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Friday 20 May 2022

Alt-dairy startup Daisy Lab plants seed for funding

17th November 2021 By Monique Steele | | @foodtickernz

Foodtech startup Daisy Lab is targeting US$250,000 in funding to support its plans to put New Zealand on the map for dairy – but without the cows.

Daisy Lab co-founder and managing director Irina Miller.

The new entrant to New Zealand’s burgeoning alternative protein industry is in early talks with Angel Association New Zealand to line-up pre-seed backers for Daisy Lab’s quest to develop a protein that delivers consumers the same taste and creaminess as dairy products, but by-passes the bovines.

Management consultant Irina Miller, who has previously worked in Fonterra’s human resources team, co-founded Daisy Lab in February this year with minority shareholder molecular biologist and University of Auckland genomics professor Dr Nikki Freed.

The Auckland-based business used precision fermentation technology to create alternative dairy proteins, which were molecularly bio-identical to the dairy casein proteins made from pasteurised skim cow’s milk and sold by dairy processors like Fonterra’s NZMP and Westland Milk Products.

“Casein is the magical molecule that helps traditional cow’s cheese melt and stretch, a function which a lot of plant-based cheeses are trying to achieve and it’s the hardest to achieve from the plant-based protein perspective,” Miller told the Ticker.

“We’re sponsoring research at a leading New Zealand university and we want to make it a lot more commercial now. We want to hire and pay researchers full-time salaries to accelerate our research.”

Miller said Daisy Lab was looking to raise between US$200,000 and US$250,000, off a US$2.5m company valuation, to boost research with additional lab staff and equipment and materials.

“Then we will go into the next round of funding to scale it up further to be able to produce enough casein to start making pilot [food] products. We would be raising seed funding before we can do that.”

Marketed for their high protein and amino acid content, New Zealand exported around 90,000 tonnes of casein and caseinates in 2021, according to Stats NZ.

“We all agree we can’t grow our cow herds any bigger, so what’s next?” Miller said.

“If we can’t grow our dairy industry and the world still requires more food, why not do it smarter without all the drama of growing big animals and then making them pregnant and killing their calves. 

“Why not cut to the chase and produce an ingredient which we extract from their milk anyway.”

Miller added that New Zealand was “very well-placed” for further research into animal-free casein production due to decades of innovation within the dairy industry.

“New Zealand knows dairy so well, this is just a natural progression of the technology, as we see it,” she said.

“We have a lot of chemical engineering talent and that’s what we’re hoping we can tap into.

“Developing the host, the bug, is only the start. To scale-up in New Zealand will be faster, smarter, because we’ve got the ecosystem and talent.”

Miller aimed to go to market with food products by 2024 with regulatory approval needed from both the Ministry for Primary Industries, as a genetically-modified ingredient intended for sale for human consumption, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand.



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