R&D center works in close collaboration with the Glanbia Innovation Center in Kilkenny, Ireland, and responds to feedback and suggestions from current and potential clients.

Other problems that have occupied the team include preventing protein bars from becoming hard over time, since whey protein is a water scavenger. To overcome this problem, Glanbia developed an ingredient called BarFlex, with which the bar retains first-day flexibility throughout its shelf-life.

With considerable research into the weight-loss properties of dairy products, and in particular calcium, in recent times, Glanbia has investigated the role of dairy protein in weight loss and developed an ingredient called Prolibra. This is a combination of both protein and calcium.

Intended for use in products marketed at the overweight, it was introduced this year and is already being used by a company in Japan. Glanbia has also received interest for a US company with "significant" presence in the weight-loss market, and is in discussions with a major multinational.

Glanbia's approach to ingredients is to reach a point where it can deliver just the ingredients, without dictating stabilisers and processes.

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