Representing about 3,100 tonnes in 2003, the small but high value-added whey fractions market - lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, colostrum/IgG, a-lactalbumin, b-lactoglobulin and glycomacropeptides - is currently enjoying strong growth, in some geographical areas hitting 20 per cent per year.
Compared to other dairy ingredients, whey and its various fractions hold some of the most promising value for the food and dairy industries. With improved methods for extraction and purification, whey fractions can extend product development possibilities with new nutrition and functionality.
"This is a game for the most advanced dairy ingredients companies, working with leading-edge end users," said Tage Affertsholt, an analyst at 3A Business Consulting.
And even though these advanced dairy ingredients firms are all working in the niche area of fractions, there are still specialists. In Europe Danish firm Arla leads in alpha-lactalbumin (largely used in infant formula), and Dutch firm DMV in lactoferrin, the increasingly popular meat preserver. French firm Armor Proteines, and Germany's Milei are also carving a niche in the market.
Strong on production, these dairy ingredients firms are taking their know-how to end-users further a field. "Some of the most advanced companies in production in Europe - such as Arla, DMV, Armor and Borculo Domo - are working with end users in other geographical zones," explained Affertsholt. "Milei, for example, has an alliance with Japanese firm Morinapa."
Whey is comprised of protein, lactose (milk sugar), minerals (calcium, phosphorus and magnesium) and fat. Whey protein contains alpha-lactalbumin, beta-lactoglobulin, bovine serum albumin, heavy and light - chain immunoglobulins(Igs), and proteose-peptones.
Traditionally, whey was a by-product with a negative value from cheese production, but in the 1950s the US started to add value to the by-product and since this time the ingredient has seen a considerable rise in demand, notably on the back of the sports nutrition and functional food market which uses whey protein concentrates and isolates extensively. In 2002 consumption of all whey products came in at nearly 770,000 tonnes.
Like functional foods and drink, value added whey fractions made their market entry in Asia, notably Japan, with penetration first targeting sports nutrition and dietary supplements, followed by infant formula and food.
The US and Europe came next in line, with ingredients firms initially targeting sports nutrition and dietary supplements. Food, according to the report from 3A Business Consulting, has been the last zone for market penetration identified by the ingredients firms in both the US and Europe.