Food and Agribusiness
Product and processing improvements add value to dairy supply chain
The stretch of mozzarella, the spread of cream cheese and a longer shelf life for products such as yoghurt are among the improvements Associate Professor Sally Gras is bringing to the Australian dairy industry as it competes for market share on the world stage.
Her work with the Australia Research Council (ARC) Dairy Innovation Hub puts products under the microscope to understand how structure affects functional properties such as texture and taste, and how to improve these properties.
This research will help ensure the diary industry is well-placed to compete internationally and meet increased export demand, particularly from Asia, for clean, green, high-value products of optimum quality and shelf life.
Associate Professor Gras is director of the Dairy Innovation Hub, a national research collaboration with the University of Queensland and Dairy Innovation Australia Limited (DIAL) that represents dairy manufacturers Murray Goulburn, Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, Lion and Bega Cheese.
Her project is one of three within the University of Melbourne’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering associated with the hub, offering benefits along the whole dairy supply chain.
Associate Professor Gras says for farmers, the development of improved products could mean higher returns and greater export markets. For manufacturers, new processes and products will allow them to compete with larger multinationals. For consumers, products will be more consistent, with improved taste and nutrition.
As part of the University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute, her Gras Group laboratory is also developing new tools used in the microscopic analysis. “We aim to provide technical and scientific solutions to enable companies and farmers to make the most of their milk,” she says.
The ARC Dairy Innovation Hub, established early in 2014, connects industry directly with scientific and technical expertise through a broad network of collaborations, Associate Professor Gras says.
It has been structured to address some of the major dairy research and technical challenges that DIAL and its members have identified as constraints to business growth and productivity.
The university’s other projects for the Dairy Innovation Hub are led by Professor Sandra Kentish and Dr Greg Martin, also from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, working with Professor Muthupandian Ashokkumar from the university’s School of Chemistry.
“Professor Kentish is looking at waste streams to recover by-product, reduce environmental impacts and recycle water, whereas Dr Martin is understanding how we can optimise milk going into products to improve consistency,” Associate Professor Gras says.