Brown Foods ushers in new age of dairy, raises a ‘latte’ money for cowless cow’s milk

Cow’s milk continues to be a staple of human nutrition. Pediatricians recommend it for infant growth, and for the most part, it has more protein than alternative “milks.” However, this dairy delight isn’t tolerated by all people, and the process from cow to dinner table is a known strain on environmental resources.

Enter Brown Foods, a 1-year-old company developing its first product, UnReal Milk, which is “real” whole milk created using mammalian cell culture technology.

Sohail Gupta Brown Foods milk

Sohail Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Brown Foods Image Credits: Brown Foods

The founders, Sohail Gupta, Avhijeet Kapoor and Bhavna Tandon, have been friends since their undergraduate days at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. Gupta has been a vegetarian throughout his life, and when his wife got pregnant, they were not able to find a milk alternative that was as nutritious to conventional dairy, that didn’t contribute further to climate change and that was cruelty-free to animals.

UnReal Milk is their answer to that problem. With a presence in Boston and India, Brown Foods is a Y Combinator Winter 2022 alum that touts being the first company in the U.S. to produce “real cow’s milk” in a laboratory, accomplishing the milestone in less than 3 months.

“We validated for the major macronutrients, the proteins, the fats and the carbs,” Gupta told TechCrunch. “We could see that the profiles for those were similar to milk at large-scale quantities, and as a result, we could say that we have a superior product from the lab.”

And, by using the cell-cultured approach, UnReal Milk can be similar in taste and texture to real milk, unlike plant-based alternatives. In addition, it can also be converted into typical dairy products, like butter, cheese and ice cream, and is nutritionally similar to cow’s milk. However, unlike conventional dairy, Brown Foods’ milk is estimated to have a 90% smaller carbon footprint.

Armed with the laboratory validation, the pre-revenue company moved forward with raising a seed round, and Thursday it announced $2.36 million from investors, including Y Combinator, AgFunder, SRI Capital, Amino Capital, Collaborative Fund and a group of individual angel investors like Kunal Shah.

Scaling is often an issue with cell-cultivated meat products, so time will tell if Brown Foods is able to jump that hurdle and have a viable product on the market in the next few years.

Gupta expects to start with a small scale-up in the next year. The majority of the funding will go toward those efforts: the bioprocess, scale-up and product development.

“The top-level roadmap of how we are thinking is doing some kind of sampling where we can actually get feedback and learn what things look like and then go toward the kinds of products we will have for commercialization,” he added.

Meanwhile, the global dairy alternatives market is forecasted to be a $50 billion business by 2028, and startups are flocking into this sector with various approaches like cell cultivation and plant-based beverages, all trying to disrupt a $468 billion conventional dairy market.

The dairy alternative market is expected to grow faster than conventional dairy during this decade, at 10% versus 3%, which has venture capital investors drinking it up. For example, Better Dairy raised $22 million earlier this year to create dairy-free cheese, while Miruku is leveraging molecular farming technology to create dairy proteins. At the same time, The EVERY Company, NotCo, Climax Foods and Perfect Day also have investor attention as they develop their animal-alternative cheese and dairy products.

Miruku replacing animals with plants to create dairy proteins

Miruku, a New Zealand-based foodtech company, is applying its molecular farming process to program plant cells to be mini factories for producing proteins, like fats and sugars, traditionally made by animals.

The company was founded in 2020 by Amos Palfreyman, Ira Bing, Harjinder Singh and Oded Shoseyov, who all have experience in either dairy or plant science. Its alternative dairy proteins technology is currently being developed in Miruku’s labs and greenhouses with corporate and R&D partnerships to scale and be implemented across geographies.

Its approach involves breeding and engineering plant crops to turn their cells into dairy proteins, CEO Palfreyman explained. This is different from competitors in the space that are using techniques like precision fermentation, which brews dairy inside fermentation chambers, and recruiting animal cells outside of the animal itself to produce dairy building blocks in cultivation chambers.

How Miruku is differentiating itself is by breeding new plant crops that grow real dairy building blocks directly in the plants themselves using the energy of the sun. In that sense, the company is producing proteins more efficiently than cows, thus cutting out the role of the cow to reduce reliance on animal agriculture and the consequent damage to water, soil and atmosphere.

“Our protein ingredients will make dairy foods which not only taste and smell like real dairy, but which are also nutritional equivalents to dairy,” he added. “They will help build and repair your body with the same amino acid building blocks that your body uses after you have enjoyed and digested a scrumptious cheese sandwich and they’ll function like real dairy in the making and baking of delicious things like cheesecake or a fine pecorino cheese.”

One of the challenges in foodtech is to create enough proteins or feedstock or scaffolding to scale the company, and for Miruku “the challenge of programming a plant to express mammalian proteins in a way that retains their structure and function is actually quite a technical challenge,” noted Palfreyman.

He explained that scaling the plants will be straightforward: Once you generate a plant that expresses the target proteins, you then plant the seeds to scale production, whether it’s a handful of them in a greenhouse or hundreds of thousands of them in a field.

Where it gets a bit complicated is the engineering and breeding for selected traits, which often requires a trade-off between energy use and expression levels. However, Palfreyman believes Miruku’s use of computational biology and techno economic analyses to model optimum expression levels will address that side of the scalability equation.

The company is still in development, but Palfreyman is targeting two to three years before Miruku will see its proteins used in the commercial market. But it will have prototypes and proof of concept sooner than that. He expects the first product to likely be a partnership with an existing food company to provide a protein component that the food company will roll out.

Still, Palfreyman touts Miruku as the first molecular farming dairy startup in the Asia Pacific region. It joins other companies around the world, like Nobell Foods, also doing molecular dairy farming, NotCo, Climax Foods and Perfect Day, tackling animal-free technology to take on an over $500 billion dairy market. We’ve seen a number of them secure venture capital funding in the past six months:

  • Better Dairy, which is creating cheese using the precision fermentation model, raised $22 million in February;
  • The EVERY Company, using plants to make eggs, grabbed $175 million in December;
  • Perfeggt, also making eggs out of plants, announced $2.8 million in November and extended its seed round by $3.9 million this month; and
  • Stockheld Dreamery, making cheese out of legumes, secured $20 million in September.

Miruku was self-funded by its founders for its first 18 months, and now secured $2.4 million in seed funding. The investment was led by Movac and includes Better Bite Ventures, Ahimsa Investments and the Aspire Fund.

This will enable the company to begin to “seriously scale” after finding what Palfreyman said were the right partners to help connect the company to customers and build on milestones for the next round, which he believes will take place in 2023.

The new capital will be deployed in adding more technology staff, developing partnerships and speeding up its development programs. Miruku already doubled its headcount this year and Palfreyman expects to grow similarly every year.

Miruku was able to gain early traction with big food companies that are working with Miruku to co-develop products. It will also begin running development programs across geographies, some related to environment and climate, while others will be about product types and partnerships with growers, formulators and brands.

“It is fair to say we are still an early-stage company, but it is no less accurate to say we are progressing rapidly and gaining great traction with strategic partners close to consumer markets,” Palfreyman added. “Innovation and growth necessitate access to capital, and while we have only just closed our first institutional round, we expect a consequent growth raise in the not too distant future.”

Bobbie drinks up $50M to expand infant formula product line

Organic infant formula company Bobbie is taking a hint from its staggering revenue results in 2021 to get out in front of its product pipeline.

Laura Modi, co-founder and CEO of Bobbie, told me she had expected $4 million in revenue for 2021, but closed the year with $18 million.

“It was pretty extraordinary,” she told TechCrunch. “We had been heads down on growth and innovation, and what is clear is we have hit product-market fit. This is the product parents have been waiting for.”

Modi and co-founder Sarah Hardy started the company in 2019 to develop a European-style infant formula manufactured in the U.S. At the time, Bobbie was the first new infant formula product to launch into the market in six years and was going after customers who were getting formula on the black market, Modi said.

Its beginnings came with quite a big learning lesson. The company voluntarily recalled its product during its first year of operation due to product labeling errors found by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Modi blogged about the recall recently, and told me it was “quite a humbling and harrowing journey.”

Laura Modi, Bobbie

Laura Modi, co-founder and CEO of Bobbie. Image Credits: Bobbie

“When the world of regulation and description come together in one of the industries that is heavily regulated, there is zero room for error,” she added. “Anyone can pick up and recover, and that positions us in a strong place. It also taught me that women are bad-ass. To watch how we handled it with calm, humility and vulnerability, and then stood back up and said let’s keep going. We were confident with what the product could do.”

The infant formula market is poised to be a $103 billion market by 2026. Bobbie isn’t the only player in the game, but it is the only direct-to-consumer formula company currently, with Modi citing statistics that show 21% of parents plan to buy online in the next year. Infant formula is going through a shortage, currently, that was not helped by the recall in February of Similac, which has a large footprint of the infant formula market.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens there, but Bobbie and others are filling the gap. On March 23, ByHeart’s new infant formula brand will launch via its website and be priced at $39 for a 680-gram can, which is the equivalent of 46 four-ounce bottles.

The company’s formula was recently FDA-registered and is derived from its own manufacturing and R&D using a blend of two proteins in breast milk. The formula is also touted as being the first in the U.S. to include organic whole milk.

Both Bobbie and ByHeart received the Clean Label Project Purity Award, while Bobbie is also certified as a pesticide-free product.

Also in this space is Helaina, a company tapping into a precision fermentation process that programs yeast cells and teaches them to become manufacturing hubs to develop almost identical proteins found in human milk. It announced $20 million in Series A financing last November and is currently working toward getting FDA approval and commercialization.

Meanwhile, even with that bump in the road with the FDA, Bobbie did indeed hit the ground running again. It raised $15 million in a Series A round last June and grew to 50 employees from 20 last year. Bobbie now serves over 50,000 parents in each state, and Modi expects the company to grow four times in revenue this year at a pace of about 60% month over month in growth that is not slowing down.

When some investors began knocking on their door, Modi and Hardy saw an opportunity to invest now in the future of the company and its next generation of products that will take more than five years to come to fruition.

So the company today announced $50 million in a Series B round that was led by Park West and included existing investors VMG and NextView and a group of over 100 new investors that are part of AirAngels, the Airbnb alumni syndicate.

Modi was not able to reveal the company’s valuation, but she said it has tripled from where Bobbie was 10 months ago. The new round includes $40 million in venture capital and $10 million inventory debt and gives Bobbie a total of $72 million of funding to date, she added.

The new funding will be deployed into those new formula products. It is also deepening its partnership with Perrigo, its manufacturing partner. Bobbie will also invest in product development and R&D, which includes the launch of Bobbie Labs, a virtual laboratory that will fund infant feeding research and innovation.

Bobbie is also thinking outside the box in terms of additional investment in the company. Last year, it created The MotherLode so that women and its customers could invest in a company that serves them.

Helaina’s latest round brings it closer to market with human milk-equivalent baby formula

Helaina, a company producing a first-of-its-kind infant milk, announced $20 million in Series A financing to usher in its next phase of growth that includes beginning the manufacturing and commercialization process for its first product.

Food scientist Laura Katz, who also teaches food science at New York University, founded the company in 2019, and touts it as “the first company making functional human proteins for food.”

To do this, Helaina is tapping into a precision fermentation process that programs yeast cells and teaches them to become manufacturing hubs to develop almost identical proteins found in human milk.

“When we started Helaina, there was a lot of technology going into a lot of industries, but feeding babies had not advanced too much,” Katz told TechCrunch. “For me, when I thought about where in the population to advance nutrition and health, infants and parents were the first thing that came to me.”

As the infant formula market, poised to be a $103 billion market by 2026, grows, there continues to be shame and stigma around how to feed children in their early years, and Helaina aims to provide parents with a choice of foods that are priced to be accessible to all, but also support as they examine their choices, she said.

Helaina created its first protein and now wants to create all of breast milk’s components, though one at a time. Not only will its product provide calories, but also it will help to build immunity against fungal, bacterial and viral diseases.

The company’s latest round was co-led by Spark Capital and Siam Capital, and includes Plum Alley and Primary Venture Partners. It gives the company $24.6 million in total funding, which includes a $4.6 million combined round of pre-seed and seed investments from 2019 and 2020, respectively, Katz said.

It was a planned round, but what Katz noted was unexpected was the “overwhelming interest” in the company from investors.

“What we found in raising money is such a personal connection to what we are doing,” she added. “So much is happening in food tech, but seeing the ability to use this tech for a product so close to people’s heart has been overwhelming. Lots of people are interested in what we are doing.”

The Series A will enable the company to scale with manufacturing partners to prepare for commercialization. The goal is to grow capability, round out the executive team and finalize go-to-market plans.

The company is working to gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its product and then has plans to use its proteins in a host of consumer products that will be clinically proven, essentially creating a new category within the consumer sector that broadens the definition of nutrition to include immunity, Katz said.

Helaina is not alone in working to create a formula that is more nutritious and best resembles human milk. Earlier this year, Bobbie raised $15 million in Series A funding for its formula modeled after European brands. ByHeart is also developing a formula, while Biomilq says it has produced the “world’s first cell-cultured human milk outside of the breast.”

Katz says the approach her company is taking to create the proteins and focus on making a product that is better in terms of health outcomes is what differentiates Helaina from its competitors.

“Helaina is the first company to bring human proteins to food,” she added. “No one else has done this before. As we expand technology to parents to feed growing children, we are creating this new category that is like consumer immunology.”

Meanwhile, the company is one of the first investments that Sita Chantramonklasri made from her new fund, Siam Capital, which she said invests in businesses that are at the intersection of sustainability and consumer need.

Chantramonklasri spends a lot of her time in the food tech space and heard about Helaina long before she was connected with Katz by Kevin Thau, who led the seed round for Spark Capital, she said.

At the time, she was doing a deep dive into the breast milk space and was looking at some of the novel technology in the space from some of Helaina’s competitors. She spent a lot of time with Katz to understand her background and what Helaina was doing in the space. After spending time in the laboratory and seeing the company’s yeast engineering experience, Chantramonklasri said she felt that Helaina was providing a science-forward product.

“Laura is a fantastic founder and wise beyond her years [she’s 29 years old!] and wants to see the mission of Helaina through,” she added. “The market will get more competitive and timing is the play as is customer loyalty. Helaina is in a position to be an advocate for mothers and families. From a technology standpoint, it is too early to tell what will happen. We see innovation in other cell culture technologies like the Biomilq, but Helaina will be a leader in the space from a progress standpoint.”


Bob Iger goes from managing Mickey to directing a milk replacement startup as new Perfect Day boardmember

Bob Iger, the chairman and former chief executive at Walt Disney is trading his mouse ears for milk substitutes as the new director of massively funded dairy replacement startup Perfect Day.

Milk substitutes are a $1 trillion category and Perfect Day is angling to be the leader in the market. Iger’s ascension to a director position at the company just affirms that Perfect Day is a big business in the big business of making milk replacements.

Unlike almond milk or soy milk companies, Perfect Day is angling to be a direct replacement for bovine dairy using a protein cultivated from mushrooms.

The move comes as Perfect Day ramps up its development of consumer products on its own and through investments in startups like the Urgent Company. That’s the consumer food company Perfect Day backed to commercialize technologies and create more sustainable food brands.

For Iger, the Perfect Day board represents the first new board seat the longtime entertainment powerbroker has taken since he left Apple.

“Innovation and leadership are both key to world changing ideas,” said Iger, in a statement. “Perfect Day has established both innovation in its use of technology and novel approach to fighting climate change, and clear leadership in building a category with a multi-year head start in the industry they’re helping to build. I’m thrilled to join at this pivotal moment and support the company’s swift growth into new categories and markets.”

Iger joins Perfect Day’s co-founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi, and representatives from the company’s international backers and lead investors, Aftab Mathur, from Temasek Holdings, and Patrick Zhang, of Horizons Ventures.

Until yesterday, Perfect Day was the most well-capitalized protein fermentation company focused on dairy in the world. That’s when Impossible Foods, the alternative meat manufacturer which has raised $1.5 billion from investors, unveiled that it, too, was working on a dairy product.

Perfect Day, by contrast, has raised $360 million in total funding to-date.

“We’re thrilled to have Bob Iger join our team, and are confident his tenured operational expertise and visionary leadership style will further help us scale our ambitions,” said Ryan Pandya, the chief executive and co-founder of Perfect Day, in a statement. “We’re focused on rapid commercialization in the U.S. and globally. But we know we can’t do it alone. That’s why we’re excited and humbled to have a proven leader like Bob to help us thoughtfully transform our purpose-driven aspirations into tangible and sustainable impact.”

Competing with both Perfect Day and Beyond Meat, Chile’s NotCo raises $85 million to expand to the US

NotCo, the Chilean food technology company making plant-based milk and meat replacements, has confirmed the close of a new $85 million round of funding to take the company’s products into the US market.

The announcement confirms earlier reporting from TechCrunch that the company had raised new capital, but according to people with knowledge of the investment, the valuation for the company is roughly $300 million, and not the $250 million TechCrunch previously reported.

The funding came from new investors including the consumer-focused private equity firm L Catterton Partners, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s Future Positive investment firm, and the giant venture capital firm, General Catalyst. Previous investors including Kaszek Ventures, The Craftory, Bezos Expeditions (the personal investment firm for Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos), Endeavor Catalyst, IndieBio, Humbolt Capital and Maya Capital, all of which have followed on in this round.

NotCo makes a hamburger substitute that’s currently being marketed at Burger King and Papa John’s restaurants in Chile as part of its NotBurger and NotMeat brands and has a line of dairy products including NotIceCream, NotMayo and NotMilk.

Both markets are not small. With milk alone being a multi-billion dollar category that NotCo chief executive Matias Muchnick believes his company can dominate in both Latin America and the US. That trajectory will put it on a collision course with well-funded competitors like Perfect Day, which raised $300 million in financing earlier this year and launched a new consumer brand subsidiary, the Urgent Company, for products made with its milk substitutes.

For longtime investors in the company, like Kaszek Ventures managing partner, Nicolas Szekasy, the new financing for NotCo validates his firm’s early faith that a company from Santiago, Chile could compete in some of the world’s largest consumer markets.

“We continue to actively support the company since its early days with a strong conviction of the potential that NotCo has to be the leading global player in the food-tech space. In this uncertain time, consumers have amplified their appetite for the plant-based world,” said Szekasy in a statement. “In parallel, COVID has allowed us to see that meat production is not only environmentally harmful and inefficient, but also that its supply chain is fragile. So we are happy to witness an inflection point where plant-based products are becoming an increasing proportion of a new normal, once they can actually taste amazing like we see NotCo crafting.”

Joining the company to help with its international expansion plans are a clutch of seasoned executives from large multi-national food brands. Flavia Buchmann, a former executive at Coca-Cola overseeing the company’s Sprite brand has been tapped as the company’s new chief marketing officer. Former Danone executives Luis Silva and Catriel Giuliano are taking the reins as heads of global business development and research and development, respectively. And Jose Menendez a former banker at Jeffries and executive at Tapad, is now NotCo’s global chief operating officer.

A flood of venture capital dollars have come into the food space since NotCo first burst on the scene and many of these deals are operating at the intersection of novel biomanufacturing technologies and food science. But NotCo’s take on foodtech is more akin to Beyond Meat’s than Impossible Foods or Perfect Day.

The company isn’t making biologically engineered foods, it’s taking its taxonomy of existing foods and determining which combinations of plant ingredients will most closely mimic all aspects of the animal products they’re replacing.

So a closer analogy would be companies like Just or the newly funded Climax Foods. Muchnick said that the difference is in where these companies are spending their time. Instead of focusing on a protein that can act as a one for one replacement for casein or the carbohydrate lactose, NotCo is trying to replicate the whole product — the entire sensorial panel of a particular food.

“Flavors, taste, smell, color, and the interaction between all of them and the molecular components in food,” said Muchnick. “It’s not just the concept of how limited we are to replicating products and how limited to using AI to address other challenges in the food industry.”

For Muchnick, the biggest opportunity for NotCo is dairy. While the company has plans to introduce a number of new products including a chicken replacement to compliment its line of NotBurger and NotMeat products, it’s really the dairy business where the company wants to land and expand.

It’s looking to cut a deal with a large quick service restaurant along with deals for an online channel and a direct to consumer play.

As it grows, consumers can expect to see the company’s brands recede into the background as Muchnick looks to focus on supplying products to other vendors.

“We partnered upstream and downstream,” Muchnick said. The company works with suppliers including Ingredion, ADM, and Cargill and downstream has product partners who will incorporate its milk substitute into other products.

What we want is to be the catalyst of change with many other companies. Why don’t we become the enabler. We’re becoming the Intel inside of other products.”

At that scale, the company would be a prime candidate for public investors, and if Muchnick has his way the company will get there. “We are aiming to have a $300 million company by 2024 with 70 percent of that business in the US,” he said. 

Blackstone’s growth investors lead a $200 million investment into Oatly, the oat milk juggernaut

Investors’ love affair with new, plant-based alternatives to animal products continues as Blackstone Growth, a (newish) investment vehicle from one of the world’s largest financial services firms, said it led a $200 million into the colossus of oat-milk brands, Oatly.

The Malmö based company also attracted some of the biggest names in entertainment, consumer business, and international finance as Oprah Winfrey, Roc Nation, Natalie Portman, former Starbucks Chairman and chief executive Howard Schultz, Orkila Capital, and Rabo Corporate Investments, the investment arm of Rabobank, joined in to finance the company’s latest round.

For Blackstone’s newly minted head of growth investments, Jon Korngold, the deal for Oatly is representative of the types of commitments his firm will make into growth companies. It’s a company that has proven to be a leader in its category, there’s very little technology risk left in the business, but Oatly can benefit from the network of logistics, supply chain, and consumer companies that the investment firm owns.

It’s also a company whose mass adoption can potentially help move the needle on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Oatly is one of those companies that does well by doing good,” said Korngold in an interview.

While the same can’t be said for all of Blackstone’s investments (Blackstone was criticized by former Presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren, for its stake in Hidrovias do Brasil, an infrastructure company reportedly linked to deforestation in the rainforest), Oatly does have significant environmental benefits. The company’s product makes for a more environmentally friendly milk substitute than almond milk (almonds are a hugely water intensive crop) and aren’t processed like the genetically modified milk replacements coming to market. Oats also require less fertilizer which has ancillary benefits for the water table and other forms of pollution.

With the Oatly investment, Blackstone Growth is riding a wave of investor support for the creation of an alternative, more sustainable food system driven by increasing consumer demand for these more sustainable goods. One investor has called the coming tidal wave of innovation around changing food production the biggest entrepreneurial opportunity in a generation.


Launching from YC, Eclipse Foods casts a long shadow over the $336 billion dairy industry

Eclipse Foods may be the company that finally takes milk out of the dairy business.

Ever since the acquisition of WhiteWave Foods by the French dairy giant Danone for over $10 billion investors have been thirsting for a technology that would give consumers a better tasting, more milky (for lack of a better word), milk substitute than the highly valuable (but not very tasty) almond, soy, and other plant based dairy alternatives.

There are at least $37.5 billion worth of other reasons for investors’ interest in the milk alternative category. That’s how much money will be spent on dairy alternatives by 2025, according to a newly released study by the market research firm Global Market Insights.

Enter Eclipse Foods. Founded by two veterans of the alternative sugars and proteins business, the company is going after the whole dairy industry, starting with a line of spreads and select additives for restaurants around San Francisco.

“We had an oh shit moment when we got our plant based milk to act just like the real thing,” says Thomas Beaumon, Eclipse Foods co-founder and the former director of product development at Hampton Creek (now known as Just Foods). “We’re not pureeing nuts or seeds or legumes. We asked, ‘What are the properties of milk?’ and built this dairy base of the exact amino acids and fat profile.”

Thomas Beaumon in the kitchen (Courtesy Eclipse Foods)

Joining Beaumon on the journey to create the perfect milk substitute is Aylon Steinhart, a former specialist working with the Y Combinator aligned food technology incubator and think tank, the Good Food Institute.

The two men met at the launch event for Just Egg, the fourth product to debut from Just after the release of the company’s mayonnaise alternative, cookie dough, and porridge.

“We started talking about ideas and landed on this dairy platform,” recalls Steinhart. “It’s a place where we can make a big change very fast given the technological breakthroughs that we solved for early on.”

The demand is certainly coming on strong. According to Steinhart about 80% of millennials are consuming dairy replacements at least once a week.

Aylon Steinhart (Courtesy Eclipse Foods)

Humans didn’t start out drinking milk. Over the 300,000 odd years that some form of homo sapien has been stalking the planet, it has only been in the past 10,000 odd years that people decided to squirt the liquid out of a cow’s udders to consume it.

At first, humans couldn’t even consume the stuff without getting at least a little nauseous. They needed to develop a genetic mutation to even process the lactose sugars properly.

“The first time that we see the lactase persistence allele in Europe arising is around 5,000 years BP [before present] in southern Europe, and then it starts to kick in in central Europe around 3,000 years ago,” assistant professor Laure Ségurel of the Museum of Humankind in Paris, told the BBC earlier this year.

Segurel speculates that the health benefits of consuming milk might have been related to the exposure (and potential inoculation) to various diseases that may have otherwise spread from the animals to the humans that were raising them.

If that was the rationale, it’s increasingly unnecessary for modern living, and may indeed be more of a hazard to human health.

Global meat and dairy producers could count among the largest contributors to climate change if their growth remains unchecked, according to a report from the non-profit Grain.

They estimate that meat and dairy consumption should be reduced by 81 percent in order to meet global emissions reduction targets.


With the production of Eclipse’s dairy alternative, there’s no animal required.

“We have an off-the-shelf platform right now. The only additive will be water,” says Beaumon.

And unlike other alternative dairy products, Beaumon and Steinhart claim that theirs actually tastes good. And, as a Michelin starred chef, Beaumon should know.

The company’s first line of products will be a line of cream cheeses, including one for the bagel-and-schmear loving crowd. However, the majority will be more millennial focused, according to Steinhart.

“There will be various unique flavors that are culinarily focused,” he said.

Expect the first products to debut in an exclusive pilot with Wise Sons and through the ice cream maker Humphry Slochombe, a leader in high end ice cream in SF.

“Vegan cheese is gross,” he says.

Kegel trainer startup Elvie is launching a smaller, smarter, hands-free breast pump

Elvie, a Berlin-based startup known best for its connected Kegel trainer is jumping into the breast pump business with a new $480 hands-free system you can slip into your bra.

Even with all the innovation in baby gear, breast pumps have mostly sucked (pun intended) for new moms for the past half a century. My first experience with a pump required me to stay near a wall socket and hunch over for a good twenty to thirty minutes for fear the milk collected might spill all over the place (which it did anyway, frequently). It was awful!

Next I tried the Willow Pump, an egg-shaped, connected pump meant to liberate women everywhere with its small and mobile design. It received glowing reviews, though my experience with it was less than stellar.

The proprietary bags were hard to fit in the device, filled up with air, cost 50 cents each (on top of the $500 pump that insurance did not cover), wasted many a golden drop of precious milk in the transfer and I had to reconfigure placement several times before it would start working. So I’ve been tentatively excited about the announcement of Elvie’s new cordless (and silent??) double breast pump.

Displayed: a single Elive pump with accompanying app.

Elvie tells TechCrunch its aim all along has been to make health tech for women and that it has been working on this pump for the past three years.

The Elvie Pump is a cordless, hands-free, closed system, rechargeable electric pump designed by former Dyson engineers. It can hold up to 5 oz from each breast in a single use.

It’s most obvious and direct competition is the Willow pump, another “wearable” pump moms can put right in their bra and walk around in, hands free. However, unlike the Willow, Elvie’s pump does not need proprietary bags. You just pump right into the device and the pump’s smartphone app will tell you when each side is full.

It’s also half the size and weight of a Willow and saves every precious drop it can by pumping right into the attached bottle so you just pump and feed (no more donut-shaped bags you have to cut open and awkwardly pour into a bottle).

On top of that, Elvie claims this pump is silent. No more loud suction noise off and on while trying to pump in a quiet room in the office or elsewhere. It’s small, easy to carry around and you can wear it under your clothes without it making a peep! While the Willow pump claims to be quiet — and it is, compared to other systems –you can still very much hear it while you are pumping.

Elvie’s connected breast pump app

All of these features sound fantastic to this new (and currently pumping) mom. I remember in the early days of my baby’s life wanting to go places but feeling stuck. I was chained to not just all the baby gear, hormonal shifts and worries about my newborn but to the pump and feed schedule itself, which made it next to impossible to leave the house for the first few months.

My baby was one of those “gourmet eaters” who just nursed and nursed all day. There were days I couldn’t leave the bed! Having a silent, no mess, hands-free device that fit right in my bra would have made a world of difference.

However, I mentioned the word “tentatively” above as I have not had a chance to do a hands-on review of Elvie’s pump. The Willow pump also seemed to hold a lot of promise early on, yet left me disappointed.

To be fair, the company’s customer service team was top-notch and did try to address my concerns. I even went through two “coaching” sessions but in the end it seemed the blame was put on me for not getting their device to work correctly. That’s a bad user experience if you are blaming others for your design flaws, especially new and struggling moms.

Both companies are founded by women and make products for women — and it’s about time. But it seems as if Elvie has taken note of the good and bad in their competitors and had time to improve upon it — and that’s what has me excited.

As my fellow TechCrunch writer Natasha put it in her initial review of Elvie as a company, “It’s not hyperbole to say Elvie is a new breed of connected device. It’s indicative of the lack of smart technology specifically — and intelligently — addressing women.”

So why the pump? “We recognized the opportunity [in the market] was smarter tech for women,” Boler told TechCrunch on her company’s move into the breast pump space. “Our aim is to transform the way women think and feel about themselves by providing the tools to address the issues that matter most to them, and Elvie Pump does just that.”

The Elvie Pump comes in three sizes and shapes to fit the majority of breasts and, in case you want to check your latch or pump volume, also has transparent nipple shields with markings to help guide the nipple to the right spot.

The app connects to each device via Bluetooth and tracks your production, detects let down, will pause when full and is equipped to pump in seven different modes.

The pump retails for $480 and is currently available in the U.K. However, those in the U.S. will have to wait till closer to the end of the year to get their hands on one. According to the company, It will be available on and, as well in select physical retail stores nationally later this year, pending FDA approval.