Perfect Day Foods is a startup that's reengineering the process of making milk and dairy products
Would you drink dairy milk and eat cheese, yoghurt, ice cream and so on if it lacked the cruelty element, was significantly less bad for the environment, was lactose-free and was healthier?
This isn’t a hypothetical question; this is a decision you will likely actually be faced with by the end of 2017.
This isn't about plant-based milk either. The team at Perfect Day, previously called Muufri (pronounced moo free), are working on the method to create bioengineered milk without the cows. It is the world’s first animal-free dairy milk. It will taste like milk, have the same texture as milk, be used like milk, make any of the numerous products that milk makes and have the same ingredients as dairy milk.
Yet there will be no animals involved whatsoever – just some yeast, some plants and some scientists. Really, we aren’t just talking milk but cheese, yoghurt, ice cream and butter, all of which could be made in the exact same way as with cow-derived dairy milk. It is not a stretch of the imagination to say that this is a creation that could potentially revolutionise the dairy industry. According to Business Insider, “Muufri could be the answer to feeding our growing global population, set to reach 9 billion by 2050, without the strain on the environment created by raising cows for milk.”
Founding Perfect Day – the gap in the market
Whilst the inspirational people behind the concept, including cofounders Perumal Gandhi and Ryan Pandya, should probably be given a bit of credit, it is also a vegan cream cheese bagel we have to thank. Ryan, a biomedical researcher, was still in his early days of veganism when, on his lunch break, he drove 20 minutes to buy a vegan bagel. His thoughts? “That cream cheese was so bad it like literally inspired this entire company.” Thanks, bagel.
The huge market for plant-based milk
They were disappointed by the lack of good dairy alternatives beside nut and legume-based milks and seemingly made the decision to do something about it. Indeed, there is already a huge market for milk substitutes with people opting away from dairy due to lactose intolerance or ethics among other factors, and thus choosing soy, almond, or other plant-based products instead.
The lack of other dairy replacements
The yoghurt and cheese options, on the other hand, are less common. As ideas developed, the founders say there are three big issues in commercial farming they hope to tackle, namely contamination from cows, inhumane treatment towards animals and emissions from large-scale operations. Gandhi and Pandya are from medical backgrounds and were working on next generation antibodies when it struck them that the methods they were developing could be applied to dairy alternatives.
So how is Perfect Day milk made?
It is actually a process very much alike to those already used in creating medicines, vaccines and some food products such as rennet, with the team also comparing it to the process behind brewing craft beer.
It involves a standard yeast from the US Department of Agriculture which has had chemically synthesized cow DNA added to it, meaning it produces authentic milk proteins including casein (the principal protein in cheese) and whey.
After this, they add plant fats, sugars, minerals and nutrients but skip the lactose, antibiotics and growth hormones found in actual dairy milk. Pandya and Gandhi have lovingly named the yeast Buttercup – an appropriate cow replacement name and a cute one at that. Apparently, milk actually has a pretty basic chemical structure that can be faked, with the Perfect Day alternatives formed as a compound of 6 proteins and 8 fatty acids.
As for the name, ‘Perfect Day’ comes from the 2001 University of Leicester discovery that dairy cows enjoy listening to music, with slower tunes increasing the milk output, including Lou Reed’s Perfect Day. The brand was launched back in 2014 as Muufri, with this new name only being revealed this summer.
The difficulties Perfect Day faces
Inclusion of casein
As you might expect with such a revolutionary new development, there have been some issues raised with the products. Firstly, there’s a bit of casein controversy with questions of whether the product can be considered truly vegan whilst it contains this protein. Generally, casein is not considered vegan, as it is isolated from animal products, making it a highly profitable by-product of dairy farming and therefore essential for vegans to avoid. Perfect Day notes, though, that the casein in their items is developed with yeast instead of cows. Thus, while some may continue to argue that the product isn’t vegan, others should accept it given that in this case it is no longer technically an animal product as it is derived from other methods.
Backlash from the dairy industry
The dairy industry is unsurprisingly not too pleased about the idea of Perfect Day’s milk either. Federated Farmers of New Zealand chairman Andrew Hoggard has claimed it shouldn’t be called milk and this name should be used only for the stuff that comes straight from the animal. It seems, though, that Pandya agrees to some extent, saying, “we’re not going to call it milk. Because it’s way more than that. We would be selling ourselves short if we just called it milk and we dropped the mic and walked away.” They have also said they don’t necessarily plan to entirely replace cow-based milk but aim to take the stress off of the factory farming system.
Finally, the product may also cause concern with those who are less than keen on GM foods, as the yeasts have been genetically engineered. What is important to note however, is that you don’t eat Buttercup; it’s just the culture it produces which is harvested and consumed. This process of placing DNA codes in e-coli or yeasts to create products is known as synthetic biology, a new buzzword in the food industry, with synbio foods like this speculated to soon have their place in the aisles of your local supermarket.
Indeed, genetic engineering is a method being employed in many of the most upcoming plant-based food brands. Geltor, founded last year, uses a genetically engineered microorganism in fermentation tanks to produce gelatine. The plant heme in the Impossible Burger is derived from genetically modified yeasts. New Wave Foods is also working on algae-based shrimp. As Pandya says, “technology has finally reached a point where we can make these products without animals.”
Investment into Perfect Day Foods
Despite those who are questioning the new brand, there are also those who are offering their support. Soon after coming up with the idea, Muufri (as it was known back in 2014) was accepted into IndieBio’s first class and raised $2,000,000 to get started.
As of 2016, they have managed to raise a total of $4,000,000 with another funding round closing in a few months. They have received support from SynBio Axlr8r and Hong Kong’s Horizon Ventures who backed the Impossible Burger and Spotify, to name a few. Horizon Ventures is the investment and venture capital firm of Li Ka-shing, perhaps better known as Superman to those in Hong Kong. According to Forbes 2016 he is the richest person in Hong Kong and the second richest in Asia with a net worth of approximately $31.5 billion. Having donated over $2.56 billion as of April 2016, he is also considered one of Asia’s most generous philanthropists. So, all in all not a bad person to have backing your startup.
How Perfect Day milk is better for the environment
As is the case with the vast majority of vegan products, it isn’t just the animal that benefits but also the environment. It is reported that the product uses 91% less land, 65% less energy, 98% less water and has 65% less greenhouse gas emissions than industrial dairy production.
As explained by Ryan Pandya, “if we could make milk the same way we make beer, the environmental benefits would be huge” and National Geographic agrees “milk grown in a lab is humane and sustainable.”
Perfect Day milk – a healthier alternative
Perfect Day is also beneficial with regards to its health implications.
Unlike dairy milk derived from cows, it is free from antibiotics, steroids, cholesterol, hormones, chemicals and lactose, despite having the same if not a slightly better nutrient profile. Given that 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, the latter is pretty important.
The company also has plans in the works to develop hypoallergenic versions, which lack casein and other milk proteins that are associated with allergy. And last but not least, it has a longer shelf life too. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of bulk buying? Whilst working on improving these facets of the milk, the company is determined to maintain a good taste and texture, as they know that, in spite of a better nutritional index and lower environmental impact, products that lack these basic properties won’t win over the masses.
When's the big day for Perfect Day?
Now for the bit you really want to hear, the arrival of the products themselves, which will take place in roughly one year. Though the majority of this article focuses on the milk replacement, the company actually hopes to first retail its derivative products like ice cream, yoghurt or cheese, for the very reason that this is where there seems to be a real insufficiency in alternatives, with Pandya saying “people want better options.” Besides, in the words of the founders themselves, “we really love cheese.” What better excuse is there?
In the meantime they are formulating a way to manufacture and distribute on a large scale whilst also cutting prices so that it sells for the same price as organic milk. Take a look at their site and sign up to their newsletter to stay up to date and ensure you’re first to know when the products are available!