Updated: Nov 10, 2021
Zoltan Toth-Czifra is the CEO of Real Deal Milk, a new startup innovating to create milk and dairy products - without cows. Using precision fermentation technology, Real Deal Milk aims to make dairy products that replicate milk and dairy products. And according to Toth-Czifra, it’s the real thing - “we’re making a nutritionally, chemically, gastronomically equivalent version of milk - we’re making real milk, hence the name”.
He explains that “in order for us to get more people on board with conscious eating, we need to create products that are equivalent or better than what they are trying to replace” and to “create dairy substitutes that are not just matching the original but potentially make it better or cheaper”.
They aim to make products that cover the whole range of dairy - think cheese, ice cream, yoghurt - and are both environmentally conscious and “preserve the culture associated with dairy” which, according to Toth-Czifra, is going to be one of the key educational pieces when convincing consumers to purchase these new products. In his view, it is about ensuring that consumers can focus on making conscious food choices, but can also “still enjoy a piece of cheese or ice cream without having to worry too much about their impact”.
Toth-Czifra talks about this in relation to Real Deal Milk’s technology, highlighting that “for centuries the role of technology has been to reduce scarcity, but in this century it has acquired a new role - which is to reduce guilt and restore our innocence, our balance of how we think about our environment, animals and other people”.
So how do they create these new dairy products?
The technology developed by Real Deal Milk uses precision fermentation, which repurposes the genetic sequence of a cow, finds the genes responsible for expressing particular proteins and then inserts those genes into yeast cells, which “basically act as tiny manufacturing plants to make proteins and express them”. After this, they grow the yeast cells in a fermentation tank and then purify the protein by removing everything else so that you’re left with solely protein. Finally, they combine this protein with sugars and fats to create milk.
Toth-Czifra outlines that this is the first time that this technology is being applied to large product categories like dairy at scale - and emphasises that the technology is vegan and that no animals are harmed in the process.
He says that one of the exciting parts of this technology is that it has the potential to be cheaper than dairy and much better for the environment than traditional dairy production, because it can “take the production globally and distribute it globally”, where it is normally geographically limited in relation to the places that it is possible to raise dairy cows. It also reduces environmental costs associated with land use and grazing. As he explains, “the demand for dairy is growing every day globally and our land use, water use etc are already very strained to feed the 7-8 billion people we have right now, but it’s going to be a big challenge when you have to feed 10 billion people and most of them will demand some higher protein content in their food - and I think we’re going to have to rely on technology to do that at all.”
This sense of urgency underpins the work of Real Deal Milk and provides a sense of purpose for Toth-Czifra. He argues that the environmental challenges that we are facing in relation to climate change mean that “months and years do matter” which is “why it’s important that more people work on cellular agriculture and revolutionising the way we make food”.
Currently, Real Deal Milk are focussing on scaling and efficiency and hope to be on the market in the next few years.