Sure, “condensed milk” may not sound particularly sexy – for many people, it’s associated with memories of coffee with grandma. But condensed milk is capable of so much more – as Thomas Mintus and Markus Schacht can explain. The development- and application engineers at the Industry BU are responsible for the product, and it’s more versatile than any other when it comes to use in the industry. “Sweetened condensed milk is both easy and difficult to make,” says Markus Schacht, who’s from the Research and Development department.
This all-rounder is made from milk and sugar. But making it becomes highly complex as soon as the condensed milk is involved in particular applications or processes. It’s used in almost all confectionery, and from color to viscosity or degree of caramelization, in many ways, it can be adapted to the customer’s wishes. And it goes beyond the taste. The recipe for condensed milk, which is exported around the world – including to Japan, New Zealand and Australia – can even influence its customs classification. The smallest differences in sugar content or the addition of a third ingredient such as coconut fat can change its classification, making it a key price factor.
Thomas Mintus (r.) und Markus Schacht (l.) at work in the laboratory. Sweetened condensed milk is used to make sweets that contain caramel.
The decisive factor, however, is the customer’s processes. If the condensed milk is to be pumped through a lengthy system of pipes before being further processed, then it’s better if it is thin initially and is only thickened later on. However, another customer with a more compact system and a different process may find that more viscous condensed milk works better. In order to respond to all these variations, Mintus, Schacht and their team need a highly developed understanding of the product and marketing, to coordinate well and maintain close contact with customers.
That’s particularly important if com plications arise, needing a response at short notice. One customer complained that in his Café Bombón, there wasn’t a clear enough line between the layer of espresso and the sweetened condensed milk. The problem was solved with a more viscous condensed milk. Another customer request led Thomas Mintus to a large production plant in Poland: The DMK condensed milk was running off the caramel wafer bars being produced there, as it was too fluid. “I took a look at what was happening on site to gain an understanding of the process. Insights like that are a real highlight for us,” says Mintus. The customer now gets a condensed milk that has been optimized for his particular process.
Tinkering with the details is part of Mintus and Schacht’s daily routine. “There are the everyday standard processes and then there are the challenges that mean we need to try out all that we have: Technology. Product. Creativity,” says Schacht. In order to preserve the knowledge they have gained on the way, his colleague Mintus is developing a knowledge database containing all of condensed milk’s properties, and they measure and assess these in the lab and in practice. The data will help them (pre)select a suitable product and ensure that the results of their work can be reproduced at a later date. The infinite variety of the product that is made solely from fresh milk and sugar makes it very sexy indeed for DMK Industry.