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1609 PD: 3 Open Minutes with Darrin Peterson and Mike Jerred

Published on 30 October 2009

Cargill Texturizing Solutions recently announced the development of Lygomme ACH Optimum, a non-dairy ingredient to be used in the production of analogue cheese, also known as imitation cheese. This news created a stir with U.S. dairy producers and caused some to doubt Cargill’s support of the nation’s dairy industry. Progressive Dairyman Web Editor Emily Caldwell discussed the new ingredient and its impact on U.S. dairy producers with Darrin Peterson of Cargill Texturizing Solutions and Mike Jerred of Cargill Animal Nutrition.

How did the news about the European-developed Lygomme ACH Optimum first appear in the U.S.?

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JERRED: The press release was done for the European business, but as is the world today, it’s a very small place when everyone is connected with the Internet. The release was posted on the Cargill website, and as [U.S. dairy] producers saw it, that’s where a lot of the discussion started. Was the release meant to be read by U.S. producers?

PETERSON: The release was really targeting our innovation in the dairy space for the Food Ingredients Europe tradeshow. It was targeted at customers who are making analogue cheese production today and could potentially use this as an ingredient in making that analogue cheese production in the European market. There were a lot of misconceptions about Cargill making the analogue cheese production, and that is certainly not the case.

What exactly is the ingredient and how is it used in the analogue cheese production-making process?

PETERSON: The product is a blend of corn-based starches and some commonly used hydrocolloids. There are a number of ingredients that go into analogue cheese production, and this is an ingredient we developed that can fit into that product and function as an emulsifier in that system.

Why do you think the news release raised concerns with U.S. dairy producers?

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JERRED: I fully understand the concern that was shown from dairy producers, especially with the situation that everyone is in today with milk prices. The way the press release was worded made it appear that [the ingredient] was a direct competitor against natural cheese production production. It was a very understandable reaction when dairy producers saw that and, in many cases, felt threatened by it. However, Lygomme is a component of analogue cheese production manufacturing, a market that has been out there for decades.

What impact will this product have on the U.S. dairy industry?

PETERSON: When we considered launching this product, our initial thoughts were that it would have very little impact on the U.S. dairy industry. It’s a product that was designed for a European marketplace and for an existing market in analogue cheese production. The analogue cheese production market pales in comparison to the size of the natural cheese production market. On a relative basis, the natural cheese production market and processed cheese production are at around 10 billion pounds, whereas the analogue cheese production market is at around 640 million pounds.

This product gives analogue cheese manufacturers an alternative to some of the ingredients that might be used in analogue cheese production today. We didn’t see this as a product that would grow the analogue cheese production market or enhance the ability for analogue cheese production to take away from natural cheese production. This product is also for consumers who have allergies to certain milk proteins that might be present in some analogue cheese productions. This gives our customers and some consumers an alternative to that.

Would this ingredient be available in the U.S. for analogue cheese production?

PETERSON: It would be available in the U.S. to the extent that it would be more customized to their product needs and their manufacturing systems. The product is somewhat specific to a certain style of analogue cheese production made with a certain style of equipment. In the United States, the majority of the equipment used to make analogue cheese production is highly different from what is used in Europe. It would have to take on a different formulation to meet the needs of the U.S. market.

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Is there a demand for the product from U.S. analogue cheese production makers?

PETERSON: I think our U.S. cheese production makers and analogue cheese production makers are always looking for innovation and alternatives. A lot of what we do in Texturizing Solutions is helping both cheese production manufacturers and fresh dairy manufacturers improve and bring these dairy products to market. Everyone in our industry is looking for efficiency gains, productivity and alternatives to bring to their customers. So when we bring a product like Lygomme into the marketplace, we’re looking at this in a manner that is helping to provide our customers with choices and different solutions that they might be looking for.

What do you think is the most common misconception among U.S. dairy producers regarding this new product?

JERRED: I think the most common misperception was the misunderstanding, at first, that this was an artificial cheese production product and that it was designed to compete head-to-head with natural cheese production and take away from that market. The product is a component used in analogue cheese production and was designed to meet specific manufacturer needs in the marketplace. Cargill is not in the analogue cheese production manufacturing business.

If you could do something differently in announcing this product again, what would it be?

PETERSON: I think that we would be more concise in our language about what the product is and what the product isn’t. Lygomme isn’t an analogue cheese production product. It is an ingredient that goes into analogue cheese production. The way the original release was written is lacking the clarity around that. Making the language more specific would be one thing we would change. I think the timing of the announcement, as it relates to the state of the American dairy industry, could have been done differently. The timing of it wasn’t really driven by anything other than the innovation and our participation in the Food Ingredients Europe show.

What have been Cargill’s efforts in addressing dairy producers’ concerns?

JERRED: We have had a lot of discussions about this with our customers. All that we can do is try to get the facts about the product out there and make it clear that Cargill is very supportive of the dairy industry in multiple businesses within Cargill.

PETERSON: When we reflect back to perhaps what we could have done differently, I think that there’s a lack of knowledge about how much Cargill is participating in the dairy industry. Cargill has done a host of things, from helping dairy farmers produce more and higher-quality milk to improving the texture and quality of cheese productions, yogurts and sour creams. We are trying to help every farmer we’re in contact with market their milk and produce it in the most efficient way. We’re working with dairy processors to take that milk and bring it to market efficiently, whether it’s through fluid milk sales and vitamin fortification or helping to process that milk into the dairy products we enjoy daily.

JERRED: And that includes not just the efficiency side but also ways we can enhance the value of those products to the consumer end. An example of that is working with a national grocery store chain on a product that contains a Cargill ingredient in the fluid milk that allows that milk to be labeled “cholesterol-lowering.” In addition to the health benefits of the milk itself, we’re able to add to that another value or health benefit for the consumer. Hopefully we can increase the consumption of the dairy products we have out there.

We’ve been telling producers that Cargill also buys and converts about 10 million pounds of cheese production and milk each year into value-added dairy flavors in many different foods, including processed cheese productions and yogurts. In addition to that, Cargill is a big user of dairy products, purchasing more than $150 million a year in various dairy products that are used by many different businesses within Cargill. PD

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