CHICAGO — The challenge for most employers to find labor during the past few years has been well documented. A more significant challenge for food and beverage manufacturers may be finding qualified labor to fill technical roles in research and innovation in the next decade. Trade associations like the American Dairy Products Institute (ADPI) are seeking to bring more candidates into the industry.

“If you don't like change, you’re going to hate extinction,” was a recurring theme during the education sessions at the annual conference of the ADPI, Elmhurst, Ill., which was held April 23-25 in Chicago. The ADPI, a trade association representing manufacturers in the dairy-based ingredients category, celebrated its centennial year at the meeting and has big plans for the next century.

A strategic priority for the group includes investing in academia in order to ensure the dairy industry has the technical talent it needs to keep dairy relevant to future generations. At the annual conference, two separate panels of academic leaders discussed their programs in dairy and food science, showcasing the varied approaches to attracting more students into technical careers. It was the first time the group convened to share with the industry their involvement in ADPI’s new Academic Institution membership category.

ADPI logoPhoto: Donna Berry“Academic institutions that are committed to the research and teaching of dairy science, food science and more are invited to join ADPI through this membership category,” said Blake Anderson, president and chief executive officer of ADPI. “Through this partnership, ADPI hopes to strengthen the ties between academia and research with the real-time opportunities and challenges of the dairy ingredients industry.

“We started with four to five schools and put a task force together. Our board is very supportive of this initiative. We now have 20 universities that are members, and more on the way.”

The group includes two international members: the University of Guelph in Canada and University College Cork in Ireland. The eight US institutions represented at the conference shared their frustration with recruiting students into food science, let alone dairy science, and how they appreciate the collaboration with ADPI.  

“ADPI sees this as an important gap that needs to be filled in order to keep the next generation involved in the dairy ingredients sector,” said KJ Burrington, vice president of technical development at ADPI. “By getting more students closer to the dairy industry and providing resources for them to enhance their dairy knowledge, as well as a network that leads to internships and employment, we will be able to help secure the future of the dairy.”

Jayendra Amamcharla, professor of food science, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan., said, “The global food system needs many more food scientists. We have a big challenge with recruiting and need to take action now or the entire food industry is going to suffer down the road.”

In efforts to attract students, some universities have been able to invest in their dairy science program facilities through the help of industry and government funding. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, recently completed a $72.9 million renovation and expansion project of the university’s dairy product research and training facilities. Project funding came from private donors, the state of Wisconsin and UW–Madison. Nearly 200 donors — primarily from the state’s cheese industry — fundraised more than $18 million to support the project.

“The new facilities represent a huge step forward in the plant’s ability to serve as a laboratory and learning space for our students and university researchers, as well as industry personnel who come for professional training in the plant,” said Scott Rankin, chair and professor in the Department of Food Science. “For the Center for Dairy Research (CDR), the construction project provided the center with the space and equipment it needs to provide and expand its research and outreach missions.”

The CDR works with more than 120 dairy companies and organizations annually to help them develop new products, troubleshoot production problems and train dairy professionals. The CDR’s staff also works with UW graduate students on research projects designed to drive innovations in dairy products and processing.

Oregon State University’s (OSU) College of Agricultural Sciences is building a $20 million dairy processing facility on its Corvallis, Ore., campus.

“The new dairy plant will provide researchers and students with a facility to address some of the most pressing issues facing the dairy industry,” said Sheri Cole, assistant professor at OSU. “It’s all about innovation and collaboration. This new facility will significantly enlarge the area of our dairy plant and set us up to do an even better job training students for careers in the industry while also expanding our ability to provide critical research in sustainability, dairy innovation and product quality.”   

ADPI presentationPhoto: Michael P. King/UW-Madison CALS

Ms. Cole shared details on continuing education programs that the university offers for the dairy industry. This includes an eight-module Dairy Quality Certificate that teaches the fundamentals of basic microbiology and pasteurization in dairy processing.

“We are launching this spring in English and by the end of the year in Spanish a 23-module certificate that covers dairy processing fundamentals for those in operations, quality and throughout the supply chain,” Ms. Cole said.

Stephanie Clark, professor at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, said, “(The industry should know that we offer) fee-for-service support to new and established entrepreneurs. We are also working on a lot of the educational messaging that the industry can use to teach consumers the benefits of dairy.”

Many of the universities have a voice in dairy research through checkoff dollars paid by farmers. It’s all part of an effort to sell more milk, not necessarily as fluid. That’s where ADPI’s interest comes from. The research includes dairy ingredients, such as whey proteins, milk concentrates and lactose.

“We educate students to generate research useful to the entire dairy industry,” said MaryAnne Drake, professor of food science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.

Some of the projects recently completed or ongoing at ADPI’s Academic Institution members include the application of micro- and nano-bubbles in spray drying of milk protein concentrates to improve safety and functionality; evaluation of educational messaging to consumers to increase confidence in milk safety, quality and sustainability; and broad-spectrum natural antimicrobial fermentate to prevent mold growth in shredded cheese.