The Van Trump Report

What About “Fake” Milk?

I guess the politically correct name is “animal-free” milk… Biotech startup “Perfect Day” is bringing more competition to the diary sector with its “animal-free” whey protein that claims to be molecularly identical to what’s in cow’s milk. The company’s protein product has previously found its way to dairy aisles via consumer brands that Perfect Day has incubated through its consumer product division, The Urgent Company.  Now, a new collaboration with Betterland Foods will introduce the first consumer-packaged cow-free milk made with Perfect Day’s dairy protein.  

Perfect Day makes its dairy proteins with a genetically engineered microorganism that it grows in fermentation tanks. The microbes convert a carbohydrate source such as corn sugar into dairy proteins, including casein and whey. The resulting protein is said to have the same properties and nutritional profile as animal-derived products.

While the products made with Perfect Day’s proteins can claim to be cow-free as well as lactose-free, they still carry the same allergy warning labels as products made with traditional cows milk. That’s because they contain the primary whey protein found in dairy milk, beta-lactoglobulin, which is responsible for most milk allergies. As such, the companies say the products perform exactly like “real” dairy. Betterland milk claims to have “the same cooking, whipping, steaming, frothing, and baking functionality” as regular dairy milk. That means Betterland milk can be used as a direct substitute for real dairy milk, unlike plant-based products like almond milk.  

However, unlike plant-based milk alternatives, Betterland milk and other products using Perfect Day’s protein do not fall into the “dairy-free” category. It’s similar in many ways to cultured-meat, which as I understand is also “animal-free” but is still technically meat at the molecular level. It’s a slightly confusing food category and some insiders have pointed out that companies have had a hard time figuring out how to explain it to consumers. Starbucks, for instance, has been testing an alt-milk that uses Perfect Day whey protein at two Seattle locations. Some consumers have found the description of “lab-grown” off-putting while employees have also had a tough time explaining how it is a dairy alternative but is not dairy-free.

Perfect Day a few years ago launched an ice cream made from its dairy powder that sold out in one day but that’s the only product they’ve made under their own name. The company has since made some interesting pivots to expand their reach. First, they decided to launch their own consumer products company, The Urgent Company. Perfect Day provided some funds to get it going and organized a seed round of funding but The Urgent Company operates completely independent of Perfect Day, with its own executives and its own board.

As Perfect Day CEO Ryan Pandya explains, The Urgent Company is a quick way to get their animal-free dairy alternative turned into products ready for grocery shelves. “Not many CPG companies can get a product from concept to launch in 16 weeks,” he told Food Dive. The first brand launch from The Urgent Company was ice cream company Brave Robot. In December of last year, they acquired premium ice cream maker Coolhaus, which is now transitioning to all animal-free dairy products.      
Betterland Foods was founded very recently by food entrepreneur Lizanne Falsetto, who in the 1990s introduced the nutrition bar brand thinkThin. Betterland milk will debut at the Expo West natural food trade show in early-March and is expected to hit grocery shelves this summer. The milk will be available in “whole” and “extra creamy” variants, the first in a series of “animal-free” products that Betterland has planned. (Sources: Food Navigator, Bloomberg, FoodDive)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *