Fonterra says its scientists are only scratching the surface of finding new benefits from dairy, as an international study claims the dairy industry will feel "most acutely" an enormous transformation of the global food and beverage sector in the next 10 years.
New research by Sweden's Lund University and global food processing and packaging heavyweight Tetra Pak offers four scenarios for what the dairy value chain might look like in 2030, all of which show cows remaining contributors but with increasing input from plants and laboratories.
The study authors say all four scenarios, from "dairy evolution" (a future with no new big surprises) to "brave new food" (where 50 per cent is lab-grown) are plausible and very different - but all have points in common.
"Large, efficient dairy manufacturers without close farming ties (cooperative model) may be more flexible than other manufacturers.
"Far-sighted food conglomerates may have smart investment strategies that cover more than one technological approach.
"Food entrepreneurs (niche manufacturers) will have opportunities to provide relevant innovations and value propositions."
Fonterra, New Zealand's biggest company by revenue and the world's sixth-largest dairy company, is a farmer-owned cooperative.
The study says the reality may vary in one or more markets, or globally.
But two critical dimensions would impact the dairy industry's development - technology transition and socio-environmental forces.
"Dialogue and collaboration - and applying flexibility to plan accordingly in order to handle the next 10 years as the dairy industry evolves - will be key to success."
The full findings of the 18-month study over 2018 and 2019 will be published on October 8.
The study involved the US, UK, China, India, Nigeria and Brazil markets with the full project focus on the first four countries.
The four scenarios are: "dairy evolution", 85 per cent cow-based with current trends continuing and only incremental changes; "green dairy", 60 per cent cow-based and marked by strong socio-environmental restrictions, with an industry focus on reducing its carbon footprint and low technological transition; "new fusion", 40 per cent cow-based, 35 per cent lab-grown and dominated by technologies and processes with novel combinations of proteins from different sources; "brave new food", 20 per cent cow-grown and 50 per cent lab-grown, combining strong socio-environmental restrictions and high technology transition with artisanal and premium dairy and cheese continuing to thrive.
Very few mega-factory farms remain in the "brave new food" scenario.
Fonterra chief science and technology officer Jeremy Hill said the relative contributions of dairy cow, plant and lab-grown nutrition was debatable but Fonterra was working to ensure it was well-positioned to fit with any of "these extremes".
"We are embracing the opportunities for our pasture-fed New Zealand dairy and at the same time have a team looking at the potential of technology-based and plant-based sources of nutrition that can complement dairy.
"In each of the scenarios, cow-based dairy remains a primary source of nutrition so it is a case of "and" not either/or, which has been part of our thinking and strategy for some time."
Hill said New Zealand produced only 2 per cent of the world's milk but it was in demand and highly valued.
Also, its unique combination of nutrients for bone, immunity, nervous system and eye function and health was produced at a third of the global average emissions per litre of milk.
These claims were supported by a peer-reviewed paper published early this year in the Journal of Dairy Science covering an eight-year study of emissions from Fonterra's dairy farms throughout the country.
"We agree with the conclusions ... that dialogue and collaboration and applying flexibility will be key to addressing challenges and capturing the opportunities over the next 10 years and beyond.
"As a cooperative we often talk about the untapped potential of milk because our scientists are finding new benefits from dairy all the time - we've only scratched the surface."
Hill said the goodness of New Zealand milk gave Fonterra confidence it would play an important role in feeding the world's growing population - which by 2030 would mean another one billion mouths to feed.