JEROME, Idaho — Chenchaiah Marella starts his day with a cup of milk flavored with a bit of instant coffee, a testament to his enthusiasm for dairy foods.
As vice president of research and development for Idaho Milk Products, he funnels that enthusiasm into developing new products and improving others.
The company produces more than 40 million pounds of milk protein concentrate and isolate annually, more than 55 million pounds of milk permeate and 100 million pounds of pasteurized cream.
The company’s many products become ingredients in yogurt, cheese, ice cream, protein bars, breakfast foods and beverages.
The company is a big player in the U.S. and operates the world’s largest dedicated milk protein concentrate facility, Marella said.
His role is to develop new products, add value to the milk permeate product and make the milk protein concentrate more functional to help the company expand its market, he said.
“In R&D, we need to find new things, change things and improve things,” he said.
Food science is always changing because consumers’ tastes and demands are always changing, he said.
For example, the company is working to satisfy consumers’ demand for high-protein foods and sustain that demand with taste and high quality, he said.
His work at the company is “very satisfying,” he said. It’s a good company. It’s professionally managed and operates with integrity, he said.
Marella has more than 20 years of experience in dairy science and technology, but his connection with dairy goes back to his childhood in India.
His father was a teacher and a farmer, and the family always had dairy cows on its small farm. That affinity for dairy attracted him to a career in the dairy foods industry.
“I never looked back. I like what I’m doing, and I’m a big fan of dairy,” he said.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in dairy technology and master’s degree in dairy engineering in India, he worked for nine years as an assistant professor and pilot plant manager, teaching dairy courses and doing research and outreach at three different universities in India.
In 2005, he crossed the ocean to work on a Ph.D. in agricultural and biosystems engineering at South Dakota State University and then managed the school’s pilot plant for dairy ingredient processing.
It was during that time he became affiliated with Idaho Milk Products, helping the company to commercialize the research he was doing.
In 2013, he became the Leprino Foods Chair in Dairy Products Technology at California Polytechnic State University.
In 2014, Idaho Milk Products decided to start research and development and offered Marella a position as its associate director of R&D. The following year, he was promoted to director and this year was named vice president of R&D.
“Everything worked out well. They liked me and I liked the company,” he said.
Last year the company announced a $26 million expansion to increase processing capacity. As part of that plan, it is also establishing a pilot plant aimed at research on the application of its dairy ingredients in foods.