Irish food group Glanbia is looking at building its nutritionals business - possibly through acquisitions - after seeing the division perform strongly during the downturn, a senior executive told just-food today (18 November).

This morning, Glanbia, which makes a range of nutritional ingredients alongside its dairy operations, trimmed its earnings target on the back of a "deterioration" in the performance of its domestic dairy business.

However, the company expects its nutritionals division to deliver a "good result" in 2009. Dr Raimund Hoenes, chief executive of Glanbia Nutritionals Deutschland, said the group had seen demand for its sports nutrition products hold up well during the recession.

Speaking to just-food at the Food Ingredients Exhibition in Frankfurt, Dr Hoenes said sports enthusiasts had been more active in recent months, with fear of unemployment a key factor.

"The core consumers have been more serious. There has been more risk of losing your job. People do not want to be sick: in Germany, we have reached the lowest level of absence through sickness since the 1950s. In the US, gym memberships are up," he said.

In October 2008, Glanbia acquired US sports nutrition firm Optimum Nutrition for US$315m, a deal Dr Hoenes described as the "biggest" in the history of the company - and he said nutrition would continue to be a core focus for the business.

"Nutrition is the major pull for the future growth of the business and, if there is M&A, it will be in that area," he said.

Dr Hoenes, meanwhile, insisted Glanbia had faith in its dairy business and said its difficulties in Ireland was a "very specific situation" as the company deals with lower commodity prices and pressure from its farmer-shareholders for better returns. "Our cheese operation in the US is perfoming well," he added.