A group of Australian dairy farmers is backing a start-up science company looking to copy their product.
Norco Co-Op, Australia's oldest dairy co-operative which is headquartered in Lismore in northern NSW, has emerged as surprise partners in the project.
Eden Brew has CSIRO backing as well and $4 million in funds.
The company today revealed plans to launch animal-free dairy, starting with cow's milk, using a precision fermentation process.
Precision fermentation allows the programming of micro-organisms to produce complex organic molecules, such as proteins.
Most of the protein in cow's milk forms into tiny "cages" called micelles.
These cages are loaded with calcium which gives milk its unique characteristics, including its white colour.
Eden Brew says it has pioneered a way of creating casein micelles without the cow.
"The result will be animal-free dairy with a frothing, creamy, milky taste. It will have all of the good stuff, without the cow," company chief executive Jim Fader said.
Eden Brew is undergoing prototype testing at CSIRO's Food Innovation Centre at Werribee and expects to hit the market with its first product in the next 18 months.
Some of those products would likely be bottled at Norco's factory alongside farm milk.
Norco 292 members who operate 203 dairy farms have emerged as shareholders of Eden Brew.
Eden Brew has been formed by tech venture fund Main Sequence, Norco and CSIRO, the company will create animal-free, locally made dairy it says "is good for people and the planet".
Main Sequence was formed by CSIRO in 2017 as an innovation fund to help commercialise scientific breakthroughs and has invested in 26 companies.
Mr Fader said food would be a defining issue of the 21st century.
In recent years, there has been an emergence of alternative protein companies using a host of scientific methods to mimic produce conventional animal-based protein.
Mr Fader said according to the World Resources Institute, there is a 56 per cent food gap between what we make today and what the world will need by 2050.
"Eden Brew was created to help build a sustainable food future by creating a dairy solution that is environmentally sustainable and less resource-intensive," he said.
"Using science from CSIRO, Eden Brew has found a way to produce the same proteins found in cow's milk using precision fermentation, essentially enabling them to 'brew' their milk."
He said he had been closely following Australia's food labelling debate and his product would be clearly labelled as "animal free milk".
The company is backed by $4 million in funding, technology and industry expertise from Main Sequence, Norco and CSIRO.
Norco's chief executive officer Michael Hampson said he could understood why some might be surprised dairy farmers were backing a project which some believed undermined their own product.
But Mr Hampson said the move sought to keep Norco's members at the forefront of food science and build a secure and sustainable future for the co-operative's 292 dairy farmer members.
"We have been discussing involvement in a non-dairy product with our members for some time."
Norco farmers are shareholders of Eden Brew, meaning any profits will go directly back to them so they can continue investing in their farms and support their local communities, he said.
Mr Hampson said Norco's involvement was about building science expertise and supporting its farmer members.
"Norco has been producing award winning dairy products for 126 years," he said.
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"Our involvement in Eden Brew as a co-founder provides us with the opportunity to access new, cutting edge technology, educate and engage our people around new ways of looking at dairy and protein development, and developing alternative revenue streams for our farmer members so that Norco can continue to provide value to its members for another 126 years."
Mr Fader said national milk production production was falling due to the ongoing effects of droughts and high input costs.
"We need a way to make dairy that doesn't involve more resources - more cows, more plants, more water. But instead, one that helps mother nature thrive, and supports our dairy industry for years to come," he said.
"Every glass of cow's milk has the perfect mix of proteins and nutrients to nourish us.
"We are able to give consumers a new option by producing the same proteins that give our milk the same great qualities that we're used to in our morning coffee and cereal. It has the same building blocks of cow's milk, it's just made in a different oven."
Another co-founder, Phil Morle from Main Sequence, said there were challenges to produce enough food to feed a growing world population.
"We have an opportunity with Eden Brew to pioneer a new food category and create a product that serves today's consumers' hunger and need for more options," Mr Morle said.
"Eden Brew's technology delivers an authentic animal-free dairy product and with CSIRO and Norco's support, we'll soon be ready to take the Australian dairy industry to the next level.
"Protein alternatives are gaining global traction with consumers, the industry, and producers taking notice of the environmental and health benefits they present."
Mr Morle said US$3.1 billion had been invested globally in alternative proteins last year.
CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said Eden Brew was an example of an Australian business using Australian science to diversify and create new value in one of the nation's oldest industries.
"Science can revitalise any industry, that's the power of innovation and commercialisation to keep our industries competitive. Eden Brew capitalises on the alternative protein market, which is growing at around eight per cent each year in Australia, using deep science expertise in flavour and texture," Dr Marshall said.
"Working hand-in-hand with Australia's oldest dairy co-operative means Eden Brew can innovate at scale to offer a further choice to consumers rather than competing against traditional dairy products."
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