Since the 1990s the family-owned firm has worked closely with the Welsh cheese industry to use whey, a by-product of cheese-making, for whey protein concentrate and isolate. These have been offered as a nutritional ingredients to aid muscle recovery, bone health and immunity.
Now, however, it is expanding its range with the launch of Volactose edible lactose for the broader ingredients market. Lactose, a carbohydrate crystallised from whey, is used extensively by the food industry to provide flavour, browning and texture for baked goods, and as an anti-caking agent in dry mixes.
Investment of ₤8m (c €9m at today’s exchange rates) bought the company a new lactose refining and drying system that includes an advanced crystallization processat its Felinfach plant – said to be the only kit of its kind in Europe.
In addition, the investment gave the opportunity to develop the whole Felinfach site, as it brings benefits to other areas of production and capacity.
Mark Neville, marketing manager, dairy and lifestyle ingredients, called the move into lactose production a “natural progression for Volac”, as it adds more value to the whey raw material. Although funding was obtained before the economic downturn, Neville is not put off by the climate.
“There may be an economic downturn, but demand for nutritional products remains strong. Volac’s Dairy & Lifestyle Ingredients business has grown significantly in recent years, due to robust demand from our European customers for whey protein in sports nutrition and wellness food and drink products,” he said.
Lactose production has been phased in at the site over the last seven months, and commercial quantities of Volactose edible lactose have been available for six months.
Neville said the company is currently achieving a volume of approximately 1000 tonnes per month.
“We’re running at about 80 per cent capacity which meets our forecast for the first year,” he said, adding that full capacity for the first year would be unrealistic as the company has to iron out any issues.
By 2010 annual production will be 15,000 tonnes.
Volac is billing its new ingredient as vegetarian, kosher and halal. In fact, Felinfach has been kosher and halal approved for the last ten years, and it uses only vegetarian-assured materials.
The company has seen considerable interest in Volactose from bakery and confectionery makers who are keen on its vegetarian origin. The ingredient is available in several grades.