Fonterra has developed a technique that allows colostrum to be added to ready-to-drink beverages with a longer shelf-life, opening up opportunities for new kinds of products and building sales of the ingredient in Asia.
Colostrum is obtained from the first milk produced by a mammal after giving birth. It is considered to be a special boost to health thanks to its high level of immune globulin (IgG), a substance that helps build up the immune system of a newborn mammal. There has been particular interest in the ingredient (of which Fonterra is a major supplier) in Asia ever since the SARS outbreak in 2003.
Until now, however, colostrum has only been suitable for fresh beverages with a short shelf life usually found in the chiller cabinet. This is because manufacturing techniques to extend shelf-life usually employ heat treatment - a process that destroys the bioactive components of colostrums and nullifies its health benefits.
But Fonterra's method, for which patents have been filled in 30 countries, uses a standard cold-fill bottling process to create a consumer package. It is then put through a second, all-natural process to prevent further spoilage, avoiding use of additives and preservatives so that nutrition, flavour and colour are unaffected.
Fonterra's colostrum business manager Kimble Willis said: "We are now opening up the power of colostrum to the mainstream functional foods market."
The technology is showcased in Fonterra's own Colostrum Shot beverage, which is having its first official airing at Food Ingredients China, taking place in Shanghai this week.
Fonterra is one of the largest exporters of colostrum into Asia, and China is one of its biggest markets. Nigel Little, manager of new options, Fonterra Ingredients, told NutraIngredients.com that the concept "has the potential to more than double the amount of colostrum currently sold to the Chinese market".
Asia will be the company's initial target given the high level of awareness about the perceived benefits of colostrum in the region, but Little said that it is also talking to potential customers in Europe and the US with a view to eventually market Colostrum Shot to American and European consumers.
A dairy drink, Colostrum Shot can be stored for up to 6 months at ambient temperatures - although it is designed to be consumed as a cold beverage.
Little said: "The technology could potentially allow colostrum to be used as an additive in other types of beverages such as yogurt drinks and smoothies, but to date, most of our work with colostrum using this technology has been for milky acid beverages."
Beverages are an area of great interest for companies active in or exploring the potential of the functional foods sector, partly because of convenience and partly due to ease of delivery.
The latest statistics on global functional soft drinks category come from Leatherhead Food International, which valued it at US$6.9bn in 2005 (using a broad definition of healthy products) in 2005. The largest markets are Japan and the US, with Europe much less developed.
Adding a functional aspect is also seen as a way to add value and differentiate products in a competitive market, as well as keeping pace with consumers that are turning away from traditional soft drinks and the unhealthy, sugar-laden image they have.
Fonterra is not the only company to have reported that making a function ingredient suitable for beverages is something of a holy grail for developers.
At the end of last year Ireland's Alltracel announced that is had found away to make its cellulose fibre bioactive soluble, thus catering to food manufacturers that had expressed interest subject to this condition.
Likewise Alltracel's compatriot Marigot has been tweaking its Aquamin calcium ingredient to make it suitable for more beverage types.