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Plant-based dairy diversifies, “nature-identical” protein concepts spotlighted

As the growing awareness of the environmental sustainability of food sources expands and the booming demand for protein among the world’s rising population becomes more apparent, food suppliers are innovating more effectively without using animal ingredients. In this space, food tech start-ups Perfect Day and Imagindairy are tapping into sustainable and cost-effective concepts in a bid to develop a larger deck of animal-free dairy products.

Eyal Afergan, co-founder and CEO of Imagindairy, predicts that the dairy industry will show great demand for animal-free products and animal-free dairy proteins over the next few years.

“The dairy industry has already started to diversify to include plant-based products, and it will continue to explore more protein sources.”

Although it’s a competitive space, there has been a flurry of activity that has attracted a lot of attention. Afergan believes the market opportunity is huge, so there’s room for the existing players to grow.

“Our approach combines machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to direct the development of animal-free whey proteins cost-effectively,” he underscores.

Nature-identical dairy without animals
Meanwhile, Perfect Day’s senior manager for corporate communications, Anne Gerow, details how the company’s precision fermentation process allows the company “to create nature-identical dairy protein without any animal inputs.”

“The result is a truly no-compromise option – on taste, texture, nutrition, functionality, or the future of our planet. Our production process reduces water consumption up to 99%, greenhouse gas emissions up to 97%, and energy use up to 60%, compared to conventional production methods.”

“We hear from companies across sectors who want to use this no-compromise ingredient, allowing us to green and transform existing supply chains.”

Imagindairy develops animal-free dairy proteins that are identical in terms of flavor, functionality, mouthfeel and nutritional properties to traditional dairy.

Gerow says whey protein is “incredibly ubiquitous and is in nearly all aisles of the grocery store, which is why the opportunity for our first protein is so large.”

The company is “just getting started with whey,” – and the R&D team has showcased its technology that can be used to create additional proteins and lipids to extend impact, she notes.

Precision fermentation tech
Imagindairy develops animal-free whey proteins that act precisely like their bovine counterparts. “We produce these proteins by precision fermentation, similar to how beer is brewed today,” explains Afergan.

“The science at the core of our process utilizes advanced microbial expression systems to deliver our proteins cost-effectively, thus answering the biggest challenge in precision fermentation technology,” he states.

As a result, Imagindairy develops animal-free dairy proteins that are identical in terms of flavor, functionality, mouthfeel and nutritional properties to traditional dairy.

Backed by big brands
According to Perfect Day’s Gerow, key players in food and dairy are excited to work with the company’s protein because it “drops seamlessly into their existing manufacturing processes to expand their product portfolios.”

“This gives us an incredible opportunity – and a challenge to respond to all the inbound interest for our protein,” she comments. “Over the past year, we have scaled our animal-free dairy protein production 500% to meet this demand. We are building out additional sites and expanding our strategic partnerships to produce tens of thousands of metric tons of our protein over the next five years.”

The company also extends its climate impact through a diverse business model, which includes B2B ingredients, consumer brands under The Urgent Company, and its enterprise biology business.

“Our animal-free whey protein is used in products from our partners: milk with betterland, Strive, and Tomorrow Farms and a pilot with Starbucks, confectionery from Mars and betterland, a cream cheese pilot with General Mills, ice cream from N!ck’s and Graeter’s in the US and Ice Age in Hong Kong, protein powder from Natreve, and gelato and baked goods in foodservice with Villa Dolce,” continues Gerow.

While Perfect Day has ties with companies and brands who either bring their own products to market or offer ingredients B2B, they are the only company to do both of those things, plus offer its technology services to others.

“Our enterprise biology business, located at our second US base in Salt Lake City, delivers scale-up production, IP licensing, strain services, and other offerings to a diverse range of biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, and life science customers,” explains Gerow.

Afergan believes the market opportunity is huge, so there’s room for the existing players to grow.

“This diverse business model truly sets us apart – in addition to being the first company (by eight years and counting) to bring a nature-identical, animal-free protein to market.”

What’s coming next?
Afergan at Imagindairy believes that the growth opportunity within the animal-free dairy space is significant and that the developed technologies will help more people switch to plant-based products as they continue to advance.

“We have no doubt that more innovation will be developed and embedded in products, and we’re proud to lead innovation in the animal-free dairy space.”

Meanwhile, Perfect Day’s Gerow says the company has “only scratched the surface of the ubiquity of whey protein with the over half a dozen categories we are in now, and that is just the first protein our technology enables.”

“Our opportunity is so large we have to prioritize where to scale our impact first,” she states.

“We believe even deeper collaboration with environmental sustainable solutions from around the food system is what’s next for animal-free innovation. A sustainable future of food will be one where animal-free protein exists alongside and in partnership with sustainably made plant-based products and traditional products from well-managed, ethical producers.”

The Oat+ and Almond+ products from Perfect Day’s partner Strive are a good example of a sustainable plant-based product, with improved nutrition from the addition of our protein – and the type of hybrid product the company expects to see more of, “bringing together the best of the food system to accelerate our climate impact,” notes Gerow.


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