Glanbia’s dairy product innovations can be hard to see, their impacts hard to quantify.
Ireland-based Glanbia plc includes Glanbia Performance Nutrition, a joint-ventures unit that includes Southwest Cheese; and Glanbia Nutritionals, a global ingredient business fielding major operations in south-central Idaho. Research and development sites in Ireland, Germany, Singapore, China, California and Twin Falls, Idaho, develop ingredients that client companies incorporate into their products in response to consumer demands and trends.
“Our global R&D team helps solve key challenges around nutrition, formulation, processing and scale-up of food products,” said Loren S. Ward, senior vice president of research and development for Glanbia Nutritionals. “Customers bring their biggest challenges related to food formulations and nutrition. We will help innovate and solve those so they can take the product into the marketplace.”
He said “hundreds of millions of individuals across the world consume ingredients developed by Glanbia Nutritionals” without necessarily recognizing the company name.
Ingredients including cheese and whey, flavors and vitamins and minerals appear in products such as nutrition bars and infant formula; smoothie drinks; ready-to-mix and ready-to-drink beverages; confections and bakery items; soups and sauces; cereals and pasta; snack, sandwich and topping cheeses; and fresh dairy items. A challenge comes in “developing good-tasting, nutritious products that consumers still enjoy but have better nutrition or better flavor and texture,” Ward said.
Such innovations enable Glanbia, a business-to-business player, to build unique value, said dairy scientist Eric Bastian, former Glanbia R&D vice president now serving as industry relations VP for Dairy West-Idaho Dairy Council.
“As we have seen the commodity cycle put pressure on companies to be viable, we also have seen companies bring added value through innovation programming,” he said. “And that makes a significant difference for those companies who otherwise would have had to accept commodity pricing.”
Glanbia’s innovations must appeal to multiple food suppliers. An example is nutrition product companies, whose customers “are quite well-educated. They are discerning about their protein,” Bastian said. “On the product side, the processor is looking to take a whey protein and enhance the level of branched-chain amino acids, which the sports user knows can put more muscle on or increase muscle strength.”
Ward said Glanbia has been working with university researchers to study how to develop protein-based ingredients that help decrease muscle loss, increase fat loss and retain muscle mass during aging.
Another area of emphasis is to enable food products to display a “clean label” stating they are free of certain ingredients. In ready-to-mix and ready-to-drink beverages, patent-pending technology for clean-label applications netted Glanbia an innovation award from the Institute of Food Technologists in 2017.
“We have been able to develop several dairy ingredients that result in food products that have reduced or eliminated the inclusion of stabilizers, sodium chloride, added sugars and fat,” Ward said, “and that often will improve the nutritional profile by increasing protein content, calcium or vitamin and mineral.”
Glanbia hosts customers at its collaboration and innovation centers, in part to help accelerate the concept-to-prototype cycle. Ward said prototypes then may be launched by customers, “resulting in nutritional, functional or flavor ingredients from Glanbia Nutritionals found in products throughout North America, South America, Europe and Asia.”
He would not discuss R&D spending amounts except to say Glanbia “has recognized that with innovation, you can come up with innovations that meet market demands. Otherwise, you wind up being a commodity company.”
Bastian said, “Companies really interested in creating an innovative platform in the dairy space should be looking to spend at least 1 to 2 percent of revenue on their innovation program,” and that developing staff is key.