Product and processing innovations add value to dairy supply chain

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Developing stretchier mozzarella, more spreadable cream cheese and yoghurt with a longer shelf life are just some of the improvements University of Melbourne Associate Professor Sally Gras is developing to help Australia’s dairy industry secure a fatter slice of the competitive global market.

Associate Professor Gras’s work with the Australia Research Council (ARC) Dairy Innovation Hub examines the structure of various products at a microscopic level to ascertain how altering functional properties such as texture and taste can improve these products’ desirability among consumers and in competitive global markets.

Gras is the director of the Dairy Innovation Hub, a research collaboration between UoM, University of Queensland (UQ) and Dairy Innovation Australia Limited (DIAL) that represents major Australian dairy manufacturers Devondale Murray GoulburnWarrnambool Cheese & ButterLion and Bega Cheese.

Stretching mozzarella: improving the stretchability of mozzarella cheese is another of Associate Professor Graf's projects with the Dairy Innovation Hub.

Her research is aimed at bolstering the export position of Australia’s dairy industry in an increasingly competitive global market, helping producers, processors and exporters meet growing demand for safe, sustainably produced, high-quality and high-value products with long shelf life in overseas markets – particularly Asian nations such as China.

Part of the University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute, the Gras Group lab is also developing new tools for use in microscopic analysis.

“We aim to provide technical and scientific solutions to enable companies and farmers to make the most of their milk,” Associate Professor Gras explains.

Dr Gras (with glasses) and the Bio21 'Gras group' at University of Melbourne.
Dr Gras (with glasses) and the Bio21 'Gras group' at University of Melbourne.
University of Melbourne (UoM)

Supply-chain benefits

Associate Professor Graf’s project, one of three Dairy Innovation Hub research projects being conducted in UoM’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, promises to benefit the entire dairy industry supply chain.

Graf says that for Australia’s dairy farmers, the product and processing improvements should lead to better farm-gate returns and gains in export markets.

The new processes and products will also enable Australian dairy manufacturers to compete with major multinationals on the world stage.

Consumers will benefit by having more consistent, more nutritious, better-tasting dairy products with improved texture, malleability and shelf life to choose from.Pizza topped with mozzarella: better products will help Australia's dairy industry compete in export markets.

Other UoM Dairy Innovation Hub projects

The University of Melbourne is also engaged in two other projects for the Dairy Innovation Hub; led by Professor Sandra Kentish and Dr Greg Martin, also from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, working with Professor Muthupandian Ashokkumar from UoM’s School of Chemistry.

“Professor Kentish is looking at waste streams to recover by-product, reduce environmental impacts and recycle water, whereas Dr Martin is understanding how we can optimise milk going into products to improve consistency,” Associate Professor Gras says.

More spreadable cream cheese is just one improvement Graf's been working on as part of the ARC Dairy Innovation Hub.
More spreadable cream cheese is just one improvement Graf's been working on as part of the ARC Dairy Innovation Hub.
Judy van der Helden, Flickr CC

What is the ARC Dairy Innovation Hub?

Established in early 2014, the ARC Dairy Innovation Hub “connects industry directly with scientific and technical expertise through a broad network of collaborations”, Associate Professor Gras says.

The hub was set up to address key research and technical challenges identified by DIAL and its members as “constraints to business growth and productivity” across Australia’s dairy industry.

Led by the University of Melbourne, the ARC Dairy Innovation Hub combines the expertise of a trio of academic and industrial research teams to develop “breakthrough technical solutions” to surmount these challenges.

The multidisciplinary research program draws on cutting-edge science and emerging technologies to develop “new, cost-effective separation and concentration processes and innovative low-cost dairy products that are nutritional and have a longer shelf-life for domestic and export markets”.

PhD projects with the Hub may be available; to enquire, contact Associate Professor Gras on +61 3 8344 6281 in the first instance.

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