When, in 2013, the world saw an enormous hike in the popularity of Greek yogurt (taking over half of the American yogurt market and selling around 500,000 tons a year), we knew the trend would be accompanied by a growing problem for the environment. And that there may be a solution to turn that problem – acid whey – into a promising new raw material for the dairy industry.
Acid whey is a by-product of a number of popular dairy goods – most famously Greek yogurt, but also a number of cheeses including cottage and cream cheeses. Traditionally, companies have treated acid whey as waste. But when further processed – in combination with whey proteins – it offers enormous potential as the base for a range of dairy products.
Just how much of a current problem is acid whey for the environment? Take Greek yogurt, for example. For every 100kg of milk used to make it, only 33kg ends up as the final product. The remaining two-thirds is acid whey, which producers usually dispose of in their waste stream. That’s a controversial practice on environmental grounds – and it’s a significant cost issue for manufacturers, too.
As we see it, delivering product quality isn’t just about the suitability, usability or durability of the product at the end of the line. It’s also about being able to achieve that result in a highly efficient way. Ultimately, that efficiency would also mean zero waste of the raw materials that go into production. So Greek yogurt is, without question, too far from that point.
The idea of turning acid whey into a useful, high-quality raw material originally started around six years ago in our labs. Research was undertaken and the outcomes analysed, which were definitely encouraging. Back then, however, with the comparatively low sales volume of Greek yogurt around the world, acid whey wasn’t perceived as a major problem, so these findings didn’t receive much attention.
This quickly changed with the Greek yogurt boom and the negative attention it received in the mainstream media, as exemplified in the headlines of blog posts such as:
“Whey Too Much: Greek Yogurt’s Dark Side”
“Is Greek Yoghurt Hurting the Environment?”
“Greek Yogurt’s Dirty Little Secret"
This was the burning platform, you might say, for realising acid whey’s true potential.
Where are things now?
So what’s the current status? Manufacturers have been very interested in solutions to the problem of acid whey, and we’re currently running trials with more than one major producer, examining how exactly to convert acid whey from being a waste product to a significant raw material in high-quality, nutritious and valuable consumer products.
In my next post on this topic, I’ll touch on the products we see acid whey helping to produce – and the degree to which taking this direction could help to alleviate the problem for the world.
This blog contains material and information intended for B2B customers, suppliers and distributors, and is not intended as information to the final consumers.