Australia’s dairy industry could soon be producing longer-lasting, smoother-textured, better tasting products with boosted nutritional value in more eco-friendly, cost-effective ways, thanks to a five-year, $13 million research collaboration.
Launched in July 2014 and now well underway, the ARC Dairy Innovation Hub combines the expertise of researchers from The University of Melbourne (UoM), University of Queensland (UQ), Australian Research Council (ARC) and Dairy Innovation Australia Ltd (DIAL) to develop new products and processes that meet growing demand globally for safe, high-quality and flavourful dairy produce.
“Dairy manufacturing is currently worth more than two billion dollars to the Australian economy and will continue to increase as the demand for food required in Asia doubles in coming years,” noted Hub Director, UoM Associate Professor Sally Gra.
“We will work to find solutions and opportunities for the Australian dairy industry to make the most of our geographic location and to grow our exports into the lucrative Asian market,” she said.
The nation’s dairy manufacturers would also benefit from processing innovations that reduced environmental impact, provided new opportunities for water recycling, and reduced operating costs and time lost to equipment cleaning, noted Assoc. Prof. Gras.
“These insights will help manufacturers make new products and design processes that can reduce waste and lead to water and energy savings,” she said.
The Dairy Innovation Hub has been awarded $5 million over five years from the ARC through the Industrial Transformation Research Program. DIAL's member companies, representing 70 percent of Australia’s milk producers, are co-investors, matching ARC’s funding contribution and offering industry-focused direction – participating in on-site case studies and, where appropriate, providing products for analysis.
"Dairy Innovation Australia and their partner manufacturers will play an essential role in contributing to the direction of research projects at the Hub, as well as identifying opportunities for translation at a pilot and industrial scale," DIAL CEO Dr Lesley MacLeod said on the eve of the Hub’s launch. “This approach will use innovation to help our manufacturers both grow and add value in domestic and export markets.”
ARC Dairy Innovation Hub’s broad objective is to develop commercially viable solutions to challenges confronting Australia’s dairy industry – in particular, certain technical challenges in the manufacturing sector – that have been identified as constraints to business growth and productivity.
Its research program is guided by six integrated, strategic research themes:
- industry overview;
- food quality;
- ingredient innovation;
- microstructure; and
- process innovation.
Projects under each theme draw on the expertise of multiple investigators – food materials specialists, scientists and technologists – from the three participating research institutions, leveraging synergies among teams and fostering international collaborations to access offshore skills and technologies.
UQ chief investigator Professor Bhesh Bhandari said his researchers were working to increase knowledge about the molecular structures of dairy products and how these contribute to particular properties, such as how products feel in the mouth. The team’s research, he says, will provide the basis for developing improved products and processes, such as:
* butter and dairy blends that taste better and are simpler to spread;
* lactose-free and reduced-fat long-life milks that taste more “like real milk”;
* yoghurt that retains its texture for longer without “watering off”; and
* cheeses that mature faster and have more consistent, natural flavours and textures.
Other Hub researchers are looking at developing better ways to clean milk and cheese processing equipment.
It is hoped that all this targeted research will pay off in greater profits to Australia’s dairy industry, greater sustainability, reduced wastage and input costs and an increased capacity to cater to growing demand from Asia.
For more information about the Dairy Innovation Hub and its work, visit the official website.