In recent years, dairy alternatives have been popping up seemingly everywhere. These dairy wannabees typically do not come close, however, to matching dairy’s unique nutritional profile and taste.

That reality could change drastically with the influx of new lab-created, animal-free “dairy” proteins. Making the loudest noise here is Berkeley, Calif.-based startup Perfect Day, which uses fermentation to create proprietary “flora-made” “dairy” protein. The company says its protein can be used across a range of products — from “ice cream” and “milk” to “cheese” and “butter” — “to deliver the same taste and texture of dairy without the environmental, animal welfare or food safety concerns.” Foods made with Perfect Day protein may be labeled as vegan and lactose-free.

This past summer, Perfect Day’s founders joined with a product developer in the dairy industry to create a new consumer food company called The Urgent Co. The Urgent Co. unveiled its first product — Brave Robot “ice cream” — made with Perfect Day’s protein. Since then, at least one other ice cream manufacturer has launched products formulated with the protein.

Perfect Day is not the only company dipping its toes in the animal-free “dairy” waters. For example, Remilk, an Israel-based startup, also is producing “dairy” proteins through microbial fermentation. It recently announced the completion of its $11.3 million funding round.


Definition, please

Although both of these companies refer to their products as “animal-free dairy,” we take issue with that phrase. After all, FDA defines dairy differently. For example, the agency states that, “Milk is the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.” (FDA also recognizes goat’s milk and sheep’s milk as dairy.)

Joseph Scimeca, Ph.D., senior vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs for the International Dairy Foods Association, points out that companies are making investments in these and other dairy alternatives to meet consumer demand.

“What’s unfortunate in this case is how the pace of technology and innovation is moving much faster than the regulatory environment,” he tells Dairy Foods. “Regulators, in our view, need to be more outspoken about whether these product claims adhere to longstanding FDA food labeling policy that label claims must be truthful and not misleading. The continued silence by regulators creates more questions in the marketplace because unlike traditional dairy products, most alternatives lack federal or state standards that define the naming of food.”

“All that glitters is not gold,” an old proverb proclaims. Well, all that replicates dairy is not dairy, we say. Despite the regulatory silence, Dairy Foods will continue to adhere to FDA’s definitions when it comes to dairy products.