Will consumers embrace animal-free milk Perfect Day?

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Perfect Day animal-free milk utilizes dairy proteins made via a fermentation process
Perfect Day animal-free milk utilizes dairy proteins made via a fermentation process

Related tags Milk

Perfect Day, a new ‘animal-free’ milk scheduled to launch at the end of next year, contains all the same components as cow’s milk, including dairy proteins, but doesn’t use any animals in its production process. But will consumers embrace it as cruelty-free and sustainable, or will they be wary of milk made in fermentation tanks? We asked three experts…

Like fellow Bay area start-up Gelzen​, Berkeley-based Perfect Day (click HERE​ to read our interview with the founders) is one of a new breed of companies in the ‘cellular agriculture’ business – using genetically engineered yeasts that have been ‘programmed’ to produce proteins and other ingredients found in plants or animals on an industrial scale, without harming any animals, and with considerably less impact on the environment.

So will the milk be a hit with shoppers?

Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at Canadean, told FoodNavigator-USA that the concept was completely novel, making it hard to predict how consumers might react: "There is nothing currently available that is even close to this concept.  In some ways it is similar to the concept of cultured meat, but even that concept has not really been commercialized yet.

"This market is dynamic enough for a product like this to have the potential for success since we are not at a point where one or two brands have a stranglehold over the milk alternative space. There is a lot of taste variation from one milk alternative to another, so a product that claims to taste nearly the same as cow’s milk sounds like a potentially appealing proposition."

The challenge will be explaining to consumers what it is and how it is made, he predicted: "What is hard to gauge here is how consumers will react to a product that claims to be 'animal-free yet is made using animal proteins. 

“It seems like a contradictory message, and one that may be difficult to communicate. You could easily call this 'synthetic milk,’ which does not have the same market appeal as calling this 'animal-free milk.' With hybrid products like this beginning to appear on the market, there may be an appeal for clarification of ‘animal-free’ types of claims at some point."

Malk square

Per capita consumption of grain, nut, rice and seed milks grew at a 13.7% rate in the US between 2014 and 2015 making this category the fastest-growing non-alcoholic beverage category, so the good news is that consumers are already experimenting with alternatives to traditional cow’s milk, so Perfect Day is entering a market that is on the rise and is seeing increased consumer attention."

Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director, Canadean

Animal-free, but with dairy proteins?

As for the sustainability message, however, this could definitely resonate with Millennials, although the GMO factor may put some off, he predicted (the dairy proteins in Perfect Day are produced via genetically engineered yeast, although no yeast remains in the final product).

Tom Vierhile Datamonitor innovation insights director
Tom Vierhile: Younger consumers could buy into the ethical and environmental benefits

"Younger consumers in particular may be receptive… A 2015 Canadean survey found that 70% of American consumers between the ages of 25 and 34 said they have a ‘much more favorable’ or ‘favorable’ perception of groceries if they have ethical or environmental credentials. 

“That figure compares to 50% of consumers of all ages, indicating that younger consumers may be more tuned in to seeking out products with strong ethical or environmental credentials.  The same survey also found that younger consumers are much more likely to buy food or drink products that are reflective of their attitudes or opinions in life.  69% of American consumers between the ages of 25 and 34 agree with this, compared to 48% of consumers overall."

It could be a tough sell for consumers

However, Dr Rachel Cheatham, a nutritional biochemist who runs the Foodscape Group consultancy, believes the technology behind Perfect Day is exciting, but predicts it could be "uphill all the way​" when it comes to selling the concept to consumers.

"Articulating the starting point of genetically engineered yeast and ending with animal-free milk is not easy. Talk of fermentation like beer brewing and 'yeast farming' is fine, just nowhere near enough to garner consumer trust, trial, or repeat purchase for that matter. This is a synthetic biology curiosity, not a product platform that will overcome the woes of the dairy industry."

Rachel Cheatham
Dr Rachel Cheatham: It could be uphill all the way with consumers

She added: "There are significant numbers of people who want something precisely replicating the taste and nutrition of dairy, without using animals. Of those people though, only a very tiny fraction will likely even try this product. To say 'niche' barely captures how narrow the audience is for this."

Success of fairlife shows consumers are willing to try new things in the dairy case

Finally, Emily Balsamo, research analyst at Euromonitor International, told us she thought the milk was “a good idea, and could find a loyal consumer base.”

She added: “Milk alternatives are very hot right now, even though none of them set out to replicate the taste of milk. The closest thing is fairlife, a recombinated milk (click HERE for details​), which saw the highest growth in 2016 among milk brands with 7% gains in 2016 over 2015 reaching $127m in sales.

“Despite the product being initially derided as ‘frankenmilk’ by the national media; fairlife has found a stable consumer base. The product has been widely lauded on the grounds of taste, even among consumers who are not lactose intolerant.”

Perfect Day milk is scheduled for a commercial launch by the end of 2017

Meanwhile, while nut and legume based milks are performing well, they don’t have the same functionality or nutrition as dairy milk, while growing almonds also requires a fair amount of water, she said, so there’s definitely room for more players in this space.

As for the GMO element, she said, “I’m not sure. There are a lot of well informed, tech savvy consumers who are not afraid of GMOs,” ​while the success of fairlife suggests that consumers are opening to trying new things in the dairy case.

“Consumers are ready for elements of this product- they want a milk alternative, and are interested in more humane non-animal options but want the taste of animal products.”

Click HERE​ to read our interview with the founders of Perfect Day.


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GMO 'milk' from yeast???

Posted by Christine T.,

Milk consists not only of proteins, but also other biological components, like lipids, for example. The expression, folding, post-translational modifications are different in bacteria and in animals. Having one residue in one protein wrong, might render that protein toxic. Immune system reacts to patches of >10 residues on surface of many proteins, YET GMO industry randomly modifies proteins up to 30% of their total amino acids in their products(according to their patents), serving us humans a TOTALLY SAFETY UNTESTED protein cocktail of unknown FUNCTION. HOW GMO's evolved, who stood behind it, and how much legality is in this business is excellently described by the public interest attorney, Steven Druker in his book: "Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public"

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I wonder about fermenting with this product

Posted by radmat,

I might find this a useful alternative to actual dairy milk if it can be used to make sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk and other fermented dairy products.

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I see mainly 3rd world application

Posted by DR,

Might be a nice alternative for the less fortunate to get protein.
However, the total market of consumers avoiding animal products but favoring gen-mod foods is smaller than a list of library card holders in Texas.

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