The founders of The Vegetarian Butcher – a plant-based company acquired by Unilever in 2018 – have announced that they intend to launch "animal-free cheese" made in the lab that is identical to dairy but does not require a cow to make. Entrepreneurs Niki Koffeman and Jaap Koreweg launched Those Vegan Cowboys last year to develop a dairy-free lab-grown cultured cheese that will rival traditional cheese in taste and texture. The two businessmen said the lack of good dairy-free cheese inspired them to don white coats and make one.

The product is similar to other lab-grown dairy products, such as Brave Robot which also makes animal-free dairy from cells that are identical to those created by cows. Those Vegan Cowboys expects to launch WildWestLand plant-based cheese in partnership with Westland Cheese.

The two businessmen set out to change the way consumers thought about plant-based cheese. When discussing his personal plant-based diet, Korteweg told Bloomberg that “cheese was the last thing that disappear from my plate” because “there are no good vegan cheeses.” The market void motivated him to attempt to replicate what consumers love about conventional cheese with the need for animals.

Those Vegan Cowboys approached the dairy industry from a new perspective, experimenting with caseins – the central protein within cow’s milk. The company employs fermentation and gene-splicing techniques to replicate the same consistency and taste of animal-based dairy. The fermentation process mixes a copy of cow DNA with fungi or yeast cultures. The organic materials then react to create caseins. When the fermented caseins are mixed with fats, it produces a milk-like liquid that the company can produce sustainable and flavorful dairy-like products.

“The cow is the processor between grass and cheese,” Korteweg explained to Bloomberg. “So the fungi are the cow in our line.”

Recently, Grand View Research released a report that projected that the alternative dairy market could nearly double by 2028. The report claims that the alternative dairy industry is expected to reach $52.58 billion by 2028, growing at a 12.5 percent CAGR from its 2021 valuation of 23.20 billion. While the dairy alternative market is currently dominated by bean- or nut-based milks such as almond, soy, or oat, several companies like Those Vegan Cowboys have turned to precision fermentation and casein production.

Those Vegan Cowboys launched to promote sustainable eating, attempting to curb the negative environmental effects directly tied to the meat and dairy industry. Conventional dairy production requires a significant amount of land and a dangerous amount of water – leading Those Vegan Cowboys to showcase the potential of sustainable alternatives like casein.

”This can be a very efficient way for producing the milk proteins itself, whereby the environmental impact is reduced about five-fold,” Project Director at Those Vegan Cowboys Will van den Tweel explained to FoodIngredientsFirst. “Developing and scaling such technology, however, will take time. To create the effect, it will also need to be cost-competitive with the current traditional way of production.”

The Belgium-based company intends to replicate all the cheeses on the market in order to give consumers a sustainable option with no cows involved. The company is based in a biotech facility situated next to the Ghent University in Belgium, working with the top scientists to properly replicate the microbial ingredients necessary to create cow-free dairy products.

Other companies worldwide have also started working on cow-free dairy products: San Francisco-based company NoBell started experimenting with soybeans to create dairy proteins from the original soy protein. The company expects to release its first products by 2023. The food tech company Perfect Day developed ice cream, milk, and cream cheese products using precision fermentation and replicated caseins.

The companies are aiming to create sustainable alternatives that will convince consumers to ditch animal-based products. By matching the animal-based product in taste and price, it is more likely the consumers will purchase the alternative dairy products.

“If we create products that compete on taste and on price and eventually are cheaper than buying it from an animal source, people are going to make more of these choices,” Nobell Founder Magi Richani said.

The founders’ original company, The Vegetarian Butcher, is still driving plant-based innovation worldwide. The plant-based company partnered with Burger King last month to launch the fast-food company’s very first completely Vegetarian storefront. The plant-based menu will feature the plant-based Whopper, vegan chicken nuggets, and the brand new Long Vegetal the plant-based alternative to the fast-food restaurant’s signature Long Chicken Sandwich. The “Vurger King “ opened in Madrid for a limited time, showcasing the plant-based innovation of both the fast-food giant and the increasingly popular Vegetarian Butcher.

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