Q&A: HP Hood on dairy innovation and the role of aseptic processing and packaging

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

Q&A: HP Hood on dairy innovation and the role of aseptic processing and packaging

Related tags Shelf life Pasteurization Milk

Innovation is the driving force behind growth in the dairy industry, Jeffrey Andrews, senior director of contract manufacturing at HP Hood, told a crowd gathered at the 2015 International Dairy Show in Chicago.

While his job entails managing the company’s contract manufacturing operations, Andrews said his eyes are always on what’s next in dairy industry technology.

There’s a need for new products now, he said, as Millennials are now the largest group of buyers on the market.

We caught up with Andrews to learn a bit more about technology that can help extend shelf life.

Dairy Reporter: What technologies is HP Hood currently focusing on?

Andrews: ​We now do a lot of aseptic production. In dairy, you have the classic pasteurization process, and a lot of milk products are made ESL, or extended shelf life. This uses this more advanced equipment that can hit the milk with even more heat in a short amount of time and cool it right back down without damaging it. It can be well over 100 days shelf life.

Aseptic is just sort of the next step above that. You process it in a way that actually kills all the bacteria, and now you have milk that can be stored at room temperature basically forever.What happens when you do aseptic … once you’ve killed all the bugs and spoilage is no longer what determines shelf life; it then gets limited by oxygen.

For example, if oxygen gets in there, it can deteriorate the color and flavor. So sometimes, shelf life will be limited by oxygen.  Light can also degrade products, so if light will come in there and cause some damage, once the vitamins get degraded to a certain level that they no longer meet the claims on the label, they have to say, “That’s the shelf life.”

DR: That makes packaging even more important?

Andrews:​ The packaging is really important. It’s the key. The oxygen barrier is a big deal. Once you’re into aseptic products where bugs aren’t limiting the shelf life, you have to worry about light and oxygen. It’s these really inventive guys that come up with these structures and films that keep out the oxygen and keep out the light. You can have these dairy products with 18 month shelf lives, and that’s pretty cool

DR: That is cool, but it has to be a shift in thought for US consumers as well. Has it been readily accepted?

Andrews:​ In Europe and places where it’s been happening for longer, it’s more accepted. People here? It does seem a little weird, but less weird all the time. It is changing. But frankly a lot of the stuff that’s packaged aseptically isn’t just pure milk; it’s like a protein shake or something [similar]. I think what happens is, like in a case of a protein shake, maybe consumers aren’t thinking it’s milk at room temperature, it’s something else. And maybe that makes it OK.

DR: What’s especially new with you at HP Hood?

Andrews:​ In our contract manufacturing business, we’ve added a new aseptic bottling line. These are really big, sophisticated things; $40m lines. We’ve added a third one of those which gives us a lot of capacity.

If you want to make a new protein shake—let’s say your Kellogg and want to do that—there’s only a handful of companies you can go to [for] this service, and we’re one of them, but we’re by far the largest and the only to have facilities on two coasts. We have a 60m gallon-per-year plant in Sacramento and [another plant in Virginia].

For a $1bn brand to want to put a protein shake in the market, those guys sleep a lot better having it made by someone like Hood versus some privately held factory in the middle of nowhere. They want to go off and do sales and promotions; they don’t want to be wondering if the stuff coming off that line is good.

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