General Mills launches animal-free dairy cheese brand Bold Cultr

Dive Brief:

  • General Mills has officially entered the animal-free dairy category with its new brand Bold Cultr. The company is launching cream cheese made with Perfect Day’s fermentation-created dairy proteins under the brand, which will be sold on its e-commerce website and at some Hy-Vee stores in Minnesota. 
  • Bold Cultr was developed under General Mills’ internal innovation G-Works unit. The company wrote in a blog post that Bold Cultr is developing flavored cream cheeses and cheese slices and shreds for future product launches.
  • This is the first Big Food launch of a product made using animal-free dairy proteins, and the second cream cheese made this way to hit the market. The first — under the Modern Kitchen brand, which comes from Perfect Day-affiliated CPG maker The Urgent Company — officially launched in late September.

Dive Insight:

It’s a big deal that actual dairy proteins can be produced without a cow. But the fact that General Mills is launching a product with that technology at its center is almost as significant.

Perfect Day launched as an ingredient company with the intention of producing dairy that can be used in products ranging from ice cream to cheese to snacks. Perfect Day uses precision fermentation to create dairy proteins that are identical to those that come from cows. A handful of CPG companies have partnered with Perfect Day so far, including ice cream makers Nick’s, Graeter’s and Smitten. The Urgent Company, which the company created to develop its proteins into CPG products, has brought a few items to market, including Brave Robot ice cream and cake mix, and California Performance Co.’s V-Whey protein powders.

But none of these launches has the reach or name recognition of General Mills. With the CPG giant putting its stamp of approval behind a product using animal-free dairy, it’s likely to stoke more interest in the segment from both consumers and other manufacturers, as well as assuage doubts consumers may have about consuming a tech-enabled version of dairy.

“Many of the consumers we talked to want to be animal-free but cheese is holding them back – the alternatives aren’t doing what consumers want them to,” Bold Cultr Co-founder Laura Engstrom, a 10-year veteran of General Mills, said in a company blog post. “We’re excited to reimagine what cheese can be and tackle this consumer problem head on.”  

General Mills had tipped its hand to potential work in the animal-free dairy category earlier this year with a brand website for Renegade Creamery, which has since gone offline. A General Mills spokesperson said in an email that “Renegade Creamery” was the pilot name as the company tested what is now Bold Cultr.

While the potential of Big Food adopting animal-free dairy is intriguing, the launch shows that there is still a lot about the space that is up in the air. Bold Cultr’s packaging brands it as “Next Gen, Non-Animal Cream Cheese Alternative,” even though the product is made with dairy, and the term “alternative” is often reserved for plant-based cheeses. On the brand’s website, Bold Cultr refers to Perfect Day’s ingredient as “a structurally equivalent protein to that of cows’ milk,” but its packaging indicates that the product contains dairy. In an email, General Mills said that it labels its products this way because “Bold Cultr’s products are non-animal dairy, offering an alternative to animal or conventional dairy products.”

Other products made with Perfect Day’s proteins are not labeled as dairy alternatives, though Perfect Day has noted it has little say over product labeling or messaging. The company does require extensive disclosure that products contain dairy, since it is a major allergen.

Regardless, the product timing is right as Perfect Day ramps up its production and consumers become interested in trying animal-free products. About 65% of Americans said they are willing to try cheese made with dairy proteins that don’t come from animals, and 53.8% said they would be willing to buy it, according to a survey conducted earlier this year from Europe-based precision fermentation company Formo and the University of Bath.

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