Lactoferrin innovation: FrieslandCampina expands protein processing & unlocks immunity-boosting power
17 Mar 2023 --- FrieslandCampina has opened a new facility in the Netherlands that will produce lactoferrin, a highly nutritious protein and “extremely important ingredient,” which can boost immune systems and promote disease resistance. The facility will enable the company to enhance its production of lactoferrin – an antiviral ingredient and critical component of infant formula – from 20 metric tons to 80 metric tons per year.
FoodIngredientsFirst was at the facility’s opening at Veghel, in the south of the Netherlands, and sat down with Herman Ermens, president at FrieslandCampina Ingredients as well as the company’s Project Manager, Jaap de Slegte.
They hail the health and immunity-boosting benefits of this crucial ingredients as well as highlighting how a growing interest in lactoferrin is fuelling the ingredient’s potential applications beyond immunity.
“Lactoferrin is one of the bioactive components of mother’s milk, which you also find in cow’s milk. We can isolate it and use it to produce infant formula or to help our customers develop all kinds of products for adult nutrition,” says Ermens.
The infant formula market is constantly expanding, but FrieslandCampina plans to meet and exceed demands for health-boosting products in this space.
“The biggest application for lactoferrin is infant formula and it’s already been used for that for a few years. You see the number of new products in the infant formula market increasing year by year,” continues Ermens.
“However, we’ve managed to really boost our process and make our specification really stand out.”
“There’s a lot of demand. We’ve been in that market for over 25 years and in the meantime have developed, along with our customers, a lot of applications.”
Lactoferrin’s versatility in both health applications and sports nutrition makes it a strong draw for consumers and producers alike.
“It has a lot of functionality. Scientific studies have shown several potential health benefits of lactoferrin like anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory activity as well as enhanced iron absorption."
“Besides immunity, it also has applications for adults that focus on wound healing and skin health."
“Immunity is a very hot topic”
Ermens notes that immunity-boosting applications, such as supplements, are proving especially popular following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 crisis has boosted the awareness of consumers that what you eat, what you ingest, really makes a difference for your health,” he notes.
“Immunity is a very hot topic. As much as possible, we will support our customers in developing those formulations so that we can bring those products to market faster and with greater impact.”
Despite the boost of awareness in immunity from the pandemic, Ermens notes that FrieslandCampina plans for lactoferrin were in motion before COVID-19.
“The biggest demand for lactoferrin is in Asia – we began developing this facility to meet that specific demand. It was already a part of our plan before COVD-19 made consumers interested in immunity.”
Lactoferrin production process
The new facility is a “smart factory,” designed to achieve maximum valorization and efficiency of lactoferrin production.
“The lactoferrin is produced from fresh milk, which is trucked into the facility,” says de Slegte. “Then it is guided over a specific absorption material which catches the lactoferrin from the milk. The company has “uninterrupted access to fresh cow’s milk through FrieslandCampina’s 10,000 member farms.”
The milk is processed into high-quality functional lactoferrin using a mild heat-treating process that has been specially designed by the company’s R&D experts.
A constant milk supply is necessary as approximately 15,000 to 20,000 liters of fresh milk is needed to produce just 1 kg of lactoferrin. To meet this need, eight million liters of cow’s milk a year pass through the facility, which runs constantly.
“Lactoferrin is extracted from cow’s milk via an absorption and elution process. Selective binding material here binds lactoferrin.”
“After a certain time, this material is saturated and then we push off the lactoferrin with a brine solution and then we further purify the lactoferrin in order to make the final product by spray-drying it and packaging it at a later stage,” concludes de Slegte.
The result of the process is “a product that is 95% pure lactoferrin, as a minimum.”
As part of meeting the company’s climate-neutral targets, the plant is designed to run entirely on green electricity, generated mainly by FrieslandCampina’s member farms and certified under the EU’s Guarantee of Origin scheme.
Unlocking full potential
Following yesterday’s (March 16) facility opening, both Ermens and de Slegte are keen to explore new applications and optimizations of lactoferrin.
“We always work very closely together with our customers to support them in developing new formulas but also be assured that they can grow their business,” says Ermens.
“We’ve got the new factory with a lot of new capacity coming onstream but we will always stay close to our customers and ensure they can continue developing their products.”
De Slegte notes, “At this moment, we’ve started up this plant, but we will implement optimizations and push out more of the lactoferrin production in the plant.”
Whereas FrieslandCampina supplies ingredients rather than end products, de Slegte notes that “We do have end-application expertise in-house and are currently working on expanding that – we are as such capable of accompanying our customers with hands-on knowledge and support in their application development,”
To further research the health benefits of milk, Ermens notes that FrieslandCampina is also exploring the nutritional qualities of Human Milk Oligoscaccharides (HMOs) as one of the other components present in mother’s milk.
HMO’s are indigestible by the infant and are suggested to play a key role in shaping the gut microbiotica and thereby the health of new born infants.
The company offers these HMO’s which are developed through precision fermentation. The company recently announced a cooperation with Tripelbar in the US to further look into the development of specialty proteins through precision fermentation”.
FrieslandCampina is no stranger to the plant-based ingredient market, as it continues to develop powder solutions with AGT Foods, a supplier of value-added pulses, staple foods and ingredients. At the time of release, Ermens told NutritionInsight that the plant-based world is “going to be fundamental in shaping the future of the food and nutrition industry, changing how consumers eat in the future.”
FrieslandCampina's new facility comes as the company also announces new leadership with the appointment of Jan Derck van Karnebeek as CEO. Van Karnebeek joins on June 1 and replaces Hein Schumacher, who will join Unilever as CEO and leave FrieslandCampina on May 1.
The dairy cooperative has been pushing forward against global economic headwinds, posting solid numbers while adapting and optimizing its factory network.
By James Davies
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