The global protein supplement market was valued at $18.91 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow rapidly from 2021 to 2028. Whey protein specifically makes up about $9 billion of that overall market value and is expected to double by 2027. 

At the same time, we have seen a rise in demand for dairy product alternatives, bringing the dairy alternative market to roughly $19.66 billion in 2020.

Companies like Perfect Day are leading the whey (ba dum tss) by capitalizing on the demand of both markets, developing a new line of animal-free whey protein called Mooless.

What is Whey?

Whey is one of the two proteins in milk. It is derived from the cheesemaking process by adding enzymes to the milk to separate the curd from the liquid whey. The liquid whey is then pasteurized and formed into a powder protein added to many protein shakes, bars, and more.

Whey protein is the most commonly used type of protein powder as it contains all nine essential amino acids involved in protein synthesis, a process required for muscle repair.

The Environmental Impact of Whey Protein

Because whey protein is created from the cheesemaking process, it is argued that the environmental impact of it is insignificant. This comes from the idea that cheese will be made regardless, and the extraction of the whey doesn’t add a lot to the process.

However, the demand for whey protein is on track to eventually outweigh the demand for cheese, meaning excess cheese will have to be created to extract enough whey. This then creates a more concerning impact in terms of both waste and agricultural damage, from the land used to raise the cows, to the water and soil used to support them. 

Perfect Day’s Solution

In an effort to build a more sustainable way to create whey protein, Perfect Day developed a new process.

Perfect Day is a food technology startup known for creating dairy proteins without the animals. The company uses a precision fermentation process to create a protein with exactly the same nutrition and performance of traditional whey protein in a more sustainable fashion.

Their innovation scored them over $750 million in funding thus far, bringing the company value to approximately $1.5 billion. So how do they do it?

Microbes are engineered to produce the proteins in massive tanks, mimicking the biological process cows use to create milk. By utilizing a fungi similar to yeast, they are able to turn plant carbohydrates into protein. The result is a protein that is virtually the same as whey, without the lactose and hormones used in traditional mixtures.

This “dairy” protein was initially used to create ice creams, but is now being used in Natreve’s new Mooless Animal-Free Whey Protein.

Natreve’s Mooless Whey Protein

Natreve is a wellness brand, already offering plant-based protein powder sold in major retail stores such as Target. Their latest protein powder, Mooless, blends Perfect Day’s cow-less whey protein along with a digestive enzyme to create a gluten, soy, and lactose-free mixture.

The protein powder comes in four flavors: Strawberry Shortcake, Vanilla Bean, Cookies and Cream, and Chocolate Fudge Brownie. One serving of the mixture has 20 grams of protein, which is on par for most protein powders on the market, slightly above some other vegan options.

If you’ve ever peeked at the reviews for some vegan protein powders, you’d know that their reviews are less than appealing. While we’re eager to hear how Mooless actually tastes, according to Natreve’s website, the protein powder isn’t set to launch until 2022.

Impact of Cow-less Whey Protein

Because of the way cow-less whey protein is produced, its impact on the environment is significantly less than that of traditional whey protein.

Perfect Day determined, via a life cycle analysis, that compared to the total protein in milk, Perfect Day’s cow-less whey was up to 97% lower in GHG emissions. The creation of the protein also used 60% less energy and 99% less blue water than the production of traditional whey protein.

Utilizing these metrics, Perfect Day was able to estimate the larger impact of cow-less whey on the broader market. If United States consumers alone switched to Perfect Day whey as opposed to traditional whey, we could save up to 246 million tons of CO2e emissions.

Cow-less Whey Could Change the Game

Whey protein is used in almost all dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. By mimicking their structures, companies could create products that taste exactly the same as traditional dairy products, minus the environmental impact and animal ingredients.
It’s still too early to tell if more companies will hop on to Perfect Day’s cow-less whey, but it sure is an innovation worth exploring to meet the demand for dairy-alternatives.