The people behind the ads - Dr. Vijay Ganugapati

Dr. Vijay Ganugapati was on his way to a meeting when he was struck with an idea about how to make Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC) that easily dissolved in cold water without becoming thick or viscous. He quickly returned to the Fonterra Research and Development Centre (FRDC) lab to try it out, and it worked!

MPC is a concentration of the protein in milk, meaning you can keep the nutrition and goodness of milk, but without the volume. Vijay’s breakthrough enabled Fonterra to commercially produce MPC at scale, and it has become a key ingredient for many products, like high-protein yoghurts, beverages, cheeses, and the medical beverages profiled in our most recent TV ad.

We asked Vijay about his breakthrough and his career at the Fonterra Research and Development Centre.

What does your job entail and how you ended up in the career you have?

I joined Fonterra in 1992 as a research engineer after finishing my Post-Doctorate studies at Massey University. I spent the first three months at Hautapu working on a protein measurement project, and then over the next three years I worked on several protein and milk powder processing projects. Around that time the FRDC (Fonterra Research and Development Centre) started looking at how to improve the solubility of MPC – but I was not actually part of the team to begin with.

I knew what they were trying to do, though, and it was on my mind a lot. One day I was walking to a meeting and I was struck by an idea out of the blue. I quickly made my way back to the lab to test it out – it worked, and most importantly, it was scalable.

At Fonterra, we’re asked to develop solutions for real commercial problems. As a researcher, I find it extremely exciting trying to find commercially-viable solutions that solve a customer problem and add real value to Fonterra.

What is it like working on a product like MPC?

MPC is an amazingly versatile product, and provides incredible utilisation of all the components of milk in a sustainable way. While the initial breakthrough was over 20 years ago now, the science hasn’t stood still. We’re still developing new products with the technology and finding new ways to create functional MPC solutions which our customers can use for their consumers. In fact, we are a finalist in the Innovation in Food and Beverage category at the 2017 New Zealand Innovation Awards for one of these new formulations, alongside some very impressive competitors.

What are you most proud of about your time at Fonterra?

I’ve had the privilege to work on many different things, and feel immensely proud when large investments are made and products are commercialised for our customers based on work that I’ve done or contributed to. I get a real buzz seeing the work we do at the FRDC progress from an idea all the way through to a commercial product that our customers put to use to create their own products and applications.