‘It still feels like magic a little bit…’ Animal-free milk space heats up as Opalia churns out milk with ‘all of the functional components of traditional dairy’

Producing cow’s milk – or something pretty close to it – without animals, has to be worth a shot, argues Côté, although she acknowledges that startups in the space have yet to prove the technology can be scaled to compete with such a commoditized pantry staple.

While some players in this nascent field (such as NC-based BIOMILQ​​), are focusing on human milk in order to access high-value infant formula markets for Moms that can’t breastfeed but want to give their babies something more closely approximating breastmilk than standard infant formula, Montreal-based Opalia ​​(formerly Bettermilk) is squarely targeting the milk we all have in our fridge, says Côté, who teamed up with co-founder and CTO Lucas House to start exploring cell-cultured milk in late 2020.

“The reason we’re focusing on cow’s milk instead of human​ [milk] is because… that’s where the value is in terms of impact. The reason we got into this business is for the whole sustainability and animal welfare aspect. This is what is driving us forward and pushing us to be aggressive on reducing our production costs early to target these lower-margin products that are part of a bigger market.”

Cell cultured milk and meat are somewhat different propositions

So how does it work?

In a nutshell, Opalia is taking cells from bovine mammary epithelial cells, feeding them nutrients to get them to proliferate, and then triggering them to differentiate and start producing milk, explained Côté, who says Opalia has “solid IP around our mammary cell line.”

Unlike cell-cultured meat – where the cells themselves are the end product, and manufacturers will have to work out how to grow and feed billions of cells cost effectively – Opalia’s cells are mini factories that churn out milk.

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