NIZO was founded in 1948 by the Dutch dairy industries as a cooperative initiative in fundamental research, and process and product development. We contributed to the development of famous Dutch cheeses such Leerdammer, Maasdammer, Proosdij, Kernhemmer and Parrano. Leerdammer for example constitutes 25% of Dutch cheese exports.
Initially located in Hoorn as a small analytical facility, in 1953 NIZO moved to a custom-built site with a food grade processing centre and production facility in Ede, in the heart of the Food Valley. This central location meant easy access for all dairy companies in the Netherlands and maximum 1 hour travel from Schiphol Airport for our international customers. Being near to Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR) allowed us to keep close to the frontiers of science.
At the beginning we produced dairy products in our production facility every day, such as cheese, butter and milk powder. We strongly believed, and still do, that research would only be relevant if the researchers knew the products and could implement their knowledge on factory scale. The R&D focused on QA methodologies, reproducibility and standardisation of processes, and a better understanding of dairy.
Moving towards innovation
In the period 1960-1970 our focus shifted from product and process optimisation to innovation. We designed new processes, such as the NIZO butter process, and developed Casomatic curd drainage columns. Also the first membranes were installed for the isolation of high value ingredients from whey, like lactoferrin. We also started producing starter cultures and lactic acid for the butter process in the NIZO dairy production facility. In the following decade (1970-1980) the R&D facilities were extended and a new processing centre was built. We produced cultures and permeate, and other parties took care of logistics and sales of these products. Another NIZO spin-off was the ‘MilieuDienst’, a consultancy company for sustainable dairy processing.
Leading in dairy R&D
At the same time in the dairy industry companies began merging, resulting in the limited number of global players today. Research became more raw material driven and dairy companies started their own product development activities.
As a result of the mergers, NIZO shifted its focus towards fundamental dairy research, and became ‘the’ leading dairy research organisation in the world. We started nutritional research, first on dairy calcium and osteoporosis. The first casein models were also developed, and flavour analysis research was begun.
We published hundreds of scientific papers and book contributions which today still are important foundations of dairy and fermentation research. We expanded into new areas, such as genomics, protein structure and process modelling. We have brought many ground-breaking contributions to the dairy world.
In cheese development, in 1995 we developed and produced the first low fat and low salt cheese together with Coberco, one of the leading Dutch dairy cooperatives in those days. This cheese was the Cantenaar, the predecessor of the current Milner cheese. Around the same time we stopped the daily production of butter, milk powder and cheese. The production of starter cultures was transferred to CSK, a sister company, owned by the collective Dutch dairy companies.
In 1997 for the first time in history a consortium was formed at the initiative of the industry and the Dutch government, the Top Institute for Food and Nutrition (TIFN). This was a consortium in which initially six Dutch industries and three knowledge providers (Wageningen University, TNO and NIZO) together set up a long term R&D programme. It was inspired by the food agenda and its work performed using local scientific excellence. This cooperation would last until 2016.
Our 40th anniversary in 1988 was marked by a the launch of a new cheese: Proosdy. The first cheese was offered to Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands.
At the same time the number of dairy companies continued to decline. NIZO was asked to shift from precompetitive to more confidential research for the individual dairy companies. And we could now also work for food companies beyond dairy.
A private, independent company
At the start of the 21st century changes in the dairy industry had become permanent. NIZO transformed from a foundation into a company. Guaranteed funding from the dairy industry gradually disappeared and was replaced by income from contract research. We could work for any company, except for the international dairy industry as NIZO was still owned by the Dutch dairy companies. International offices were opened in the UK, France and the USA, and in 2007 a new office was opened in Japan.
Our 60th anniversary in 2008 was marked by the opening of a new Application Centre with industrial kitchen facilities. In this facility we develop new food concepts together with our customers, scientists or a chef.
A year later, in 2009, NIZO management bought the company from the dairy industries. This meant we could now work with any company in the world. Today we are a private, independent, company. All income is generated by R&D and production contracts with industry worldwide: 60% of turnover is from outside the Netherlands. We work on a one-on-one basis together with our customers, global players in food and health. We grant our customers IP ownership upfront and strengthen their competitive advantage by shortening time to market and reducing costs.
For better food and health
In 2016 Gilde Healthcare, a transatlantic investor in fast growing healthcare technology and healthcare services companies, took a majority share in NIZO. This underlines our ambition to broaden the development and application of our innovative technologies from food to related markets such as personal care and pharma.