Could the UK get more from its whey?

Published 25 May 17

UK cheese makers’ are currently converting whey into a wide range of products, but could potentially add extra value by choosing those that command a higher premium. We recently showed how by-products now equate to more than 15% of the total income for a cheese maker. However, other whey options will be even more valuable.

Historically the “go to” product for dealing with whey for cheese makers in the UK has been whey powder. The AHDB MCVE calculation uses this as the guide to by-product returns. However, whey powder is becoming increasingly scarce in the UK as processors look at a variety of other opportunities to add value to their whey.

Infant Milk Formula (IMF) is one such product. In the UK, it is estimated that a quarter of whey goes into IMF, although most of this will be exported as demineralised whey powder and blended outside the country. Whey also ends up in a range of products for animal feed, food ingredients and sports nutrition.

The chart below estimates the use of whey in the UK by increasing value of end product.

Use of whey in UK May17 

It is only over the last 2 years that we have seen cheese makers in the UK look to produce products, such as demineralised whey powder, specifically for the IMF market. By comparison, the Irish cheese industry has been producing IMF from its whey for more than 50 years. Today, we estimate, almost all the whey from the larger Irish cheese factories ends up in IMF.

While IMF is a premium product that would normally demand a premium price, UK cheese makers are advised to be careful about chasing the same prize.

The move away from producing whey powder has already changed the supply-demand balance of a number of whey products in the UK. Such moves can lead to oversupply in premium markets, pushing prices down, and undersupply in more conventional markets, pushing prices up. As a result, by the time the investment has been made, the premium may have disappeared, albeit sometimes only temporarily.