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Functional technologies for the dairy industry

Valio is Finland’s leading dairy company and a pioneer in the development of functional foods. Its achievements include Valio Zero Lactose™, Valio Evolus®, and LGG® Extra technologies, which have been licensed to partners in a number of markets, bringing added value to both the company’s partners and consumers.

While rich in nutrients, milk can be a problem drink for a number of consumers, in regions such as Asia and even in countries such as Finland where it has been widely drunk traditionally, because of the number of people suffering from lactose intolerance, a condition that results in unpleasant symptoms such as stomach pain and diarrhoea.

Valio decided to get to grips with the problem of the sweet taste and the incomplete lactose elimination that results from using an enzyme to hydrolyse lactose around eight years ago – and succeeded in developing a new technology that really does eliminate lactose without leaving behind too much glucose and galactose, which are behind the sweet taste people often dislike.

Valio received a gold medal for its Zero Lactose® technology at the European FoodTec Awards in Germany in 2006.

The resulting patented solution, Valio Zero Lactose™, leaves the natural taste and nutritional content of milk intact, while reducing lactose content to less than 0.01%. It does this using membrane technology and enzymatic hydrolysis, and by adjusting mineral composition. Ironically, Valio first used its patented chromatographic separation to produce lactose as part of whey powder production before its researchers saw the potential for turning the tables on lactose in milk!

The company launched its Valio Lactose Free™ milk drink in Finland in 2001, and has since followed this up with launches in Sweden, Belgium, the Baltic countries, and Russia, and has licensed the technology to dairy companies in Switzerland, Spain, and South Korea.

People who have had to stop drinking milk or eliminate dairy products from their diet can now enjoy not only a tasty lactose-free milk drink, but also low-fat and fat-free lactose-free variants, as well as lactose-free buttermilk, cream, fresh cheese, yoghurt, and butter.

Most recently, Valio has extended the use of Zero Lactose™ to milk powder, opening up the potential for confectionary and other food manufacturers to incorporate the benefits of a lactose-free ingredient into their products.

Enhancing immunity and improving your digestion

Valio acquired an exclusive worldwide license to the world’s best documented probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG®) – a bacterium that has been proven to survive in and colonise the human gastrointestinal tract and protect the body against infection and imbalances – in 1987, and launched the world’s first LGG® products in 1990.

Since introducing LGG® in its Gefilus® range the same year, Valio today offers a wide range of LGG® buttermilk, yoghurt, milk, fruit drinks, cheese, ‘daily dose’ drinks, and fermented whey-based drinks for enhancing people’s immunity.

Clinical trials with LGG® Extra – marketed under the Gefilus® MAX brand in Finland, Sweden, and the Baltic countries – have shown that it can reduce symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome.

Building on this expertise with LGG®, Valio has now combined it with three other probiotics:

L. rhamnosus Lc705, Propionibacterium freudenreichii ssp. shermanii JS, Bifidobactetrium animalis subsp. lactis Bb-12®. Clinical trials with this unique, patented combination of bacteria, known as LGG® Extra, have shown that it can reduce symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

A product containing the combination was launched in 2008 under the Gefilus® MAX brand in Finland, Sweden, and the Baltic countries in 2008. Valio is now looking to begin licensing the technology to its partners worldwide.

Better for your heart

Valio launched a unique fermented milk drink that helps control blood pressure in 2000. Known as Evolus®, its efficacy was based on bioactive tripeptides formed during fermentation. The range was renamed Valio Evolus® Double Effect in 2008, when plant sterol was added to result in a combination that also lowers cholesterol.

Isoleucine-proline-proline (IPP) and valine-proline-proline (VPP) tripeptides are created when milk protein is broken down into smaller components during the Valio Evolus® Double Effect fermentation process. These peptides help control blood pressure by inhibiting the action of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) that raises it, while the plant sterol added lowers total cholesterol and harmful LDL cholesterol, while leaving beneficial HDL cholesterol in place.

The efficacy of the agents in Valio Evolus® ​ Double Effect products has been verified in clinical studies, and the products in question are now labelled ‘lowers cholesterol’ and ‘helps control blood pressure’.

Strong in R&D

Valio has a long tradition of R&D and the company’s R&D function today employs around 140 experts. Around one third of these focus on long-term strategic development projects, while the other two thirds work on product development and support. Many research projects are conducted in collaboration with universities and research institutes. More than 100 new products based on in-house R&D are released annually.

In addition to probiotics, Valio is particularly strong in process technology expertise, which is a key cornerstone of the company’s competitiveness. This is particularly exemplified in areas such as chromatographic processes and membrane and drying techniques, as the development of the company’s lactose-free milk drink highlights. Processes typically utilise biotechnology and enzymatic or microbiological methods, such as hydrolysis and fermentation.

> Pia Kontunen
(Published in HighTech Finland 2009)