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“China, India represent 54% of infant milk formula”
Monday, 16 May, 2016, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Epi Ingredients, a subsidiary of French company Laïta, specialises in developing and marketing dry dairy ingredients for the food and nutrition industries. Mathieu Lucot, marketing manager, Epi Ingredients, in an email interaction with Lucy Fernandes spoke about the quality of the milk used to produce Epi’s dry ingredients, the market and more. Excerpts:

What are the current trends in milk automation and technology?
Although this is not my area of expertise, I would say that the main current trends in milk technology are: to enhance safety from milk collection to processing, in order to meet customers’ ever increasing quality requirements; to develop gentle, non-denaturing processes that help preserve a structure as close as possible to one of the raw material, milk. Such ingredients can then be marketed as native dairy ingredients and offer many benefits compared to dairy ingredients processed through more denaturing processes; and to improve sustainability of manufacturing facilities.

What is your primary objective with regard to nutrition business in view of the changing trends?

The company is aiming to further develop its expertise in nutrition in order to get a deeper understanding of what really matters in this business, which will allow them to Increase innovation; Identify specific needs in the market and target them with tailor-made ingredients; and Fulfil customers’ expectations for better, safer and healthier products.

How has the company evolved in technology over these years?
Laïta, Epi Ingredients’ parent company, has recently invested over 80m€ in building a state-of-the-art drying tower dedicated to infant nutrition. This is a big step for the company and it illustrates the group’s ambition for the future of Epi Ingredients. It is also a great opportunity for us as it allows us to expand our knowledge both on a technological and commercial standpoint.

Recently we have seen the food industry engulfed with quality issues. Do you think that technology can help avoid such quality-related issues in the near future?

Yes, I believe that technology can help avoid quality-related issues as performance and features of new equipment are always enhanced. However, technology is only part of the answer. Manufacturers have to set high quality standards as well as implement strict procedures in order to ensure the highest level for safety in their products.

For example, with the new tower being built and dedicated to infant nutrition, we have set really high quality standard, close to a GMP pharma certification, and we will be monitoring all parameters very closely to avoid any quality-related issues. It is an everyday challenge but we are committed to providing the best!

What are the manufacturing facilities of the company? Are there any plans for new market exports?

The company owns four high-performance industrial facilities specialised in drying, extrusion, membrane separation, fermentation and dry-blending. These are all located in Western France and no farm is more than 100 km from the plant that processes their milk. We are committed to providing the best quality possible to our customers and believe that we can do so by keeping complete control from field to fork. We collect the milk from our farmers and transform it in our facilities located nearby in order to get the highest quality, most natural and safest ingredients possible. However, part of our strategy is to increase our export presence and we even have a sales manager dedicated to worldwide business development. Our primary target area for development is Asia as we believe it offers the greatest potential for growth.

What are the products offered by the company? What quality precautions you take for your products?

We offer a variety of ingredients derived from fresh milk: skim milk powder, buttermilk powder, caseins and caseinates, whey products, butter and cream powder as well as more specialty ingredients such as our fermented powders (quark, yogurt and fermented milk powders, some even containing active cultures) and milk replacers. These ingredients are all manufactured in France under very strict quality control and monitoring and with total traceability. In addition, Epi Ingredients has years of experience in handling and transforming milk, which makes us a very reliable supplier of high quality ingredients.

What are the various applications used in food industries? Which is a highly-used product in the food industry? What is the Unique Selling Point of the product?

We recently worked on the redefinition of the company’s offering and have decided to organise our ranges by application segments as follows: bakery, beverages, ice cream, savoury, cultured dairy, chocolate and confectionery, flavouring, infant nutrition and adult nutrition. One of our flagship ingredients is our Fermented Yogurt Powder, Epilac Lowfat Yogurt Powder 48 which adds a yogurt taste in virtually any type of application. It is a perfect solution for the beverage industry as it instantised and therefore very easy-to-use. On top of these functionalities, it even contains some active cultures that can allow for a yogurt appellation at certain dosage in countries like France.

What is the impact of milk price on milk ingredients? Who is the target audience - infants or adults?

There is a high impact of milk price on milk ingredients, the later depending on the former. However, we are trying to develop more value-added specialty ingredients targeting specific needs, for which pricing is less dependent upon milk pricing. We target both infant and adult nutrition with specific product offerings corresponding to the needs of each target group. Milk is very versatile and used in a variety of end-products for all types of consumers.

What are your future plans in regards to new ingredients to be launched, acquisition, and expansion?

We are of course working on developing new ingredients. However, I cannot disclose any specifics at this time. However, our mission is to add value to the milk collected from our farmers and we want to keep our uniqueness so we will always work on new ingredients derived from this raw milk. Therefore, we do not foresee any acquisition or expansion towards other types of products.

Tell us about your latest research and development in the infant food products.
We recently worked on fine-tuning our standard formula for the infant powders, stage 1 – 3 that we will be producing on the new tower, which is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2017.

Where do you see your company in the Indian market, now and in future? How big is infant food market in India, at what rate it is growing? What are the prospects for the growth?
At the moment, Epi Ingredients is unfortunately absent from the Indian market. However, we believe that there are opportunities for us to develop this market. We think that both our fermented powders and infant nutrition offerings could be very successful in this country.

Although we still need to work on gaining a better understanding of the Indian market specifically, we know that the total global market for infant formula is estimated to be worth $18.1 billion with an annual growth rate expected to be 9.9% through to 2017. Emerging markets, which include China and India, represent 54% of the total global infant milk formula market and the annual growth projected in these countries is much higher than the average.

In which countries are the products more in demand? What kind of sales are you looking at in the new fiscal?
Europe and Asia are definitely the geographical areas where most of our demand comes from, as well as regions with limited milk production such as the Middle-East.

Name some of your valuable clients in India.
Although we do not work with any companies specifically in India, we work with big international groups which definitely have a foothold in the country.
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