“Fighting climate change and animal abuse” is all part of the mission of Real Deal Milk. They are committed to making dairy products as nutritious and delicious as the “real” thing. The dairy market has a significant impact on our environment, and new technology is transforming companies like Real Deal Milk into sustainability pioneers.
Nicole Astra: Welcome to Talking Plant Protein. My guests today are from Real Deal Milk, and we are talking all things dairy sector. Founder and CEO, Zoltan Toth-Czifra, and Gabriel Mora, chief researcher, have joined us today. Welcome to the show, gentlemen.
Zoltan Toth-Czifra: Hi, Nicole. Excited to be here.
Gabriel Mora: Hello, Nicole.
Nicole Astra: Let's just jump right in. Give me a little bit of background on Real Deal Milk.
Zoltan Toth-Czifra: All right, I guess I can start. We are a very young company based in Barcelona, Spain. And our goal, in very short, is to make milk and the other dairy products without cows. To go into a little bit more details on that, we plan to use precision fermentation, which means, basically, we take yeast cells and we plan to genetically reprogram them to produce proteins and other ingredients of milk. So that, basically, we exclude cattle all together from the process. And by doing so we alleviate the environmental impact of cattle, and, of course, remove the animal suffering from this amazing product that we all love, be it cheese, yogurt, ice cream, milk, you name it.
Nicole Astra: So Gabriel, we remove the cow from the scenario, but are we removing the cow's DNA?
Gabriel Mora: Not at all. What we do is transfer the DNA, well, a part of it, of course, a very small fraction of it. Keep the information that has evolved for millions of years to have this perfected milk. We keep that bit of information and we transfer it into a new organism. So yeah, we definitely do not remove the DNA.
Nicole Astra: What does this mean for the term vegan, Zoltan?
Zoltan Toth-Czifra: Right, so I think what is important to emphasize is that we don't harm animals in this process. We don't even touch them. The genetic information we use is coming from a cow that has been already sequenced. We just take that information and we move that piece of information into a yeast cell, but we're not touching any animals in that process. I think there are two aspects of being vegan that I usually hear from my vegan friends. One, of course, has to do with animal suffering. And the other one is with the environment. And I think we check both of those boxes.
We work with yeast cells, and since yeast don't have a nervous system, they're not capable of suffering. And they can be found in many different vegan foods like bread, beer, and other things that people regularly consume. You can think of them as tiny biological machines that we basically program to do what we want them to do without having to touch animals that do have actually consciousness and feelings and they are capable of suffering.
And the other side, I think, of veganism is the environmental impact. I hear a lot of people are vegans, not necessarily because they care about animals, or they do, but perhaps what is even more important for them is they want to reduce their footprint on the environment. And as we know, dairy and also meat production are very, very harmful for the environment in general in terms of greenhouse gases, waste products, water use. And so, with our technology, we plan to help that side of the equation as well and alleviate a lot of the waste and a lot of the harm that the dairy industry currently is doing and producing.
Nicole Astra: And Gabriel, what is the difference between tissue-based and fermentation-based engineering?
Gabriel Mora: You could think of this as two technologies conversing from completely opposite sides, basically. In tissue engineering, you simplify. You start from the complete animal and you remove everything that is not essential. You remove the animal until you get only a tissue of it, a collection of cells from the animal. So you go down in the scale. In fermentation, you go the other way. You take an unicellular organism, and you make it more complex by introducing DNA from the animal that you are targeting. So yeah, in a way, it's converging from two opposite sides. You reduce complexity in one case, we increase it on the other. And well, you don't necessarily meet at the middle, but you cover a broad range of possibilities by having these two technologies.
Nicole Astra: And you're newer in this space, how have you secured funding so far?
Zoltan Toth-Czifra: Our primary funding comes from me as founder. And with that funding we hope to cover our prototype phase. We are working on proof of concept technology. And we are definitely going to open up a funding round later this year or next year. But we want to make sure that we have something to show and we have proven the technology in a lab before we look for private funding. And, of course, at the same time, we are also applying to all the possible public subsidies we can. Of course, sustainability and food tech right now in Europe is a heavily subsidized area, and we are hoping to take advantage of that as well.
Nicole Astra: What are some projections, from either of you, in the dairy world?
Zoltan Toth-Czifra: Dairy is a huge market. It's valued at about $330 billion globally. And only in Spain where we are based it's about €9.5 billion. So, I think this technology has enormous growth potential. And not just because veganism and conscious eating is on the rise. Right now, veganism is about 3% globally and about 5% is vegetarian and it's growing. But, I think that we have the philosophy of Patrick Brown who is the CEO of Impossible Food. He says that he doesn't want to make products to vegans or vegetarians, he wants to make products for carnivores because that's the way you can make an impact. If you are just going to cater to people who already changed their diets, and they already removed those negatively impactful products from their lives, then you're not really making a difference. What we want to do is we want to create an equivalent product, equivalent both in experience and in price, or if not equivalent, better, cheaper, and simply healthier or tastier than what's currently available. And we want to get on board everybody who doesn't necessarily eat consciously at the moment.
Nicole Astra: That's something we talk a lot about on this show is kind of a 3.0 of plant-based, or when we're going to move away from that meat analogue, which is wonderful and wildly popular. But, really asking that question about what's next for optimal nutrition.
Zoltan Toth-Czifra: Right. I think that one thing in this technology what we are really excited about, and I think this is a little bit, I suppose, the tissue engineering, is that we gain a full control of the production of the dairy. Meaning that we can improve it nutritionally or the experience, and we can really customize it for people's dietary needs or taste, or the end product that we are going to produce, whether it's cheese, or yogurt, or just plain milk. And I think that customization will be very valuable in the future. It's something that is currently not possible with traditional dairy.
Nicole Astra: What's next for Real Deal Milk? I understand you're not quite ready to make an announcement, but there are some key partnerships coming, right?
Zoltan Toth-Czifra: That's right. There are some partnerships we're really excited about, and it's not quite public yet, but expect some big news coming from us in the coming months. And of course we keep working crazy and we think that there is some urgency here. I have this philosophy that there is a misconception that genius inventors drive the wheels of technology forward. So, it really doesn't matter what you do because someone else will just do that for you. If it's not you, then it's going to be something else. And it all depends on the historical context that we exist in. And things will happen on their own, whether you work on them and not.
But then there are some times like today, when there is a little bit of a sense of urgency, that time actually does matter, how fast we invent things does matter. So, we can't just wait a few more years for technology to come about and wait for it to come about, because of global warming and because of the environmental impact we are making. So, that sort of urgency gives us a lot of sense of purpose. And of course, it also pushes us to work very hard on this problem, because we think that whether we get there in 5 years or 10 years, it's a huge difference.
Gabriel Mora: Luckily, a lot of the basic technology exists already. What we have to do most urgently is put it together for such a purpose. We take developments that have been taking place for years or decades in some cases in other fields of science and research, and apply them to this now. So, there are gaps that need to be filled, but there is already a huge amount of technology ready and waiting to be applied and exploited for such a purpose.
Nicole Astra: And I can tell you, as the consumer, we are ready for it. Can't wait to see what you guys do next. Thanks again for joining us.
Zoltan Toth-Czifra: Thank you very much, Nicole.
Gabriel Mora: Thank you.