Many of us have been exposed to meat and dairy alternatives with plant based proteins such as soy burgers, almond milk, tofu, and vegan chicken. But while these alternatives provide a much-needed solution for those seeking a more ethical and eco-conscious diet, they lack the nutritional profile & taste of traditional products. Now imagine if we could get the benefits of actual animal milk, in all its original taste, texture, nutrient profile, and appearance without extracting it from a real animal!
At pi Ventures, we are committed to investing in IP led startups solving some of the largest global challenges and our latest investment, Zero Cow Factory (ZCF) aims to solve some of these challenges through their lab-produced A2 beta casein. ZCF employs precision fermentation to produce milk created by pairing a cow's gene, obtained through genome sequencing, and a microorganism such as yeast to replicate the production of milk proteins from a cow. Using precision fermentation, the gene-yeast pair, along with the right combination of heat, pressure, and other inputs, is used to express milk proteins that are subsequently used by large CPG companies as an input ingredient for their dairy products.
There has been an increased focus on the negative impact of traditional dairy farming on the environment. Seemingly innocent and delicious, just 1 kg of cheese requires about 1100L of freshwater and is equivalent to emissions released on burning 10 kg of coal! Traditional animal farming leads to more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation system combined. Protein production has to be doubled by 2050 to feed the growing population and the paucity of agricultural land makes traditional dairy farming unsustainable in the long run. A world in which protein ingredients for mainstream dairy products are created in a lab is not far away.
It is on the back of this convergence of consumers wanting to pursue a healthier lifestyle, a global urgency to tend to our climate challenges & food shortage, and potential for the dairy ingredient product to scale globally that we have made an early stage investment in Zero Cow Factory.
ZCF’s technology requires 99% less land, 98% less water, emits 84% less CO2e, and consumes 65% less energy. By combining genetic modification, strain engineering, & precision fermentation, ZCF’s breakthrough could lead to a new category of alternative dairy products that are made from sustainable and ethical sources. It also addresses concerns about animal welfare and environmental impact associated with traditional dairy farming.
The unique part of the ZCF technology is that while most players in this space are focussed on making animal free whey protein, ZCF is globally the first company to have made A2 beta casein which is significantly more complex to make due to its inherent structure and is the key base ingredient for dairy products such as cheese. Moreover, the absence of A1 protein, which is responsible for indigestion, makes their product healthier than any other peers in the market.
The founders, Sohil and Parini, come with the perfect mix of skillsets to build this company. Sohil is a serial entrepreneur who has commercialized products in the edtech space and also held senior leadership positions in product and business development. Parini comes with a rich molecular biology background with over 10 years of experience in research. She holds a PhD in Clinical Research and Pharmacovigilance from Institute of Clinical Research India (ICRI).
The company has demonstrated proof of concept at lab scale with a small bioreactor which is producing casein and has started building their pilot facility in Gujarat. ZCF is already in discussions with several Fortune 500 companies across CPG, food, dairy, and nutraceutical verticals who have shown a keen interest to partner with ZCF to formulate various food and non-food products using ZCF's milk proteins as ingredients while replacing milk in their own supply chain.
Recently, countries such as Singapore, US & India have led the way through a positive regulatory framework for animal free dairy proteins. Perfect Day recently got approval from FSSAI for animal free whey protein having already obtained approval in the US earlier while Remilk got Singapore approval this year to sell its animal free whey protein. While challenges around yield, pricing, and fermentation capacity for the emerging alternate-dairy industry exist, it is clear that the alternative dairy market is growing at a rapid pace and is expected to reach $45bn by 2027.
We are excited to foray into the synthetic biology space with an early investment in ZCF and are actively looking to back the next generation of founders building in Material Sciences, Nano Tech, Bio Tech, Life Sciences, among others.