Dairy... the next generation? General Mills unveils animal-free cream cheese alternative: Bold Cultr

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Image credit: Bold Cultr/General Mills
Image credit: Bold Cultr/General Mills

Related tags General mills animal-free animal-free dairy

General Mills moves into the emerging ‘animal-free’ dairy category with a brand called Bold Cultr – a lactose-free cream cheese alternative utilizing dairy proteins from Perfect Day made via microbial fermentation (without cows).

Bold Cultr – which was developed by General Mills’ internal accelerator G-Works by Drake Ellingboe, Laura Engstrom and Illeme Amegatcher - is launching at BoldCultrFoods.com​ and in select Hy-Vee stores in Minnesota.

It will also be testing with foodservice partners, and plans to expand its retail and digital footprints in the coming months, said General Mills, which first started teasing its animal-free cheese concepts via a brand called Renegade Creamery​, ​but says this has now been replaced by Bold Cultr:

"When we initially started testing early ideas and consumer reactions in the animal-free cheese alternative space, we did so under the pilot brand name 'Renegade Creamery.' Renegade Creamery is now Bold Cultr."

‘Startup company passion’

On the Bold Cultr Foods website​, General Mills explains: “We are a small, highly motivated team embedded within General Mills bringing startup company passion to fulfill ongoing needs surrounding food.”

The first product - a plain animal-free cheese made with non-animal whey protein from Perfect Day coupled with palm oil, pea protein, gums, starches and cultures - “is made with an entirely new-to-the-world method and recipe. It goes beyond other cheese alternatives to hit the most authentic, real-cheese experience yet.”

Two additional flavors of cream cheese alternatives (deploying animal-free whey from Perfect Day) are currently in development, as well as cheese alternative slices and shreds (containing animal-free casein),  Doug Martin, chief disruptive growth officer, said in a blog post​ this morning.

“This first product from Bold Cultr is proof positive that we’re finding new ways to test and learn outside of our core portfolio and in a whitespace of the food industry. The innovations coming out of our G-Works teams are an example of General Mills truly thinking differently about how we innovate.

"It starts with solving real consumer problems, developing breakthrough solutions – and then fueling those brands using the scale and capabilities of General Mills to accelerate their growth."

The company does not have a Nutrition Facts panel for the plain cream cheese alternative on its website yet, but the graphics show that the products feature a milk allergen warning on the front and back of pack. 

Bold Cultr_3
INGREDIENTS: Water, Oil Blend (Palm Oil, Palm Kernel Oil), Pea Protein, Dextrose, Modified Corn Starch, Non-Animal Whey Protein (Contains Milk Allergens), Titanium Dioxide (For Color), Salt, Xanthan Gum, Calcium Potassium Phosphate Citrate, Natural Flavor, Guar Gum, Cultures.

What is animal-free dairy?​​

There is no formal definition of ‘animal-free’ dairy – a term being tested by some startups in the space – but it typically refers to products made with ‘real’ dairy ingredients (whey, casein, etc.) that are produced without cows, either via genetically engineered microbes (Perfect Day​​​, Brave Robot​​​, Change Foods​​​, New Culture​​​, Formo​​​, Remilk​​​, Imagindairy​​​, Those Vegan Cowboys​​​, etc.) or genetically engineered crops such as soybeans or peas (Nobell Foods​​​, Moolec Science​​​).

Using synthetic biology techniques, firms in this space use DNA sequences like pieces of computer code to program or instruct plants or single celled organisms such as fungi and yeast to express animal proteins.

The final proteins do not contain any modified genetic material and are already familiar to the food industry (in its GRAS determination for its animal-free whey protein, which is expressed by a genetically engineered strain of the filamentous fungus Trichoderma​​​​, for example, Perfect Day notes that it is "identical to commercially available bovine-produced β-lactoglobulin”​​).  

But why do this in the first place?

While plant-based cheese is getting better all the time​​​, say animal-free startups, it has only captured a tiny fraction of the cheese market (US retail sales +21% to $236m in year to July 11, 2021, according to SPINS data) because products still don't deliver for many consumers, who would like to make more sustainable or ethical choices, but aren’t willing to compromise on taste, nutrition, or performance.

Making ‘real’ dairy cheese without cows, they argue, offers the best of both worlds: more sustainable and ethical products that don’t involve industrialized animal agriculture, but still deliver the nutrition and functionality of ‘real’ dairy.

This is particularly relevant in products such as cheddar and mozzarella cheese, in which casein proteins become stretchy when cheese melts, and release flavor molecules when they’re broken down by enzymes during the cheese-making process.    

Bold Cultr cream cheese
"With the rise of plant-based and flexitarian diets, there is a need for a cheese alternative that has the same taste, texture and functionality as dairy cheese..." Laura Engstrom, co-founder, Bold Cultr. Image credit: Bolt Cultr/General Mills

The commercial landscape for animal-free dairy proteins​​

Modern Kitchen cream cheese
The Urgent Company's new Modern Kitchen animal-free cream cheese - which also contains Perfect Day's non-animal whey protein - is available for pre-sale online at eatmodern.kitchen and will be sold in selected retailers in southern California later this year (SRP $7.99). Picture credit: The Urgent Company

Animal-free whey proteins (from Berkeley-based Perfect Day​, a pioneer in the animal-free dairy space) now feature in several successful ice cream brands including Brave Robot and Nick’s.​​, the Modern Kitchen​ ​animal-free cream cheese brand launched by The Urgent Company (backed by Perfect Day), Brave Robot cake mixes, and vegan protein powders from Natreve and California Performance Company (the third brand launched by The Urgent Company).

Starbucks has also been testing items featuring milk and ice cream products from Perfect Day in a couple of its coffee shops in the Pacific Northwest.

Animal-free casein proteins - which are more challenging to create without cows on a large scale - are still under development, although several startups say they are gearing up to launch cheeses featuring animal-free casein proteins in the next couple of years (there are four different types of casein protein and it may not be necessary to produce all of them to get the kind of functionality formulators are looking for​).

According to a recent lifecycle assessment,​​​ Perfect Day's non-animal whey protein produces up to 97% fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than whey protein from cows. ​

General Mills does not currently play in the plant-based or regular cheese category, but has developed plant-based yogurts under the Oui and GoGurt brands, vegan mac & cheese (Annie’s), and has invested in plant-based dairy such as Kite Hill and plant-based seafood brand Good Catch via its 301 Inc ventures arm.

Interested in dairy alternatives and 'animal-free' cheese?

Article image - Dairy Alt

Checkout part two (Oct 20) of FoodNavigator-USA's FREE 3-part broadcast series, Disrupting the meat and dairy case: from plant-based bacon to 'real' cheese (minus the cows)​, now available on demand, featuring:

  • Takoua Debeche, ​​chief research & innovation officer, Danone North America​​
  • Matias Muchnick​​, CEO and founder, NotCo ​​
  • David Bucca, ​​founder and CEO, Change Foods  ​​
  • Nathaniel Benchemhoun, ​​VP Business Development, BioMilk    ​​
  • Carole Bingley, ​​technical specialist, RSSL  ​​
  • Jessica Knutzon, ​​senior marketing manager, Americas, CP Kelco​​


Brave new animal-free world?

Thanks to advances in synthetic biology, with the right set of instructions, an army of microscopic little food factories (yeast, fungi, bacteria, algae etc) can now make animal proteins without animals, from collagen and egg albumin to whey protein if you feed them sugar and put them in a fermentation tank. But what do we call them? And are they vegan? Read more HERE.

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