Irish dairy giant Glanbia took a significant step in the mid-90s by introducing its whey protein isolate to the US market. The move proved so successful the company spun off an autonomous nutritionals division in the US, and a European division in 2003. In 2004, it acquired Kortus Food Ingredients, a German maker of premix vitamins and minerals, as well as Seltzer Companies, a California-based supplier of nutritional ingredients in 2006.
"[The nutritionals division] is a smaller, but high-gross part of Glanbia's business," says Robert Beausire, marketing director for Glanbia Nutritionals. "We have lots of focus in this area, particularly in sports nutrition, working on new technologies and such."
As a long-term strategy, Glanbia Nutritionals places an increasing emphasis on verification of the functionality of its ingredients, providing science-based nutritional solutions for the functional-foods, sports-nutrition, infant and clinical-nutrition industries. Beausire says the company has invested deeply in research and development, particularly heavily in the last six years. "Since 2000, we have had an R&D facility in Twin Falls, Idaho, and we founded the Glanbia Innovation Center (in Kilkenny, Ireland). Together, these provide our organization with the food science and nutritional-knowledge base to develop and commercialize our ingredient offerings."
By way of example, the company has sponsored the second phases of human clinical trials on one of its many branded ingredients, Prolibra, a weight-management product. Details from the second, placebo-controlled trial were released in June, Beausire says. "We are excited about Prolibra, as this second trial provides us with a strong platform to provide clinically proven benefits in weight management to companies that want to differentiate their products in the marketplace.
"We divide the market into three segments: fortification, weight management and performance nutrition," Beausire says. "Our primary business-to-business brands are Provon and TruCal, which are whey protein isolates and dairy minerals, respectively. They're used for fortification, Prolibra in weight management, and Salibra and Bioferrin for health and wellness."
The beverage category, in particular, holds promise. "It is experiencing huge growth, and presents a significant opportunity for protein ingredients in the sports-nutrition, wellness and weight-management categories," Beausire says. "Our Provon ingredients are particularly well suited for the protein water and isotonics market, providing the shelf stability needed as well as excellent flavour compared to other protein sources. Also, because of our clinical research, Prolibra offers the potential to make more direct fat-loss claims in the weight-management category."
Glanbia faces the same challenges as the rest of the burgeoning industry: helping clients sort out the real research from the noise, and translating that to labels consumers can understand. The regulatory environment is challenging, Beausire says, because many products are marketed on implied benefits and either don't need or use clinical science. "However," he says, "in the long term, products with strong science will last the distance as consumers' perception of the benefits becomes reality.
"We're also doing consumer research to understand how to position our products such as Prolibra," he says. "Sports-nutrition customers know very well what whey is, and our product, but the rest of the market doesn't. In the beginning we aimed at the niche. Reaching the broader market is more challenging. To get the message out, Glanbia increasingly is using the Web, public relations and whole-foods magazines, as well as trying to get clients to use the branded ingredient on their labels."