(Read about the first consumer product featuring animal-free dairy HERE.)
The first product to emerge from The Urgent Company – a spinoff from Perfect Day that’s focused on consumer brands - Brave Robot has just hit stores in the Pacific North West (MSRP $5.99), and is also available direct to consumer via the braverobot website.
While plant-based milks have captured a significant share of the fluid milk market, they account for a much smaller share of the ice cream and yogurt market, in part because it can be much harder to deliver the taste, texture, eating experience, and functionality that consumers expect from these products, claimed The Urgent Co general manager and co-founder Paul Kollesoff.
Brave Robot - by contrast - tastes and performs like regular ice cream, because it's made with real dairy, just not from cows, he said, enabling consumers to have their cake and eat it, especially those that are concerned about the ethics and sustainability of animal agriculture, but don't think plant-based products can match them on taste, performance, or nutrition.
'Tasting is believing'
He added: "Tasting is believing and as soon as people try it, they buy into the whole concept, so the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive [from retail buyers and consumers]. We also have a truly accessible product with a suggested price of $5.99 at retail.
"We also feel we can have a lot of fun with the Brave Robot brand, which is a bit different, although we're not saying we've got everything right. We could have spent another six months on consumer testing but we wanted to get something on the market and learn from it. As we learn more about the consumer, things may change. Our tagline is about doing things in a 'smarter way.'"
While the packaging highlights the brand's vegan and lactose-free credentials, the focus is on taste, he said. "It tastes like ice cream should."
'We realized pretty early on that without focus, you will die'
But why get into finished products given that Perfect Day is already talking to scores of CPG companies interested in using its animal-free ingredients, and has “a couple of very exciting announcements coming up” on this front?
“If you invented a new kind of camera that could record new kinds of videos, it’s not just that you would want to have all the studios upgrade their footage, you’d also want to tell new kinds of stories,” said Perfect Day co-founder Ryan Pandya, who has always harbored ambitions to develop his own retail products (notably animal-free milk) but pivoted to a b2b model (developing ingredients) with co-founder Perumal Gandhi fairly early on.
“Like most startups, we started off with a vision to do it all, but we realized pretty early on that without focus, you will die."
However, the desire to develop retail brands lingered, and after a conversation with Kollesoff, who has worked in a variety of roles at dairy giant Glanbia, omega-3 specialist Croda, and contract manufacturing specialist Aseptic Solutions, the idea for The Urgent Company started to take shape in early 2020, explained Pandya.
"We also found ourselves having conversations with VC funds over the years who said, if you ever do something in the consumer space, let us know, and it's good to know that there is a pipeline of these funds [that are interested in investing in The Urgent Company] if we can build a little bit of momentum around this."
'Not many CPG companies can get a product from concept to launch in 16 weeks'
While Perfect Day has contributed some capital to a rolling seed round to get it off the ground, The Urgent Co will operate as an independent company with its own team, board, and mission, utilizing Perfect Day’s ingredients, but also other novel ingredients and packaging technologies, said Kollesoff, who has brought together a team of sales and marketing professionals with experience at food brands including La Colombe, Honest Tea, Noosa Yoghurt, Chobani, and Lavva.
“We are agile. Not many CPG companies can get a product from concept to launch in 16 weeks. With Brave Robot we're creating a new category of animal-free dairy, and we could develop more products under this brand or develop new brands. There are a lot of technologies out there, not only food ingredients, that we're evaluating."
While it doesn’t make sense to manufacture products in-house (The Urgent Company will work with a network of co-packers), the team has core competence in sales, branding and marketing, said Kollesoff, who has teamed up with broker Alliance Sales & Marketing to launch Brave Robot into bricks and mortar stores nationwide.
“We can have a lot of fun with the Brave Robot brand, but our longer-term vision is to create a house of brands under The Urgent Company.”
- Read Ryan Pandya’s post on medium on the genesis of The Urgent Company.
- Further reading: Perfect Day expands Series C to $300m; significantly boosts efficiency of animal-free dairy protein production
Real dairy ingredients, made without cows...
Perfect Day’s dairy proteins (and in future fats) are cleaner, greener and kinder than those produced via industrialized animal farming, claim its founders, but they also represent a new supply of animal-free ingredients that deliver the unique functionality and nutrition of dairy so that formulators do not have to compromise.
Perfect Day uses microbes (which it describes as ‘flora’ – which could cover fungi, yeast, or bacteria) and adds DNA sequences (which can be 3D printed using synthetic biology techniques) which effectively instruct the microbes to produce the proteins and fats found in milk. (The first products from its platform use a fungi found in soil called Trichoderma reesei.)
The microbes feed on sugars and other nutrients in big fermentation tanks and secrete the protein into the broth from which it can be harvested.