WESTBROOK, Maine — Alexia Pinheiro filled a tiny dropper with milk and then deposited the liquid carefully into a device smaller than a pack of cards, staring intently as the milk moved its way down toward a little viewing window.
The same actions were replicated all around the room, as a group of Brazilian dairy industry professionals, professors and some students – like Pinheiro – tried out the latest test technology from IDEXX Laboratories, a Westbrook biotechnology company.
For the past week, 30 Brazilians have been in Maine, guests of IDEXX and of Verus Madasa, the Maine firm’s distributor in that country. They visited businesses that represent the various parts of the dairy production chain, including Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Oakhurst Dairy in Portland and Hannaford Bros. in Scarborough. And they learned more about safety and quality standards, and how technology made here in Maine can help them meet those benchmarks.
IDEXX has been operating in Brazil for about 17 years, according to Ali Naqui, corporate vice president for international. IDEXX has seen huge revenue growth in Brazil, albeit from a small base, said Naqui. Brazil represents IDEXX’s 15th largest country market in terms of revenue, said Naqui, but he expects continued growth there, and IDEXX plans to open offices there.
“Obviously, Brazil is a growing economy,” said Chun Ming Chen, director and general manager of IDEXX Dairy. “It’s one of the fastest growing economies in the world.”
Brazil is the world’s eighth largest economy, with an annual gross domestic product of more than $2 trillion. The U.S. Department of Commerce has identified a number of market opportunities in areas including biotechnology and medical products; aircraft and automotive components; food-seafood products; oil, gas, and renewable energy; environmental technologies and tourism.
Gov. Paul LePage is leading a trade mission to Brazil and Chile this fall, though Naqui said IDEXX was not participating. The trade missions work well for companies breaking into a market, he said, but IDEXX is well-established in Brazil.
Chen said the best way to penetrate that market further was to bring a group of end users to Maine to find out more about IDEXX. The visitors represent about 20 to 30 percent of the dairy market opportunity, he said.
By working with them in Maine, they learn more about the company behind the technology, the quality controls IDEXX has in place and the science the tests are based on.
IDEXX in December released a new rapid test for the dairy market globally. While not available in the United States, the new test checks milk for the presence of antibiotics, which would make the product unfit for human consumption.
The test replaces a previous, two-stage system that took about 10 minutes to complete, Chen said. The test, which the Brazilians were using for the first time in Westbrook, can be used at the farm, on milk from a single cow, by truck drivers who want to test a mixing tank of milk before loading it, and at the processing plant.
It takes about six minutes to complete, and only has one step, saving critical time in what can be a busy industry, Chen said.
The product is not offered in the United States, and was developed for the foreign markets. Asked if a similar product would be developed for the United States, Chen was non-committal, saying only “maybe.”
IDEXX has a number of other such rapid-tests developed, for the water testing market, for the poultry and production animal markets, for the companion animal markets and for the dairy market, as well. The company makes about 30 million such tests yearly, with roughly 30 percent for the dairy market.
A good example in the dairy market is a rapid IDEXX test used in China in 2009 to test for melamine, an industrial chemical that some dairy processors had added to their milk to fudge test results. The testing followed a food safety scandal in 2008, in which an estimated 300,000 people were injured by the tainted milk, and six infants died. The executives involved were criminally prosecuted, and two were executed.
Chen said IDEXX officials planned to have a session with the Brazilians to get more feedback on their visit and on their needs for technology, possibly helping to plot out future product development.
The Brazilians visitors toured the IDEXX plant on Thursday where some 1,500 of IDEXX’s 4,800 employees work. The company is set to expand, too.
IDEXX announced earlier this summer that it would begin construction this fall of new administrative offices, a two-phase investment estimated at more than $60 million, including equipment. The 200,000-square-foot development would be the first certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building in Westbrook, IDEXX said. IDEXX said the first phase of the project will be the initial 107,000 square feet of a three-story building, to be completed in 2013.
When the full project is complete, the new space will support up to 700 new IDEXX employees in Maine.