© Open Country Dairy
New Zealand dairy producer Open Country has inaugurated a multi-million-euro milk powder processing plant – including a €3 million spend on modified atmosphere packing (MAP) technology that consistently reduces residual oxygen levels to below 2%.
The equipment – provided by GEA – is being used across Open Country’s sealed 25kg bags of milk powder. FoodBev understands that, including the €3 million MAP technology, the overall investment in the project was between €10 million and €50 million.
High levels of oxygen pose a problem for milk powder products as it can seriously affect the flavour and shelf-life. The MAP technology from GEA will help Open Country to maintain low levels of residual oxygen, and prevent any significant deterioration in product quality while in transit.
The Auckland-based dairy processor exports to key markets including China and the Middle East. It has dairy in Waharoa and Wanganui on North Island, as well as Awarua on South Island, where it manufactures a range of milk powders, whey proteins and block cheeses.
This is the sixth milk processing plant GEA has supplied to Open Country Dairy in New Zealand since 2007 – but the first time that the scope of supply included a GEA MAP system. The previous projects covered four different sites, each processing 8 tonnes of milk powder per hour.
“GEA has previously delivered five milk powder plants for us and is now building the sixth,” said Danie Brink, Open Country Dairy’s general manager of operations. “Having GEA as the single supplier from milk reception to packed powder has many advantages for us. Based on GEA’s track record of delivering on their promises, the extensive data from their other MAP packing machines and GEA’s cost competitiveness, we selected GEA’s packing technology.”
The system used to prevent excessive residual oxygen uses pre-gassing, in which the bag is filled with inert gas to exclude oxygen prior to filling. The bag is then held steady by the top, thereby reducing movement and any air disturbance in the product. The bottom-up filling technique prevents additional air being introduced into the product during filling and the bag sealer forces out any remaining gas on final closure.
As a result, residual oxygen is limited to a minimum and the detrimental effect on product quality and shelf-life is avoided as far as possible.
GEA’s Greg Martin said: “Our system does consistently achieve the residual oxygen level required by the customer and we can demonstrate it.”
“The new plant was a straight copy of our other five plants in New Zealand for Open Country with the addition of the MAP packing line. So we knew the plant would perform well for the customer right from the start and the packing line is already consistently producing very low RO levels for our customers worldwide.”
The new plant will come online in September 2018.
Analysis: ‘a strong market for infant formula’
The opportunities for foreign dairy brands to perform well in Asia – particularly China – are well-documented. Ever since the country’s melamine crisis in 2008, consumer confidence in domestically produced dairy has been insurmountably low. Chinese companies like Yashili and Yili have sought to reduce their losses by investing in Australian and New Zealand-made infant formula, while European companies like Danone have capitalised on favourable perceptions of their brands.
Mintel’s latest research has shown that – as well as provenance – the nutritional quality of infant milk formula is an important motivator for Chinese consumers. The ‘organic’ label brings with it the perception that a product is better – and crucially, safer – for children. Nearly 60% of Chinese mothers think that products from Australia or New Zealand are better than those from other milk sources, while less than a fifth associate Chinese milk with a premium image.
The country remains a strong market for infant formula, driven by product innovation and a preference towards imported products. Food safety remains a key motivator for Chinese consumers, especially when it comes to their children.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019