TASTE TEST: Daisy Lab and ice-cream icon put dairy-identical dessert through its paces


An Auckland startup that has developed dairy-identical proteins has teamed up with world-renowned ice-cream maker Gianpaolo Grazioli to put its innovation to the taste test. Daisy Lab is developing cutting-edge technology that builds on New Zealand’s 100-year heritage in dairy innovation, while reducing the environmental impact of dairy.

The startup is a leader in precision fermentation, which involves using micro-organisms to make proteins identical to those found in nature, including those from cows’ milk. Similar technology is already used to produce various enzymes and flavourings for the food industry.

“It was great to hear so many guests enjoyed the tasting. We used very simple ingredients to ensure we are not ‘masking’ the taste of the additional protein. Overall, there was very little feedback on the taste, which is exactly what we want because naturally occurring dairy proteins have a very mild flavour,” says Daisy Lab founder Irina Miller. “What’s important to us is that the flavours of the ice-cream and mouthfeel are the same as dairy products made the traditional way.

“We are one of a handful of startups globally in this space. We are excited by the possibilities precision fermentation represents for the future of dairy,” She says precision fermentation has been shown to produce up to 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional dairy per unit of protein, while using up to 60% less energy. The taste test tonight was part of an event for investors and industry to celebrate its production of powdered whey protein on a lab-scale in a little over a year.

Daisy Lab developed its innovative process with assistance from Callaghan Innovation, which provided some initial funding, as well as technical and business advisory support.
The startup plans to develop commercial-scale dairy identical proteins for the growing number of consumers globally seeking low environmental impact alternatives. Its immediate target is the $8 billion Australasian premium dairy market. Longer term it will target the $35 billion global protein powder market. Its products will qualify for the $15 billion vegan market growing 20% year-on-year. The global dairy market is estimated at $850 billion annually.

The next step for Daisy Lab is to build a pilot plant, and secure partnerships with food producers who share its bold, global ambitions to address growing market demand.
“We are very excited about what the future holds. We’ve come a really long way in a short time, and have been supported every step of the way by the Aotearoa New Zealand dairy ecosystem, as well as the startup ecosystem and the Callaghan Innovation team,” says Miller.

Callaghan Innovation provided a range of support including yeast fermentation and protein purification advice and business advisory services to support the growth of Daisy Lab.
“Everyone we’ve worked with at Callaghan Innovation has contributed valuable expertise that has helped us to scale our unique expression system that produces ‘clean’ fermentation liquid, where most of what is secreted by the microbe is dairy-identical protein, and this offers us a unique advantage for cost-effective industrial production scale-up,” says Miller.
“Right from the start, Callaghan Innovation people have been so supportive. I know I can always pick up the phone, which is so important when you’re trying to do something new.”