Firm, for $20 a pint, churns out ice cream us­ing fungi, not cows

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Janelle Bitker

It looks like reg­u­lar ice cream. It tastes like reg­u­lar ice cream. But at $20 per pint, it’s def­i­nitely ir­reg­u­lar ice cream.

Emeryville com­pany Per­fect Day re­leased its first prod­uct on Thurs­day: an an­i­mal­free ice cream con­tain­ing real dairy. The frozen con­coc­tion is the lat­est Bay Area food to repli­cate an an­i­mal prod­uct through tech­nol­ogy, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of a veg­gie burger that bleeds, egg­free “mayo” and myr­iad oth­ers in the booming food tech mar­ket­place.

Per­fect Day, whose name is in­spired by a Lou Reed song, cre­ates dairy pro­teins through fer­men­ta­tion, which can then lead to cheese, yo­gurt and other dairy prod­ucts with­out the en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print of cows. It’s the first prod­uct of its kind on the mar­ket.

This process means Per­fect Day can bring dairy to hot re­gions that nor­mally can’t sus­tain cows — an op­tion that could grow more im­por­tant in the age of cli­mate change.

“This is the new age of what you can do with food,” said co­founder Ryan Pandya.

Per­fect Day has raised $61.5 mil­lion and is just one Bay Area com­pany mak­ing strides in the food tech in­dus­try through fer­men­ta­tion. South San Fran­cisco startup Clara Foods bio­engi­neers yeast cells to create egg white protein, while Gel­tor in San Le­an­dro makes gelatin in a lab; both plan to have prod­ucts on the mar­ket in 2020.

The Per­fect Day story be­gins like a lot of other plant­based food com­pa­nies: Its founders, Pandya and Peru­mal Gandhi, went ve­gan and hated it. Specif­i­cally, they

missed dairy and found the al­ter­na­tives on the mar­ket se­verely lack­ing. With back­grounds in medicine, they teamed up in 2014 to see whether a com­mon process in the med­i­cal field — fer­men­ta­tion — could help make a de­cent ve­gan cream cheese.

Some ve­g­ans might ob­ject to consuming Per­fect Day’s dairy pro­teins since they are iden­ti­cal to a cow’s dairy pro­teins on a molec­u­lar level, but the com­pany calls its prod­ucts ve­gan be­cause no an­i­mals are used in the cre­ation process.

Es­sen­tially, Per­fect Day gives mi­croflora — a spe­cific type of fungi — a blue­print through biotech­nol­ogy that al­lows it to fer­ment sugar and create whey and ca­sein. Pandya and Gandhi then mix the pro­teins with wa­ter and plant fat to make milk. From there, they can use the milk to make dairy prod­ucts such as ice cream.

They no­tably skip lac­tose so the lac­tose­in­tol­er­ant can con­sume Per­fect Day’s prod­ucts. Lac­tose nor­mally adds sweet­ness and body, but plant sugar can be used in­stead. “We’ve cho­sen the parts of milk we really want,” Pandya said.

They be­gan with ice cream to be as in­dul­gent as pos­si­ble. The Per­fect Day culi­nary team ex­per­i­mented with fla­vors that riff on the coun­try’s top three sell­ers — cho­co­late, straw­berry and vanilla — and landed on milky cho­co­late, vanilla salted fudge and vanilla black­berry tof­fee. They’re sell­ing combo packs of three pints each for $60 on­line at www. per­fect­day­foods.com as an ini­tial greet­ing to the world. With ship­ping and han­dling, the to­tal cost should come to about $100. (Dry ice is ex­pen­sive.)

After the ini­tial 1,000 or­ders, Per­fect Day will stop churn­ing ice cream and start work­ing with ex­ist­ing ice cream com­pa­nies in­stead. Most pro­duc­ers, whether a gi­ant like Haa­gen­Dazs or a craft cream­ery like Salt & Straw, al­ready make ve­gan fla­vors with bases us­ing al­mond milk, co­conut cream or cashew milk. Al­ter­na­tively, they could switch to Per­fect Day’s base.

That’s how Per­fect Day is ap­proach­ing the fu­ture in gen­eral. The com­pany plans to team up with cheese, yo­gurt and other com­pa­nies that use dairy to bring its Per­fect Day ver­sions of pop­u­lar prod­ucts to gro­cery stores. The global food pro­cess­ing com­pany Archer Daniels Mid­land is start­ing to make Per­fect Day’s pro­teins to help them boost pro­duc­tion, and Per­fect Day in­tends to work with other such busi­nesses in the same way.

Scal­ing up is the big­gest chal­lenge right now. Even­tu­ally, Gandhi said, they’ll be able to make their ve­gan ice cream cheaper than the con­ven­tional ver­sions — po­ten­tially 40% less. For now, though, they’re pricier than even the most premium ice cream brands.

Looking be­yond ice cream, the founders are ex­cited to bring their pro­teins to re­gions with hot, dry cli­mates that can’t sus­tain a dairy in­dus­try. Per­fect Day is al­ready in talks with gov­ern­ments and non­prof­its, although Pandya said it’s too early to name them.

Looking even fur­ther ahead, Pandya and Gandhi said Per­fect Day’s dairy could be­come es­sen­tial with cli­mate change, as more re­gions po­ten­tially be­come too warm for cows.

“If that cli­mate spreads,” Pandya said, “we still need to make food.”

Per­fect Day

Ve­g­ans Ryan Pandya (left) and Peru­mal Gandhi en­joy ice cream cre­ated by their com­pany, Per­fect Day in Emeryville.

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