Here on PricePlow, we’re happy to eat some crow. We recently mentioned that there hasn’t been much innovation in protein itself, and that most innovation has been coming in the add-on ingredients and protein enhancement technologies.
It turns out that we were wrong — there’s plenty of protein innovation coming, especially in the field of whey protein. To understand more, we brought on two experts in the field of dairy proteins to explain:
Arla Foods Ingredients: Innovating Whey Protein
Jakob Madsen Pedersen and Preston Losee of Arla Foods Ingredients joined the PricePlow Podcast for Episode #108 to give us a “Dairy 101” lesson, and explain what the protein experts are up to in the coming months. Arla Foods Ingredients is a subsidiary of Arla Foods, the Danish dairy conglomerate that serves as the world’s third-largest dairy.
After learning about their dairy process in general, we get to learn about the innovative new liquids and powders coming from Arla Foods Ingredients, including ISO WaterShake (a better clear whey protein isolate than what’s currently on the market) and Beta Lactoglobulin (BLG), which has a higher percentage of leucine inside.
This was educational, and coming after this on PricePlow, we’ve put together a contest with three manufacturers to see who can flavor ISO WaterShake the best. Let’s dig in:
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Detailed Show Notes: Innovating Whey Protein with Arla Foods Ingredients
0:00 – Introductions
Mike and Ben welcome Preston Losee and Jakob Peterson from Arla International to delve deep into the topic of whey protein. Preston is part of the North American sales team for Arla Foods Ingredients, focusing on sports nutrition for the eastern portion of North America. Jakob, with many years of experience at Arla, introduces himself as a “whey protein nerd” and is the general manager for North America.
Arla Foods Ingredients, headquartered in Aarhus, Denmark, is the world’s largest whey protein supplier. The parent company, Arla Foods, ranks as the third largest global dairy and operates as a dairy co-op owned by dairy farmers. This unique farmer-owned structure distinguishes Arla. Jakob explains Arla Foods’ evolution, noting how whey transitioned from a discarded byproduct in the 1970s to a recognized source of essential amino acids.
Over the years, Arla has taken a scientific and academic approach to whey, collaborating with universities, conducting clinical trials, and always seeking innovative solutions. Their efforts span multiple sectors, from dairy to sports nutrition, and they stand as a dominant force in the whey protein industry.
3:15 – The many applications of whey protein
Ben starts the conversation by highlighting that while sports nutrition is a significant use for whey protein, it’s not the only one. Whey protein is also used in infant formulas and for general health in elderly populations. Jakob explains that whey protein has two main purposes: nutritional benefits and functional purposes. Around 50% of whey globally is utilized in sports nutrition, with about 25% in infant nutrition. The rest goes to clinical nutrition and other food applications.
Mike shifts the conversation to the consumer perception of whey protein. Many consumers see whey protein as a generic commodity, but in reality, there are various grades, sources, and even influences from the type of cows and cheese. Jakob clarifies that while whey protein might be seen as a commodity in some applications, its actual composition is complex, and Arla uses sophisticated fractionation techniques to modify it for specific purposes. The company also places a high emphasis on consistency, sourcing their whey from a specific type of white cheese. This ensures a uniform product from batch to batch, especially crucial given their significant role in the infant nutrition market.
9:45 – Arla’s various whey offerings
Ben inquires about the various types of whey protein that Arla produces for consumer understanding. Preston, diving into the details, lists their primary offerings:
- Whey Protein Concentrate 70 (WPC-70): Comprises 70% protein, retains some fats and lipids, offers a rich mouthfeel and is suitable for ketogenic diets.
- Whey Protein Concentrate 80 (WPC-80): A standard in the market, it consists of 80% protein.
- Whey Protein Isolate (WPI-90): Pure with 90% protein content. Arla also has a clear version of this protein which, when consumed, feels like flavored water.
Within this group, we’ll later get into a new clear whey protein isolate named Lacprodan® Iso.WaterShake that far exceeds what’s currently on the market.
- Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH): Predigested protein for quick absorption and better recovery. It’s gentler on the digestive system.
- Whey Protein Fractions: Jakob adds to Preston’s explanation by mentioning their more sophisticated offerings where they can fractionate and enrich specific proteins from the general whey protein mix. This method allows Arla to target specific nutritional benefits. They have products designed especially for adult nutrition, sports nutrition, medical nutrition, and infant nutrition.
This is where we’ll eventually get into beta-lactoglobulin (BLG) discussed later on in the podcast.
Arla’s whey protein offerings cater to various applications, including powders, beverages, and food items like protein bars.
13:15 – Specific protein extraction: Beta-Lactoglobulin for sports nutrition
Mike raised a question about the rationale behind extracting specific proteins like beta-lactoglobulin, pondering if it might be more beneficial to consume proteins in their natural combination as found in nature. Preston responded by clarifying that beta-lactoglobulin (BLG) constitutes roughly half of the whey protein.[1-3]
Beta-lactoglobulin: Superior amino acid profile for active nutrition / sports nutrition / performance
By extracting BLG, one can access a protein source that is 92-93% pure, which surpasses the purity of the standard whey protein isolate. Furthermore, BLG consumption ensures an intake of 45% more naturally-occurring leucine, 40% more branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and 26% more essential amino acids.
Following this, Ben was curious about the components of whey protein that aren’t BLG. Jakob, drawing on a Lego analogy, explained that a drink with whey or its powder resembles a stack of Lego figures, each signifying a distinct protein. In whey protein concentrates, while 50% is BLG, the remaining half comprises proteins such as Casein glycomacropeptide (cGMP), alpha-lactalbumin (which is about 20-25% of the protein), and other minor proteins.
Interestingly, whey has a diversity of over 200 different proteins, albeit in varying quantities. Jakob also pointed out Arla’s innovative approach which allows them to enrich specific proteins in the mix, thereby catering to different nutritional requirements, like those of athletes needing a high BCAA intake during training.
17:00 – Beta-Lactoglobulin’s practicality
Mike highlights that while supplement labels typically indicate “protein” based on nitrogen content (see our old 2014 article on “amino acid spiking“ at some point to see how this measurement method was fraudulently gamed a decade ago), not all nitrogens/proteins have the same biochemical activity. He uses leucine as an example, pointing out that while regular whey protein has 9-11% leucine, Arla’s BLG product boasts a higher percentage, suggesting its potential in sports nutrition.
Jakob counters that soon, whey composition will be more transparently labeled, allowing brands to articulate their product’s protein specifics. He believes the market will start distinguishing products based on amino acid and protein content and that the exploration of various protein sources is just commencing.
When Ben inquires about BLG’s practicality, given its higher leucine content, Jakob clarifies that while ordinary proteins meet daily needs, BLG is beneficial for those involved in intense sports or workouts due to its promise of rapid recovery and enhanced muscle synthesis. The decision to exclusively consume BLG remains a personal choice, with research on it still unfolding.
Jakob anticipates BLG emerging as a unique category in sports nutrition. Preston chimes in, underscoring that regular protein intake aims to sustain a positive nitrogen balance crucial for protein synthesis. Given BLG’s elevated leucine levels, it can potentially minimize the frequency or amount of protein intake, priming the body better for protein synthesis.
21:45 – Protein taste profiles
Ben shares his insights from the 2023 Arnold event, where he sampled BLG products and observed the rising trend of protein waters and clear whey drinks. This experience led him to question the ongoing relevance of essential amino acid (EAA) and branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements, speculating a potential shift in the intra-workout drink market towards these less-creamy alternatives. Preston concurs, pointing out that while many fitness enthusiasts turn to BCAAs or EAAs for muscle support during workouts, their ice or water shake offers up to 20 grams of complete protein, with a taste profile resembling amino acid products. This could signify a notable shift where consumers can enjoy complete proteins in flavors typically reserved for amino acids or pre-workouts.
Ben highlights the departure of these protein flavors from the usual chocolate and vanilla, making them more palatable to a broader audience. Preston adds that they’ve explored a diverse range of BLG flavors, from tangy limeades to sweeter options like mixed berry. Their raspberry lime iteration offers a rejuvenating take on BLG. The adaptability of BLG encourages flavor innovation, presenting a fresh counterpart to classic protein shakes, particularly in hotter regions where a lighter post-exercise drink is favored.
25:00 – How is Arla’s Clear Protein (ISO.WaterShake) Better?
Mike asked Preston and Jakob how their clear protein differs from others in the market. Preston highlighted that their product undergoes rigorous purification for clarity and reduced stringency, with unique flavors due to their neutral pH protein. Jakob showcased a drink with water-like clarity, emphasizing their complete control from farm to dairy. Mike found Arla Foods’ product refreshing, unlike other proteins that cause dry mouth. Arla Foods is set to release products using their protein soon.
31:00 – Is Arla’s BLG also clear?
Mike inquires if Arla Foods’ BLG product also offers a clear solution like their other product and whether the enhanced leucine content means lower levels of other amino acids often found in collagen. Preston confirms that the BLG protein can indeed be clear and offers a variety of flavors. Preston notes that the BLG product has a higher protein yield, and Jakob assures that there isn’t a significant drop in any amino acid.
Furthermore, Jakob introduces another protein fraction they have, alpha lactalbumin, which is enriched in aromatic amino acids, offering mental health benefits, such as mood regulation and anxiety suppression.
Already formulating supplements in his head, Mike humorously suggests the idea of a “happy protein,” emphasizing the new benefits beyond traditional muscle synthesis.
37:15 – Essential amino acids
Ben and Mike seek clarification on the number of essential amino acids, as Jakob initially mentioned 12 instead of the commonly known 9. Jakob confirms that essential amino acids are those we need from the diet, which the body cannot produce. Mike suggests that as the quality of food decreases, more amino acids may become conditionally essential.
Ben further inquires about the manufacturing process of the BLG protein. Jakob explains that during separation, various streams or fractions are created. While this complicates the process, Arla Foods Ingredients, due to its size and diverse product lines, is adept at utilizing all these fractions, ensuring nothing goes to waste. He mentions how BLG is extracted for adult nutrition because it’s essential for muscle synthesis, but it’s absent in human milk and thus not desired in infant formula.
The company’s strength lies in its ability to innovate while utilizing all different fractions.
42:00 – Protein structures – What is a “major protein” like BLG?
In past research, it took Mike a while to understand what a “major protein” like beta-lactoglobulin really is — it’s not just a single molecule or amino acid, after all. He asks Jakob to explain it in his words, and he does an excellent job of doing so:
Jakob describes that proteins, present in all living organisms, consist of linked amino acids forming a 3D structure. Each protein has a unique sequence of amino acids, and the sequence determines the function and shape of the protein. Jakob explains how proteins fold, their structures, and the fact that they are determined by genetic codes.
BLG’s constituents contain more of what active athletes want, and is the main reason why whey is the best protein source. There are other major proteins, but fractionating just BLG will have many benefits.
The conversation then shifts to the production of proteins using genetically modified organisms, such as fungi. Jakob states that this technology will have relevance in the future of the food industry, citing the example of insulin, a protein hormone, which is now produced using yeast in the pharmaceutical industry. Jakob sees potential in this technology but acknowledges that it will face challenges, especially with regulatory compliance.
Mike then expresses his concern about labeling products with names traditionally associated with dairy, such as ‘milk’ in the case of ‘oat milk’. He feels that the dairy industry should protect its terminology. For instance, Mike believes that beta-lactoglobulin that is fermented from genetically-modified (GMO) fungus is not “whey” and should not be allowed to be marketed as “whey”.
Jakob carefully and diplomatically acknowledges this viewpoint, noting that there’s debate over naming rights, but emphasizes the importance of innovation in the dairy industry over concerns about competition. Arla Foods Ingredients is not against fermentation, and Jakob honestly isn’t concerned – Arla is going to continue to do amazing things regardless of other fields of competition.
49:15 – What about WPC-34?
Mike inquires about WPC-34, a lower grade protein product, and whether it’s offered by Arla Foods. Jakob explains the production process of cheese, resulting in whey as a byproduct. The goal is to separate the carbohydrate (lactose) from the protein in whey. Drying liquid whey results in whey powder, primarily used for animal feed. WPC-34, containing 34% protein, has a significant amount of lactose, making it suitable for infant nutrition due to their high lactose needs. Arla Foods specializes in producing high protein content isolates and doesn’t produce WPC-34 anymore.
Mike then seeks information on branded products that use Arla Foods’ WPC-80. Preston responds that they’d need to check with their customers and obtain their permission before sharing such details. He also hints at a future branded protein ingredient named Lacprodan® that might appear on products and will represent Arla Foods ingredients.
54:15 – Whey and casein combination
Mike asks for clarification about whether Arla Foods Ingredients offers milk protein products that combine whey and casein proteins. He references studies indicating the benefits of combining these proteins for enhanced muscle recovery and a balanced amino acid release.[7,8]
Preston explains that while Arla Foods Ingredients has traditionally been on the whey side, they recently introduced a micellar casein to the market called MicelPure. This product has a significantly lower lactose content than other similar products on the market, which can make it more stomach-friendly for some consumers. Preston emphasizes the improved mixability and palatability of MicelPure compared to other casein products.
The conversation touches upon the new offerings from Arla Foods Ingredients and their unique features, including taste, digestibility, and lactose content.
58:15 – Coming Next: PricePlow’s Iso.WaterShake Flavor competition
Mike, Ben, Preston, and Jakob discuss Arla Foods Ingredients’ innovative clear whey protein and plan a flavor competition. In this contest, various manufacturers will flavor Arla’s ISO Water Shake. The resulting flavors will be rated by a panel of super-consumers, with the tasting potentially broadcasted live on the PricePlow Discord server. Both Preston and Jakob are excited about the competition and the potential of their new product to transform the protein shake market.
Thanks so much to Jakob and Preston for coming on and educating us — we’re incredibly excited about the new products to come!
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