Agriculture, Food & Nutrition, People, Prosperity, Americas

A world without cheese

UN Environment | Mar 01, 2019


This article was originally published by UN Environment and is republished with permission.

Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi are co-founders of a revolutionary start-up called Perfect Day. Their idea? To make dairy products without the help of cows.

Perfect Day, whose name is inspired by a study which found that cows produce the most milk when listening to the song Perfect Day by Lou Reed, uses a process called microbial fermentation. The process creates all the proteins that exist in milk by using yeast.

Both aged under 30, start-up co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi believed enough in their idea to make it a reality. Their story is one of perseverance as much as it is of inspiration.

Perfect Day co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi. Photo by Perfect Day.

The perfect match

From opposite sides of the world, they have parallel stories. Both inspired by the destructive impacts associated with meat production, they became vegetarian in college.  

Then they noticed that their diets relied a lot more on dairy products. And although they loved cheese, they were increasingly aware of the environmental implications of its mass production. There must be another way to create nutrition-packed dairy alternatives.  

As volunteers at New Harvest, a research institute and non-profit organization that supports cellular agriculture, they were separately discussing ideas for producing milk in cell culture with Executive Director of New Harvest, Isha Datar.

Noticing the similarity in their thinking, Datar introduced the duo online and encouraged them to apply for the perfect opportunity: a biotechnology accelerator in Ireland.

And so, while the trio had never met before, they set about applying for the accelerator and were successfully awarded US$30,000 in seed funding and laboratory space for the summer. Their whirlwind journey officially kicked off.

Perfect Day lab where the creation happens. Photo by Perfect Day.  

Making a new kind of dairy

Perfect Day’s animal-free protein is the same protein as that found in cow’s milk, with the same taste and texture. Although not on supermarket shelves yet, the start-up’s business-to-business model will partner with manufacturers to make dairy products.

For the last four-and-a-half years, Pandya and Gandhi worked vigorously to get their product on the shelves. They say while their products taste like traditional dairy, they do not contain the hormones, antibiotics, artificial colours and flavours that often go into their production. Their products are high in protein, lactose-free, and have a long shelf life.

Their current focus is on creating partnerships with food companies. They are also leveraging the flexibility of their technology, which can be produced anywhere where they have a brewing tank and energy source.  

Pandya and Gandhi are motivated by the prospect of providing an alternative to cow dairy. But they are still currently refining their technology, and intend to launch their new product in the next two years, initially in America and then expanding to other markets.

They believe in the value of creating a sustainable supply chain, where the profits and the company’s values do not need to be mutually exclusive. In future, they believe their creation of dairy from yeast and fermentation techniques can significantly reduce the environmental impact of milk production.

Animal-free protein powder. Photo by Perfect Day.

Creating a sustainable future

“No one person can solve all the problems, we all need to do our part where we can,” the duo said. There are still hurdles in their path—for example securing funding to take their product to the next stage before becoming available to the public.

While still in the early phases, the start-up expect that their protein will compete on cost with the dairy industry in the near-future.

James Lomax, UN Environment’s Food Systems and Agriculture Programme Management Officer, said: “Finding alternatives to animal proteins that have lower greenhouse gas emissions are a win-win for consumers and the planet.

“As long as hard-working farmers that produce cow’s milk are not forgotten, entrepreneurial solutions like this are critical in our response to such challenges as we move towards more sustainable food systems.”


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