For the United States to become a preferred supplier in the reconstituted/recombined milk segment, a key priority was to control spores to produce “high-specification” powders that met the needs of international buyers.
Some countries don’t have access to fresh milk (or sometimes not enough of it) and the use of milk powder becomes paramount. End users and manufacturers require high-specification powders that meet key parameters, such as low spore count since that can impact the processing and shelf life of products.
“We realized in order to be a great supplier to the international marketplace, we needed to consistently offer powders that met the buyers’ specifications and performed well in the applications,” said Annie Bienvenue, vice president of ingredients marketing and technical services for the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). “We wanted to help them with the technical and scientific information they needed to succeed.”
John Brubaker, an Idaho dairy farmer and board member of Dairy Management Inc. which manages the national dairy checkoff, recalls a USDEC-led trip to Vietnam and seeing the tight specifications demanded by that region.
“The U.S. needed to better compete on the world stage,” Brubaker said. “We need to remember that so much of the consumption of dairy in these other countries is through powder. They don’t have the refrigeration capacities like we do here, so it’s important we are on the cutting edge with research and technologies when it comes to powders.”
As a result, National Dairy Council (NDC) and USDEC – organizations that are funded by dairy farmers through their checkoff – formed the Milk Powder Quality Improvement Plan in 2011 to help the U.S. reach its full export potential.
The effort spanned seven years and included 33 projects conducted at 10 universities that are part of the dairy research center network that receives funding from local and national checkoff organizations. NDC and USDEC representatives also visited suppliers and end users to learn best practices on producing low-spore powders.
It was one of the largest research projects ever conducted through the checkoff.
“If you look at the scope of this work, it was invaluable for us to have the dairy research centers at our fingertips and all of the experts we gathered,” said Rohit Kapoor, vice president of product research for NDC. “An initiative of this scale would not have been possible without them and the ability to access their expertise and resources.”
The work resulted in NDC and USDEC creating resources and delivering the research findings through “spore seminars” to some of the largest U.S. dairy companies and cooperatives that export powders. All aspects of the industry, from the farm to the plant, now have tools to provide an expanded portfolio, including low-spore milk powders.
The results are evident. USDEC reports that since 2000, the U.S. has grown NDM/SMP exports from just over 100,000 metric tons in 2000 to more than 700,000 in 2018. In 2002, the U.S. accounted for less than 7 percent of total SMP trade. Today, that number hovers between 25 and 30 percent annually.
Darigold is one company that has benefitted from the NDC-USDEC work. Greg Chandler, director of operational improvement for Darigold, said the research and tools have helped the company understand the potential instances where spores can be introduced and how they can be managed. Chandler figures about two-thirds of the company’s milk heads into its ingredients business and about 60 percent of that milk is destined for the export market.
“Since I started at Darigold (in 2006), it’s been an issue that the powders we supplied weren’t competitive in certain applications uses versus our overseas competitors,” he said. “In 2006, our manufacturing infrastructure was like a lot of U.S. companies. It was designed when spores weren’t part of the standard offering in specifications. As customers began seeing spore control from non-U.S. suppliers as a standard offering, Darigold was increasingly being asked to improve its capability to remain competitive and continue as a key supplier.”
In 2016, Darigold upgraded one of its milk powder plants to meet the ever-increasing requirements of global competition and align its operating procedures to global best practices. Many came from the NDC-USDEC research findings.
“It’s a really good example of how we can all work together on a pre-competitive basis and have outcomes that benefit the entire industry,” Chandler said. “Individual companies can meet their customers’ needs and it’s not at the expense of cannibalizing other U.S. companies. We’re just expanding the footprint of U.S. dairy in the global market, and our ability to consistently compete against our international competitors in growing U.S. market share.”
Bienvenue recalls conversations with Asian buyers a decade ago about the limited supply availability of U.S. milk powders that met their stringent specifications for spores. However, when revisiting the same buyers two years ago, their feedback had changed drastically.
“We heard from them that the quality was competitive, and they wanted more of the product,” she said. “The credit really goes to the companies that adopted these solutions and the farmers who supported it. We provided assistance and solutions to the industry to help them get where they wanted to go faster.
“This whole scope of work makes us a better supplier to the world because it allowed us to expand our portfolio to have products that meet the demands of the international buyers. Our industry has gained awareness of the various needs of the global buyers and is choosing to supply those opportunities demanding high-specifications powders.”
About National Dairy Council
For 100 years, National Dairy Council (NDC), the non-profit organization funded by the national dairy checkoff program, is committed to nutrition education and research-based communications. NDC provides science-based nutrition information to, and in collaboration with, a variety of stakeholders committed to fostering a healthier nation, including health professionals, educators, school nutrition directors, academia, industry, consumers and media. Established in 1915, NDC comprises a staff of registered dietitians and nutrition research and communications experts across the country. NDC is dedicated to promoting child health and wellness through programs such as Fuel Up to Play 60. See more at: www.nationaldairycouncil.org
About U.S. Dairy Export Council
The U.S. Dairy Export Council is a non-profit, independent membership organization that represents the global trade interests of U.S. dairy producers, proprietary processors and cooperatives, ingredient suppliers and export traders. Its mission is to enhance U.S. global competitiveness and assist the U.S. industry to increase its global dairy ingredient sales and exports of U.S. dairy products. USDEC accomplishes this through programs in market development that build global demand for U.S. dairy products, resolve market access barriers and advance industry trade policy goals. USDEC is supported by staff across the United States and overseas in Mexico, South America, Asia, Middle East and Europe. The U.S. Dairy Export Council prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, disability, national origin, race, color, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, political beliefs, marital status, military status, and arrest or conviction record. www.usdec.org.