Since its founding in 1888, Utah State University has been a trailblazer in the dairy industry, pioneering advancements that have shaped the landscape of dairy production and education. From the establishment of the creamery facility in the northeast basement of Old Main to the integration of dairy manufacturing into the college curriculum, USU has been at the forefront of dairy innovation and research.

USU alum Eric Bastian ’84, ’87 M.S., ’89 Ph.D., who serves as vice president of innovation partnerships for Dairy West in Idaho, believes that innovation and product development are essential for the future of the dairy industry as they enable adaptation to evolving consumer preferences, market trends, and technological advancements.

“Ultimately, innovation is crucial for the dairy industry to remain relevant, resilient, and prosperous in an ever-changing global landscape,” Bastian said.

Dairy West is a stalwart advocate for the dairy industry, representing dairy farm families in Idaho and Utah to inspire trust in dairy farming and dairy products and to build demand for dairy products around the world. With a dedication to fostering growth, sustainability, and innovation, the organization plays a pivotal role in advancing dairy. By forging partnerships with industry stakeholders, hosting community events, and delivering impactful information and experiences, Dairy West seeks to educate partners on the benefits of dairy as part of a healthy lifestyle and the role dairy plays in a sustainable future. Through Dairy West’s sister brand, Unbottled, consumers are empowered with nutritional information and exposed to the versatility of dairy products within everyday life. Dairy West collaborates with local schools to promote child nutrition and demonstrates a commitment to enriching communities and promoting the health and well-being of individuals. Moreover, as consumer preferences evolve and global competition intensifies, Dairy West’s efforts to champion dairy innovation, sustainability, and economic prosperity become increasingly vital. By advocating for dairy as a key ingredient in a healthy and prosperous society, the organization ensures that the benefits of dairy reach far and wide, contributing to the vitality of communities, economies, and individuals alike.

As part of Dairy West’s mission, the organization is proud to support Utah State’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences through the Western Dairy Center and its BUILD Dairy program.

Western Dairy Center — A Beacon of Collaborative Research

Housed within a network of universities and industry organizations, the Western Dairy Center brings together researchers, industry partners and dairy food science students at various levels of study. With research facilities spanning across institutions including Utah State, Boise State University, Brigham Young University, Oregon State University, and others, the center fosters collaboration and innovation in dairy food science.

“From Oregon, to Washington, Idaho, and Utah, our reach extends across the region, embodying a commitment to excellence and advancement in the dairy industry and the food we consume,” Bastian said.

Through dedicated staff and resources, each university and company within Dairy West’s network not only educates and trains master’s and doctoral students for careers in the dairy industry, but also conducts cutting-edge research to enhance dairy manufacturing processes.

BUILD Dairy — Empowering Students and Propelling Innovation

BUILD (Building University and Industry Linkages through learning and Discovery) Dairy is a program within the Western Dairy Center that stands as an industry-led initiative, fostering vital connections between dairy companies and universities across the western region. With a dual focus on empowering students to kickstart their careers in dairy and driving research to propel our industry forward, BUILD Dairy is dedicated to shaping the future of dairy through providing technical talent that will drive innovation in the dairy industry. At its essence, BUILD Dairy embodies the power of connection, recognizing that by bringing together students, educators, researchers, and industry leaders, it can achieve far greater impact than any one entity alone. Through collaboration and shared vision, BUILD Dairy strives to enhance dairy foods, processes, and farming practices, laying the groundwork for a stronger, more sustainable industry that benefits every stakeholder in the dairy chain — from farmers to consumers.

Supported by the commitment of dairy farmers and companies in Idaho, Utah, and throughout the northwest region, BUILD Dairy provides crucial funding for research projects led by undergraduate and graduate students, fostering both industry growth and the professional development of future dairy leaders.

“By nurturing and empowering students through BUILD Dairy training programs, we cultivate a new generation of innovators poised to meet the ever-changing demands of consumers,” Bastian said. “It’s crucial to recognize the potential of dairy products, particularly milk, as one of the most nutrient-dense options available. However, consumers crave excitement and novelty in their food choices, which necessitates a concerted effort toward innovation in products such as yogurt, cheese, and whey protein products. The latter, in particular, shows how a once discarded material can become a source of tremendous value driven by innovation in the dairy industry.”

Photo Courtesy of USU. USU alum Eric Bastian '84, ’87 M.S., ’89 Ph.D., who serves as vice president of innovation partnerships for Dairy West in Idaho, believes that innovation and product development are essential for the future of the dairy.

As of spring 2024, more than 92 students from Utah State and universities across the country have graduated from the BUILD Dairy program.

“Research is at the core of the BUILD Dairy program,” Bastian said. “Through research, the program not only equips students with invaluable skills, but also provides dairy companies with critical insights that drive innovation, ultimately benefiting dairy consumers as well.”

With a life-long career in the dairy industry, including degrees in dairy science and nutrition and food sciences from USU, Bastian is proud to ensure the next generation of dairy industry professionals have the proper skills and knowledge to succeed. Born in central Utah, Bastian was raised on a dairy farm. During his time as a post-doctoral student at USU, Bastian spent one year as a research fellow with the Danish Government Research Industry in Hillerod, Denmark. After completing post-doctoral work at USU, Bastian worked in the Midwest Dairy Research Center at the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition. After receiving tenure, he then went on to Glanbia Nutritionals and Glanbia Foods in Idaho, where he built a world-class team of dairy food researchers and innovation experts. He spent 22 years working for Glanbia. In his role with Dairy West, Bastian serves as a vital link between Idaho’s dairy farm families, dairy food processors, and regional research universities.

“I am passionate about my work with Utah State and the dairy food science field,” Bastian said. “My focus is to create greater product innovation in order to build a strong, sustainable workforce of future dairy scientists in the Northwest.”

At USU, there are currently two assistant professors whose work is focused on the BUILD Dairy program, Taylor Oberg, who studies microbial genetics and food safety preventative controls; and Prateek Sharma, an assistant professor studying dairy processing, dairy chemistry, cheese chemistry, and dairy powders. These two professors, along with three additional faculty members in NDFS, are currently mentoring 10 BUILD Dairy graduate students.

With consumers wanting to be excited about the food they are consuming, Bastian said more efforts are needed to recruit students with talents and expertise, like Taylor and Prateek, into the dairy industry.

“While dairy product staples such as milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt endure, those currently entering the workforce need to remain on the forefront,” Bastian said. “Innovative products such as whey proteins have significantly impacted the dairy industry by diversifying product offerings, enhancing nutritional profiles, and opening up new markets. This is the kind of forward thinking needed to sustain the future of the industry.”

Dairy industry professionals gather at the BUILD Dairy annual meeting. (Photo Credit: Dairy West)

Bastian takes great pride in his collaboration with Utah State and the impactful strides they’ve made in securing the future of students passionate about dairy science. By partnering closely with USU administrators to secure funding from both Dairy West and the university, they have significantly bolstered the success and sustainability of BUILD Dairy. Over the past decade, this collaboration has enabled an average of five to ten students annually to delve into advanced topics in food and nutrition at USU, further enriching the dairy science landscape.

“Eric brings an unmatched passion for the importance of product innovation and research to the success of dairy food, and ingredient experience and sales,” said Karianne Fallow, CEO of Dairy West. “His dairy food processing knowledge and collaboration with university research systems complement our goals of inspiring trust and building demand for the dairy industry.”

Thanks to Dairy West and alumni such as Bastian, USU’s commitment to dairy innovation remains as strong as ever, with ongoing research and development initiatives aimed at addressing contemporary challenges and opportunities in the dairy sector. As a leader in dairy education and research, USU will continue to uphold its legacy of excellence, driving innovation and progress in the dairy industry for generations to come.