The firm, which used the IFT expo in Chicago earlier this month to present its technologies to the industry, claims these can offer manufacturers "substantial" cost reductions, and "predictable, controlled" costs. Its specialty starches, such as N-Creamer SRI, Novation and Gel 'N' Melt products, can be used to replace MSNF (milk solids non-fat), milk fat and caseinate, said the firm. The price of dairy ingredients has skyrocketed in the past year, resulting in a knock-on effect on costs for both manufacturers and consumers alike. Reasons for the increase include a tighter supply resulting from drought conditions in New Zealand and Australia - two major regions for the sourcing of dairy ingredients - as well as the increased global use of milk as a protein source. In addition, the sector has been hit by the recent elimination of EU export subsidies and an increase in the cost of feeding cows due to the re-channeling of agricultural commodities into the biofuel sector. From May 2006 to May 2007, dairy prices have increased on the low end by 10 percent for some whey protein concentrates (from $1.90/lb to up to $2.10/lb). On the high end, non-fat dry milk prices have shot up 125 percent (from $0.82/lb to up to $1.85/lb). Prices have increased for MSNF by 60 percent ($0.80/lb to $1.28/lb), for butterfat by 22 percent ($1.18/lb to $1.44/lb), for casein by up to 23 percent ($3.02/lb to up to $3.70/lb), and for caseinate by 41 percent ($3.20/lb to $4.50/lb). Industry experts have predicted that these prices will remain high for at least one to two years. "When this all started it really was a question of cost. Now, for some ingredients such as whey and caseinate, it has also become a question of availability," said Jutta Schock, National Starch's marketing manager of external technology. The firm has been using starch-based technology to replace dairy ingredients for over two decades in regions of the world where milk prices have been traditionally high, or where there have been shortages, such as north Africa. In light of the current state of the dairy market, National Starch says it is simply "expanding its geographical focus". It says its products can be used to replace dairy ingredients in ice cream, processed cheese and cream cheese, yogurts and sour cream, dairy beverages, dairy desserts and bakery fillings, and non-dairy creamers. Incorporating the ingredients into applications requires no changes in the manufacturing process, National Starch told FoodNavigator-USA.com. In addition, the firm claims its ingredients can be used to achieve the same - or better - texture and quality of goods, so as not to reduce consumer acceptance. Another benefit is that manufacturers can use the specialty starches to improve the nutritional quality of their products, as the replacement of milk fat results in lower calorie products that have the same creaminess, said the firm. "The only area where certain adjustments may be necessary is in the flavor of products, as dairy components bring flavor, and when these are removed it may be necessary to add a dairy flavor to enhance the taste," said Schock. In terms of labeling, the ingredients can be listed as 'starch' or 'modified food starch', but in some cases no label changes would be necessary as certain products already contain starch in their formulations. The firm also said the products can be made with no change in regulatory status. The company's dairy replacement ingredients include its N-Creamer SRI, which was launched this year specifically in response to the market situation, as well as Instant Purity SMR, its lines of N-Dulge and Novation ingredients, Thermtex, National Frigex, Elastigel, Gel 'N' Melt, and Thermflo. In different blends and combinations, these claim a number of functionalities, including: creaminess and mouthfeel, emulsification and stabilization, water binding and reduced syneresis, gelling, cuttability and meltdown resistance.