The U.S. Dairy Exporter Blog: Market Analysis, Research & News
  • Alpha-lactalbumin Golden Opportunity for U.S. Dairy

    By Véronique Lagrange March 12, 2015

    Premium segment of this enhanced form of whey protein is a key to U.S. success. 

    8272047_sAlpha-lactalbumin is a rising star in the whey protein community.

    It has attracted considerable attention because it is the major whey protein of human breast milk. Food technologists have developed a number of fractionation and isolation techniques that allow them to produce alpha-enriched fractions from cow’s milk.

    Therefore, it can be an important food ingredient and nutritional supplement. High-purity alpha-lactalbumin is a fraction rich in the amino acid tryptophan―in a concentrated, but protein-bound, format―and this is helpful to deliver infant formula that is closer to breast milk. Infant formula and formula for toddlers are among the major uses for alpha-enriched whey ingredients.

    Most of premium infant formulas marketed in Southeast Asia and North Asia are enhanced with nutrients for brain development and optimal growth. They are constantly improved to be “closer to nature”―that is, mother’s milk.

    We’ve seen more than 600 products introduced the past three years with an “alpha-lac” claim.

    The market is not very transparent, as labeling laws vary from country to country. A product can advertise its alpha-lactalbumin content when the alpha-lac comes from an enriched whey fraction (ranging from 40 percent to 60 percent) rather than a highly purified fraction.

    The markets for the enriched fraction are quite diverse. The products are most common in Mexico, Hong Kong, West Europe, Vietnam and Indonesia.

    Right now, our international competitors dominate the market. Some of the key suppliers are Arla, Friesland Campina, Armor Proteines, Fonterra, MG Nutritionals and Carbery. Not all compete for the infant formula business. We are starting to see expansion into the sports business, and perhaps more research on cognitive development and stress management may open new uses in medical nutrition or foods for seniors.

    Cognitive development and stress management appear to be aided by relatively high levels of tryptophan in alpha-rich food. Research has shown a significant increase in plasma tryptophan when these foods are consumed.


    Due to increased tryptophan levels and serotonin synthesis in the brain, dietary protein rich in alpha-lac may improve cognitive performance in people who are prone to stress. Research studies and applications have focused on stress reduction, and memory scanning improved significantly in high-stress-vulnerable subjects. Alpha-lac has been marketed as a sleeping aid.

    Supplying an enhanced form of whey protein is a golden opportunity for U.S. dairy suppliers. Whether it is very low spore whey, or fractions, the premium segment is where the U.S. supply competes particularly well.

    Whey proteins, as a “family” of proteins, are fast, easy-to-digest proteins. We have done lots of research on the change in body composition—in particular, abdominal fat—that could be obtained through the ingestion of whey proteins, and of course the sports nutrition sector is well developed.

    These markets are science-driven, not application driven, so it is important to continue to fund research to refine our knowledge of each fraction of whey.

    The U.S. Dairy Export Council is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff that builds on collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to build global demand for U.S. dairy products.  

    Image copyright: 123RF Stock Photo

    Research & Data Whey products
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