Mars unveils ‘earth-friendly’ animal-free dairy chocolate brand CO2COA: ‘We believe there is a sizable consumer opportunity in this space’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Image credit: Mars
Image credit: Mars

Related tags Mars animal free dairy animal free Perfect Day synthetic biology Microbial fermentation Chocolate Confectionery

Mars is dipping its toes into the emerging animal-free dairy space with the launch of a lactose-free milk chocolate brand called CO2COA featuring Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa and Perfect Day’s non-animal whey protein, which is made by genetically engineered microbes, not cows.

Billed as having a fraction of the environmental footprint of bovine whey​, Perfect Day’s protein is bio-identical to the main form of whey protein (beta-lactoglobulin) in cow’s milk, and is now fueling multiple new product launches in milk, ice cream, confectionery, cake mixes, cream cheese and protein powders.

While most launches are from small brands and startups, CPG giants are also paying close attention to animal proteins made without animals, with General Mills trialing an animal-free dairy cream cheese brand called BOLD CULTR​ and Mars getting in on the action with CO2COA, which is launching direct to consumer at​ ($2.39/bar) this week.

Animal-free dairy chocolate: ‘We don't know exactly how big it’s going to be’

In a call with reporters on Wednesday, Chris Rowe, global VP of R&D at Mars Wrigley, said it was early days for the animal-free segment, but added: “We believe that there is a sizable consumer opportunity in this space going forward.

“We don't know exactly how big it’s going to be and how fast it's got to get there, but what we do know is that Perfect Day brings to us a technology that we believe is leading in the industry.”

The plan is to get something out into the marketplace and secure consumer feedback, he said, noting that there is a section within the website for consumers to share feedback.

We've been working together with Perfect Day developing this product for less than a year, which in our category is lightning speed to bring a new product and brand to market.”​ 

‘We're testing a lot of different dimensions of the consumer proposition including how to how best to market this to consumers’

CO2COA bar
INGREDIENTS LIST: Sugar, vegetable oil (palm oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil and/or safflower oil), chocolate, non-animal whey protein, soy lecithin, natural flavor. Image credit: Mars

Asked about the positioning of the product, the ‘earth-friendly’ angle looked to be the most promising he said.

“We're testing a lot of different dimensions of the consumer proposition including how to how best to market this to consumers. At the moment we believe that the planet friendly marketing position is the strongest, but we'll get those learnings through conversations with consumers after they buy it, see it, taste it touch it.”

As to whether the average consumer even thinks about chocolate as something that is potentially not good for the planet, he said: "While it is initially developed to meet more of the evolving taste need of today's conscious consumers, we see this as having appeal to all chocolate lovers."

As to whether there are plans to introduce the brand to bricks & mortar retailers, he said: “We're just going to wait to see how this this online launch goes.”

Packaging: 83% fiber

While the packaging is billed as ‘paper-based’ it is not 100% paper, acknowledged Rowe, who said Mars was conducting recyclability verification testing with How2Cycle.

It is 83% fiber-based. Typically in the marketplace for packages like this, you'll often see flexible plastics, which do a great job of protecting the product and communicating to consumers, but we are going to experiment more with paper based packaging and we've got some launches in other parts of the world… so we continue to experiment with it.

“We are looking to verify the recyclability of the package at the moment. We do believe it will achieve that that classification but that's still a work in progress.” 

Plug and play with Perfect Day

Perfect Day co-founder and CEO Ryan Pandya, who was also on the call, said that while there are lots of different ways to formulate chocolate with dairy ingredients (for example, Mars’ DOVE milk chocolate brand lists skim milk, lactose, and milkfat), Perfect Day’s proteins are designed to be drop-in solutions.

What we wanted to do was create a way that we could go straight into the existing supply chains of where dairy is used today. Dry dairy ingredients are already used in chocolate bar making, so you can pretty much plug it ​[Perfect Day’s whey protein] right in and find that you can manufacture products the exact same way without having to change the infrastructure investments that have been made on the manufacturing side, and without having to come up with completely custom ways of making food products.”

The same applied to ice cream, he said. “Our partners are pretty much able to manufacture ice cream in a typical ice cream process, for cream cheese, it's the same way, so we're excited to be able to do the exact same thing on the confectionery and chocolate bar side.”

Perfect Day logo

Listed on the ingredients declaration as ‘non animal whey protein,’ Perfect Day’s protein is made in a fermentation tank by a strain of fungi that has been genetically engineered to express beta-lactoglobulin, the primary protein in whey.

The fungi is completely filtered out of the final product, which is bio-identical to bovine beta-lactoglobulin from cow’s milk.

Perfect Day received a GRAS no questions letter from the FDA in March 2020​​ ​​affirming the safety of its animal-free whey protein.  

Animal-free dairy cropped

Animal-free whey proteins from Berkeley-based Perfect Day​​​​ now feature in several ice cream brands including Graeter's, Brave Robot, Coolhaus and Nick’s​​BOLD CULTR​​​ and Modern Kitchen​​​​ animal-free cream cheese; Brave Robot cake mixes; animal-free 'milk' brands such as Bored Cow, Strive Nutrition and Betterland; 'Mooless' vegan protein powders from Natreve, and 'V-whey' proteins from California Performance Company; and 'Woo' chocolate bars.

Starbucks has also been testing items featuring milk and ice cream products from Perfect Day in a couple of its coffee shops in the Pacific Northwest.

Animal-free casein proteins - which are more challenging to create without cows on a large scale - are still under development, although several startups say they are gearing up to launch cheeses featuring animal-free casein proteins in the next couple of years (there are four different types of casein protein, and it may not be necessary to produce all of them to get the kind of functionality formulators are looking for​​​​).

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