Leonardo DiCaprio Joins Startup Perfect Day to Fight Climate Change with Animal-Free Dairy 

Ahead of Earth Day, animal-free technology company Perfect Day announced its Sustainability & Health Advisory Council (SHAC), new advisory board with a diverse group of members, including actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio. Founded in 2014 by entrepreneurs Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi, Perfect Day is establishing a new food category, animal-free dairy, with its innovative technology that removes the cow from the production of dairy proteins and instead relies on microbial fermentation. “A full-fledged response to climate change must bring innovation to all aspects of our daily lives—including to the foods we consume,” DiCaprio said. “Perfect Day’s forward-looking vision offers a new model for reducing the impact that our diets have on the planet. I’m pleased to be part of their advisory council and work together to support our shared urgent environmental mission.”

The company creates vegan, dairy-identical whey proteins by inserting a cow’s DNA sequence as a blueprint into yeast-based microflora—tiny living organisms used to make everyday items such as vitamins and probiotics. The flora then takes the place of a cow and undergoes an acellular (without animal cells) fermentation process producing an abundance of proteins that can be used as a base for “flora-based” products that are indistinguishable from dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and ice cream. In addition to removing animal cruelty from the equation, Perfect Day’s process is far more environmentally friendly than traditional dairy production.

Perfect Day’s environmental impact

In conjunction with announcing the new advisory board, Perfect Day shared a comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)—an evaluation of environmental impact measured by inputs along a supply chain—of its innovative animal-free protein. The LCA found that Perfect Day’s whey protein generates at least 85 percent and up to 97 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional whey production methods. Perfect Day chose to first analyze its greenhouse gas emissions—the first of many environmental impact assessments—because it is the area in which traditional dairy production has the greatest negative environmental impact.

In addition to DiCaprio, the founding members of Perfect Day’s new sustainability council include experts across agriculture, health and wellness, food policy, sustainability, and nutrition such as Katharine Kreis (head of global nutrition at the United States Peace Corps); Ann M. Veneman (former US Secretary of Agriculture and UNICEF executive director); and Dariush Mozaffarian (an expert cardiologist). Members of the SHAC will be responsible for advising the company on its roadmap to tackle the most significant food and environmental issues with the greatest impact; providing diverse perspectives to help Perfect Day navigate challenges at the intersection of health, agriculture, sustainability, food, and technology; and holding Perfect Day accountable to ensure a balance between business and global impact. 

“We have an urgent need to scale innovative solutions that address global nutrition inequities and health challenges across our food system,” Mozaffarian said. “I’m thrilled to join this Council and help guide Perfect Day’s critical work to build a more accessible platform for delivering high-quality nutrition globally.”

Animal-free dairy products

In July 2019, Perfect Day released a 1,000-pint, limited-batch of ice cream which, despite a hefty price tag of $20+ per pint, sold out within 24 hours. While Perfect Day is capable of making its own consumer-facing products, to create the biggest impact, Pandya and Gandhi are partnering with existing companies that can use their innovative proteins to develop vegan versions of their traditional dairy product lines. Perfect Day’s animal-free whey protein is now used by several ice cream companies, including San Francisco-based Smitten Ice Cream shop, Swedish-style ice cream brand N!CK’S, and Graeter’s Ice Cream—America’s oldest family-run craft ice cream maker founded in 1870 which launched its first vegan line, with the help of Perfect Day, last year. 

Perfect Day also teamed up with longtime dairy developer Paul Kollesoff to launch The Urgent Company—which is using the tech company’s flora protein to launch entire product lines. The Urgent Company’s vegan ice cream line Brave Robot made a limited retail debut in July 2020 and is set to expand its pints (in flavors such as Blueberry Pie, Hazelnut Chocolate Chunk, and Raspberry White Truffle) to 5,000 retailers by April 22 (Earth Day). In celebration of Earth Day, Brave Robot will give out free Perfect Day-powered pints, Graeter’s will offer free scoops of its Perfect Indulgence vegan line, and Nick’s will offer customers a chance to win a year’s supply of its vegan ice cream made with Perfect Day. This year, the company is also working on new developments in the animal-free cheese space.

“We began Perfect Day with a mission to create a kinder, greener tomorrow. Our mission is urgent, and the direction of this group will help us maximize our impact,” Pandya said. “Leonardo DiCaprio and our other Council members share our passion and hunger to combat the climate crisis and foster a global food system that prioritizes nutrition equity. Together, we’ll work to bring more nutritious, scalable, and sustainable options to people around the world.”

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