Dairy Dialog podcast 172: Danone North America on the gut microbiome, Howtian on stevia, Kite Consulting on Ukraine

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

Dairy Dialog podcast 172: Danone North America, Howtian, Kite Consulting
Dairy Dialog podcast 172: Danone North America, Howtian, Kite Consulting

Related tags Dairy Ukraine Russia Danone Danone North America keto Paleo Gut microbiome Stevia

On this week’s podcast, we have conversations with Miguel Freitas, Ph.D., vice president of health and scientific affairs at Danone North America; Tom Fuzer, VP of Marketing at Howtian; and John Allen, Kite Consulting.

ZCHT rebrands as Howtian

Zhucheng Haotian Pharma Co. (aka ZCHT), maker of the brand of natural stevia, SoPure Stevia, has undergone a name change, and will now be known as Howtian.

The Chinese-headquartered company has a broad portfolio of functional and natural ingredients including inositol, PureQQ pyrroloquinoline quinone, baicalin, and vitamin E powder.

The new brand name and corporate identity reflects the substantial growth and evolution of the business since its inception in 1999. It began as a small manufacturer of inositol, a health ingredient that belongs to the Vitamin B family commonly used in human and animal nutrition for its variety of benefits.

Today, the business is one of the world’s largest naturally processed stevia companies, with over 1,000 employees operating in 80 countries and with customers across the food, beverage, nutrition, and pharmaceutical industries.

“Having expanded into new markets with our expertise in innovative ingredient solutions and product formulation, we wanted this new brand name – which pays homage to our original name – to represent our diversified product portfolio and to consolidate our operational capabilities into one entity,”​ said Tom Fuzer, VP of Marketing at Howtian.

The Howtian identity also represents a renewal of its mission to sustainably produce and supply premium natural ingredients at virtually any scale for business around the globe.

“To support farming communities and promote environmental stewardship, we employ the Favorable Contract Farming Model,”​ Fuzer said.

“This model ensures fair wages while preserving natural resources. It includes initiatives to achieve zero waste, optimal usage of byproducts, and minimal energy usage.”

Russian invasion of Ukraine: Implications for EU agriculture and dairy

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has already led to massive destruction, loss of life, sanctions, and ramped up rhetoric on both sides.

Food is also critical in the conflict.

This is true not only for the countries directly involved, but also further afield.

Europe’s second largest country, Ukraine is the EU's fourth biggest external food supplier and provides the EU with a quarter of its cereal and vegetable oil imports, including nearly half of its maize. Russia is also an agricultural exporter.

Kite Consulting in the UK has published two reports on the crisis, one on the effect of the war on the UK dairy industry, and another on the impact on feed markets.

The company said sanctions will have an economic impact beyond Russia’s borders, but this is clearly preferable to getting involved directly in military action.

The report notes that Ukraine and Belarus are both dairy net exporters, while Russia is a net importer. It said the dairy exports of Ukraine and Belarus to the world market exceed that of Russian imports from the world market, and the net loss of Ukraine’s, Belarus’ and Russia’s dairy commodities trade would mean a loss of about 1.2 bn kg/year of raw milk equivalents in dairy supply to the world market.

“Any conflict in Ukraine is likely to impact global supply and demand of dairy products and, initially, it is likely this will lead to higher global dairy commodity prices,”​ Kite Consulting said.

In the short term, Kite Consulting said dairy exports from Ukraine will cease immediately due to military action. In addition, punitive western sanctions (for example, exclusion from the SWIFT payment system) could stop all Belarusian dairy exports, except those to Russia and Kazakhstan. It argues this may even impact exports to other nations, such as China, as export destinations, even though they remain neutral in the conflict, due to payment issues.

Kite Consulting said natural gas export volumes from Russia to the EU will reduce, in part due to pipelines through Ukraine being blocked. It said this sharp increase in global energy prices will mean dairy farm margins being hit directly, through rising on farm energy and fertilizer costs.

Russia may have to terminate any ‘western’ dairy imports (mainly from Argentina) due to exclusion from international banking systems, the report continued. Also, over time, the increase of dairy commodity prices and/ or an invasion and global economic downturn as a result of consequent high-energy prices may reduce world dairy demand.

The report said longer term, higher dairy commodity prices may, via higher milk prices, trigger a global increase in dairy output, and Belarus may, over time, re-establish routes to export to ‘neutral’ markets. It also said in time, trade flows between Russia and other countries will be re-established, with Russia again re-entering the world dairy market, possibly working through proxy operators like Armenia.

“The direct effect of military action will be a short-term price increase for global dairy commodities. This price rise will be caused by the ‘overnight’ loss of Ukrainian and Belarus supply of dairy commodities to the world market,”​ the report stated.

“The volume loss due to these two exporters being blocked (to all markets except the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan) outweighs the possible dairy volume freed up in countries like Argentina that now sell to the Russian Federation.”

It stated the world dairy market will likely shrink when dairy commodity prices increase further. A secondary effect will be the negative impact of increasing energy prices on consumer buying power worldwide. However, as several large dairy importing nations are also large net ‘fossil energy’ exporters, Kite Consulting said the relevance of the indirect effect could be moderate to minimal, as high energy income in these countries tends to trickle down to higher consumer buying power, and thus higher dairy import demand.

In summarizing events, Kite Consulting said potential panic buying in the global dairy market, resulting from an overnight loss of Ukrainian and Belorussian exports, may trigger further price increases, even when only moderate volumes are being traded. In the UK, farmer pressure on the UK processors to keep pace with global raw milk price increases is likely to build.

It said if the situation escalates, it will be important for UK dairy processors to increase sales prices even faster than they have been in recent months, to enable them to cover their own additional cost inflation and to be able to pass on higher income through milk price to farmers to cover further on-farm cost increases.

“As a result, inflation of consumer dairy prices in the UK seems an inevitable consequence,”​ the report concluded.

New Danone study shows popular diets may not be as good for gut health

Low-carb diets like keto and paleo may be among the most popular choices for New Year’s dieters, yet this type of approach may not be the best for your gut, suggests a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In the study researchers found out of five eating patterns, individuals following an exclusion diet that was low in carbohydrates and consisting of mainly fats, animal products and non-starchy vegetables had the lowest amount of Bifidobacterium​, a type of bacteria shown to have beneficial qualities for their gut microbiome.

In addition, individuals following a flexitarian diet, which is rich in plant-based foods but also includes meat and dairy products, presented one of the most diverse gut microbiomes, especially compared to a standard American diet.

The international research team, led by Aurelie Cotillard and Patrick Veiga at Danone Nutricia Research in France examined the dietary patterns of 1,800 adults in the American Gut Project, an ongoing research initiative studying the microbiome composition of citizen volunteers. The project was performed in collaboration with researchers at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego), whose contributions were coordinated by the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego.

Using food consumption surveys, the researchers divided the study participants into five groups based on their long-term dietary intakes.

The plant-based group consisted primarily of vegetarians and vegans who consumed little or no meat and high amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This diet was highest in fiber compared to the other four dietary patterns.

Flexitarians were categorized as those who ate abundant amounts of plant-based foods, yet still incorporated some meat and high amounts of dairy foods.

The third, the health-conscious American diet, comprised of a dietary pattern rich in nuts, whole-grain cereals, and dairy foods, but also high in sugary sweets and refined grains, and low in vegetables.

The standard American diet category comprised individuals with the poorest diet quality of all groups, including the highest consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods and the lowest diversity in plant-based foods consumed, as well as the lowest intake of dietary fiber.

The final diet was the exclusion diet, a restrictive diet was the lowest in carbohydrates and highest in fats and animal products compared to all other patterns. It included virtually no starchy foods or sweet products.

The analysis of the gut microbiome of the study participants revealed the alpha diversity of the gut microbiota (a measure of the different kinds of bacteria), was significantly lower in the standard American diet compared to the flexitarian pattern, which included a mix of plant and animal foods, including high amounts of dairy products. In addition, the low-carb eaters from the exclusion diet had the lowest relative abundance of Bifidobacterium​, a beneficial type of bacteria found in the gut. Altogether, this highlights that some diets may be more microbiota-friendly than others.

In the study, the researchers also found the overall diet exhibited better associations with the gut microbiome than individual dietary components, such as fiber or protein alone.

“The association between a habitual diet and the gut microbiota is gaining major interest, yet, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to use this type of approach and identify the dietary patterns providing the best associations with the gut microbiome,”​ said the senior author of the study Patrick Veiga, Ph.D., health and microbiome science director at Danone Nutricia Research.

“This study showed that the flexitarian eating pattern that includes larger amounts of plant foods, yet doesn’t totally eliminate animal foods, was associated with better overall diet quality and one of the approaches resulting in the most nourished gut,”​ said Miguel Freitas, Ph.D., vice president of health and scientific affairs at Danone North America.

“This study together with previous research reinforce that a healthy gut microbiota is supported by a balance between all food groups, without restricting fiber-rich grain foods or animal products, like fermented dairy products entirely.  At Danone, this approach is completely in line with our portfolio offerings of both plant-based and animal products.”

The study also found the gut microbiota alpha-diversity of the plant-based diet and the standard American diet was similar, which may be explained by the depletion of some animal foods, such as meat and dairy products in the plant-based dietary pattern. While the intake and diversity of fruits and vegetables have been reported as main factors associated with variations of the gut microbiota, animal protein has also been shown to increase microbial diversity.

“People may overlook that, what they eat and what they avoid, can impact their gut microbiome,”​ Freitas said.

“Diet is known to influence the diversity and composition of our gut microbiome, which we now know has a tremendous impact on our overall health.”

“These results confirm that evaluating diet as a whole is important when studying the gut microbiome,”​ said Veiga.

“It will also facilitate the design of more personalized dietary strategies in general populations.”

The study was funded by Danone Nutricia Research and supported by The Microsetta Initiative, the world’s largest citizen science microbiome project.


Related news