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Great-tasting technology
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Great-tasting technology

Valio is known not only for its dairy products, but also as a developer of functional foods and unique milk processing technologies. It was the first company to develop a lactose-free milk drink, for example, and consumers in numerous countries now enjoy the benefits of this technology. Products containing LGG® bacteria, another area pioneered by Valio, are sold through more than 20 licensing partners.

Valio is Finland’s leading dairy company and a 100% farmer-owned cooperative that processes 1.9 billion litres of milk a year in Finland and more overseas at its plants in Estonia, Russia, and the US. Its product portfolio ranges from milk, cheese, yoghurt, and butter to milk powder and demineralised whey powder. While cheese, Valio’s traditional export staple, primarily goes to Europe and the US, Valio exports its ingredients and technological expertise worldwide. Products manufactured employing Valio expertise are currently sold in around 65 countries today.

Valio has a long tradition of product development, over a century’s worth in fact, and the company’s R&D function currently employs around 185 experts. Professor A.I. Virtanen, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1945, headed up R&D for many decades.

By licensing Valio’s technology, partners gain access not only to its know-how, but also to its expertise in turning successful technology into successful products and its commitment to ensuring that partners get products that can make the most of local market opportunities.
His work and that of his successors has resulted in numerous dairy product-related innovations over the years, drawing on Valio’s extensive know-how in areas such as lactic acid bacteria, milk processing technology, and nutrition. Valio is particularly strong in process technology expertise, in areas such as chromatographic processes, membrane and drying techniques, biotechnology, and enzymatic and microbiological techniques, such as hydrolysis and fermentation.

Around a third of Valio’s R&D team focuses on long-term strategic development projects, while the other two-thirds work on product development and support. An average of more than 100 new products based on in-house R&D are released annually. Internationally, these are promoted either under the Valio brand or by licensing the technology to partners, such as Tine in Norway, Kaiku in Spain, and Emmi in Switzerland.

R&D milestones in recent years include Valio Zero Lactose™ and LGG® technologies, which have been licensed to partners in numerous markets.

It’s lactose-free, and it tastes great

Lactose intolerance, a condition that results in unpleasant symptoms such as stomach pain and diarrhoea, can make milk a problem drink for many people. Traditional techniques used for eliminating lactose from milk – based on using an enzyme to hydrolyse it – result in a sweet taste and fail to remove all of the lactose content in any case. Valio’s solution takes the form of a patented process that uses membrane technology, in conjunction with enzymatic hydrolysis, to eliminate virtually 100% of the lactose, while leaving behind a reduced quantity of glucose and galactose matching the normal sweetness of fresh milk.

Valio Zero Lactose™ leaves the natural taste and nutritional content of milk intact, while reducing lactose content to less than 0.01% – and has enabled people to enjoy not only a tasty lactose-free milk drink, but also low-fat and fatfree lactose-free variants, as well as lactose-free buttermilk, cream, fresh cheese, yoghurt, and butter.

Valio Lactose Free™ milk drink was launched in Finland in 2001 and has been followed by product launches in countries such as Sweden, Belgium, the Baltic countries, and Russia; and the technology has been licenced to dairy companies further afield in Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, South Korea, and elsewhere.

Valio Zero Lactose™ milk powder is also now available. Confectionery manufacturers have been the first outside the dairy sector to pick up on the potential of this product, in lactose-free milk chocolate for example.

"Over a century of product development."

Twenty years of probiotic dairy products

Realising the importance and potential of Lactobacillus GG – one of the first bacteria proven to survive in and colonise the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract and provide protection against GI infections and imbalances in the body – Valio acquired a worldwide exclusive license in the 1980s and went on to do pioneering research in the field at its R&D Centre. This work, together with research done at universities in Finland and abroad, resulted in the launch of Valio’s first LGG® products and has seen Valio LGG® become the world’s most researched probiotic bacteria.

True to Valio’s roots, the first LGG® products were all dairy, but Valio has also been able to leverage its R&D expertise to extend the technology’s reach into juice products. The challenge here was to ensure the survival of the probiotic microbes in the juice matrix so that they remain alive in the correct concentration until the ‘best before’ date but do not grow and spoil the product during the intervening time.

Today, Valio offers a wide range of LGG® products including buttermilk, yoghurt, milk, fruit drinks, ‘daily dose’ drinks, and fermented whey-based drinks – marketed under the Gefilus® brand in Finland and a number of other countries. Products containing LGG® are currently available in 33 markets, manufactured by Valio and its technology licensees.

Like yoghurt, well you’ll love this

One of Valio’s more recent technologies has been ProVa®, a patented process for producing thick, creamy yoghurt without added thickeners. It does this by increasing the viscosity of milk protein, and delivers significant savings in raw ingredient costs per unit due to enhanced protein yield levels.

The success of the technology saw it quickly transferred to commercial-scale production a few years ago, and it is now used in almost all of Valio’s yoghurt and fermented milk products. Valio is now keen to offer the benefits to its partners – and consumers – outside Finland.

Valio Zero Lactose™ leaves the natural taste and nutritional content of milk intact, while reducing lactose content to less than 0.01%.
> Ross Crittenden
(Published in HighTech Finland 2013)