Volume 5 | Issue 1 | Year 2009

It’s not a world of children’s fables and nursery rhymes that engages the researchers at Davisco Foods, yet the incident of a certain Miss Muffet, involving a spider and the digestion of curds and whey, does make one pause: If Miss Muffet was serious about her whey, which helps to build protein (and therefore muscle) she could have taken on that spider.
And while it’s interesting to note that the only reference to whey in popular verse is in a 16th century children’s lyric, it’s equally notable that, 300 years later, the world has finally woken up to the many benefits of whey protein. Leading the proverbial “whey” is Davisco Foods, which was started by Stanley Davis in 1943 who ran the St. Peter Creamery in the Midwest and turned it into a leading dairy operation. Today the company is managed by Stanley’s son, President Mark Davis, and his four sons, Marty, Mitch, Matt and Jon. The Davis family owns cheese companies in Le Sueur, Minn.; Jerome, Idaho and Lake Norden, S.D. in addition to food ingredient companies in Le Sueur and Nicollet, Minn.; Lake Norden, and Jerome. Davisco has grown worldwide with offices in Mexico City, Geneva, Shanghai and a prospective site in Dubai, with partners in the Middle East, Japan and Africa. Sales were just under $1 billion in 2008.

While Davisco produces 370 million pounds of cheese annually and is one of the largest suppliers of cheese to Kraft Foods, its role as a pioneer in whey protein isolate research precipitated its global fame. The company produces 10 million pounds of whey protein isolates annually and is the industry leader in technology and production, accounting for 65 percent of whey protein isolates sold worldwide. Whey protein isolates are found in 50 percent of grocery products today, including sports drinks, reduced fat candies, low fat salad dressings, infant formula, yogurts, dips, shelf-stable baking mixes, and low fat cheese sauces.

And it all came about from a trip to England in 1983, when Mark Davis bought the technology to separate whey proteins and received a patent for it upon returning to the U.S. When the patent expired in 1998 the formula was figuratively buried in the backyard under “trade secret” so no one would ever know the process (similar to the famous colonel’s secret recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken).

So the process and the product continue to be unique in the industry, selling for medical and athletic as well as nutritional purposes (the water at the bottom of a container of yogurt is whey protein, by the way). It’s easy to digest and its popularity is growing throughout the world as other countries tap into the United States’ food and beverage portfolio, wanting to mimic the variety enjoyed here.

“The U.S. has known the benefit of whey protein but the rest of the world is just learning about it,” says Polly Olson, vice president of global sales and marketing. “We’ve expanded as the market matured around the world and people are ready for more technical advances in food products.” In particular, beverages is a growing category with companies such as Starbucks, with its new Vivanno smoothie, containing Davisco’s BiPRO whey protein. “We also sell straight whey protein, which has a huge following with athletes who don’t want to fail a drug test and want to buy straight protein without the chemical additives.”

Whey protein, she adds, is important to an efficiently functioning system. “In every organ the backbone is protein,” Olson stresses. “Every seven years the body replaces proteins and needs essential amino acids. Cancer patients, whose bodies are repairing and recovering from chemotherapy, can benefit immensely from these products. It’s a huge market.”

In its facilities in Minnesota, Davisco creates some of the most advanced whey protein products on the planet. These include:

  • BiPRO whey protein isolate (WPI) a completely natural, unique dairy protein produced from pasteurized whey through proprietary selective ion exchange technology. The unique ionexchange process selects the primary functional and nutritional proteins – beta-lactoglobulin and alpha-lactalbumin – for isolation and spray drying. In their pure form these functional whey protein groups can be used to replace much larger quantities of caseinates, soy protein, WPC, egg whites, or gelling agents. In formulas where nutrition, high gel strength, viscosity, aeration, water binding, or solubility are crucial, BiPRO can radically improve the nutrition and flavor of any food or beverage. BiPRO provides the competitive edge, in terms of nutrition, functionality and flavor, for the introduction of successful, new products.
  • BioZate, a new generation of hydrolyzed whey proteins. BioZate is a line of hydrolyzed whey proteins containing smaller peptides for ease of digestion and absorption. Hydrolyzed whey protein is whey protein that has been broken down into smaller pieces, similar to our body’s digestive system, to produce peptides. These whey peptides have unique functional and nutritional (bioactive) properties. BioZate 1 is a Bioactive Peptide System™. It is a highly purified, bioavailable, hydrolyzed whey protein that contains specific natural bioactive whey protein peptides produced through a highly controlled process. BioZate 1 also contributes protein to the diet, which may increase the body’s metabolic rate and nutrient balance. BioZate 3 is a highly purified, hydrolyzed whey protein that contains a unique molecular weight profile. The addition of BioZate 3 to protein bars results in softer textured bars over time under different storage conditions.
  • Glycomacropeptide (GMP) is a highly bioactive whey protein with superior purity. Davisco has developed a unique process by which a purified form of glycomacropeptide is isolated from the whey after cheesemaking. The result is a light colored, mild tasting, free flowing powder ideal for use in both functional foods and beverages, and dietary supplements. The uniqueness of GMP is the low levels of aromatic amino acids (phenylalanine, tryptophan, and tyrosine). GMP also has relatively high amounts of branched chain amino acids (isoleucine and valine). The combination of low aromatic amino acids and high BCAAs allows GMP to be an ideal ingredient in nutritional formulations for people suffering from hepatic diseases. The low level of phenylalanine in Davisco’s GMP also makes it a highly desirable nitrogen source in the special diets formulated for phenylketoneuria patients. Phenylketonuria, or PKU is a rare, hereditary, metabolic disorder. GMP is also found in a lot of dental chewing gum, helping to reduce dental cavities, and is also contained in natural mouthwash and toothpaste.
  • Alpha-lactalbumin, is the purest, isolated form of bovine alphalactalbumin commercially available. Alpha-lactalbumin is the primary protein in human milk, and is therefore extremely important for infant nutrition. It is a calcium-binding protein that may have a role in calcium transport. Also rich in the amino acid cysteine, which is a building block of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant in the body that plays an important role in immunity, Alpha-lactalbumin also contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin and the neurosecretory hormone melatonin, which have been shown to play a role in regulating neurobehavioral effects such as appetite, sleeping-waking rhythm, pain perception, mood, anxiety and stress control. In addition, Alpha-lactalbumin can be used to improve the overall amino acid composition of an infant formula, allowing for a lower total protein level. It also helps with renal/kidney problems because of the low mineral content.

For its penchant at creating products that make a difference in the marketplace, Davisco has won a range of awards. Its most recent, last October, was a Governor’s International Trade Award, which honors Minnesota companies, organizations and individuals who have excelled in the international marketplace. The award highlights the crucial role exporting plays in Minnesota’s economy and recognizes the recipient’s efforts to expand and promote the state’s exports. Davisco earned the award for its role, during the last 65 years, in contributing to employment in the state as growing domestic and international sales result in job creation at the plants, dairies and business offices.

“Global expansion is a strategic area of focus for our organization as we provide companies around the world with high quality dairy ingredients. With sales from international markets now beginning to approach over half of Davisco’s revenue, we are excited to see our business grow on a truly global scale,” Mark Davis said in accepting the award. Davisco, indeed, has shipped product to over 60 countries in the last 25 years. Breakthrough countries include Bolivia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, The Philippines, and Thailand. China, Olson says, currently represents the company’s fastest growing market, especially as its population grows more affluent. Moreover, Olson notes, Davisco is one of the country’s largest dairy exporters, with more than 70 percent of its products exported out of the U.S.

In addition, the company’s Alpha-lactalbumin received the coveted “Most Innovative Food Ingredient’´ award at the Food Ingredients South America (FiSA) conference in São Paulo, Brazil in June 2007. Considered by many as the “Oscars” of the food industry, the conference and awards ceremony showcases the strides and innovations made by the leaders in the realm of food ingredients.

“There are four or five companies out there that do what we do but our process is what separates us,” Olson says. “They use filtration and we use ion exchange to get higher levels of purity – 97 percent versus their 90 percent.”

And how do you achieve 97 percent? Olson will be the first to tell you: it’s all a part of the trade secret.

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