Both Davisco Foods International and Hilmar Ingredients use the whey from their cheese-manufacturing operations to develop a functional ingredient they say is ideal for beverages. Whey protein is rich in amino acids and whey protein isolates, in particular, lend well to drinks when compared with other proteins because they are highly soluble. The functional beverage category has been said to carry a significant portion of growth in the health and wellness market, with mainstream beverage companies getting on board of late. "I think the functional beverage category is where people are going now," Gwen Bargetzi, director of marketing for Hilmar Ingredients, told DairyReporter.com. "It's the big horse race." Such products are popular with consumers because they are convenient, portable, and can taste good. According to a Mintel report this year, the functional beverage market grew by up to 30 percent over the past five years. The market in the US reached $9.8b in 2007, up 14 percent from 2002. Whey protein isolate can add a functional aspect to a wide range of beverages, including juices, because it remains stable across various ph levels. This is not the same for the other milk-derived protein, casein, or for whey protein's chief competitor, soy protein. An example of the use of the ingredient in mainstream beverages is Davisco's exclusive supply agreement with Kellogg's for its Special k20 protein waters. Hilmar indicates it is also in talks with major beverage manufacturers for the development of such functional beverages for the mass market. "That's our most exciting development work," said Bargetzi. While Hilmar sells its whey protein as an emulsifier and gelling agent too, it says approximately 60 percent of sales go towards the functional market. Whey protein is a source of essential amino acids the body needs to replenish through food. As an isolate, it contains little to no fat, lactose or cholesterol. Davisco is a family-owned dairy business headquartered in Le Sueur, Minnesota, that produces more than 1,000,000 pounds of cheese daily. While California-based Hilmar Ingredients is a division of the Hilmar Cheese Company, which claims to be the world's largest single-site producer of cheese, whey and lactose. Davisco supplies to 45 countries and says the market for its protein is on the upswing. "It's growing and it will continue to grow," Polly Olson, vice president of business development, sales & marketing at Davisco, told NutraIngredients-USA. "Especially with mainstream consumers." Olson also says Davisco's product has seen a lot of success with the vegetarian market, with consumers using the ingredient in smoothies.