Perfect Day Foods is a San Francisco-based cellular agriculture company making milk from cell culture. Isha (our CEO) founded Muufri (as it was then known, until they rebranded as Perfect Day in August 2016) with Ryan and Perumal in April 2014. As of 2016, they've raised over $2 million, made their first prototype, and have directed considerable interest and funding to the field of cellular agriculture through their huge press exposure.
Perumal Gandhi holds an early prototype of Muufri's cow-free milk.
April 15, 2014
I emailed two New Harvest volunteers that had never met each other before with an idea. Did they want to start a company to produce milk in cell culture?
Perumal Gandhi and Ryan Pandya of Muufri
My friend Pantea from Synbiota had told me that a new biotechnology accelerator was seeking applicants for summer 2014 and winners would have access to laboratory space, mentorship and $30,000 in initial funding. She wondered if I knew any new start-ups that could apply. I didn’t… but I started thinking. Meat – that’s kinda tough for a few months in the lab. But milk – now that was something you could get going in just one summer.
Ryan Pandya was one of the first people I had spoken with after I joined as New Harvest’s director in January 2013. He had dabbled in cultured meat research and first brought to my attention the idea of making milk in cell culture. He was a biological and chemical engineer who had just graduated from Tufts University.
Perumal Gandhi I had met for the first time less than a month before – he sent me a message on LinkedIn in March asking advice for how to tailor his education. He had a biotechnology undergrad degree and was doing a Masters in Biomedical Engineering at Stonybrook University on a student visa. They were the only two people I’ve met in New Harvest’s network that had mentioned the idea of producing milk in cell culture.
I emailed both of them, asking if they wanted to apply. Amazingly, they did. It was a crazy time crunch. The deadline was in 4 days.
April 19, 2014
We decided to apply as the “New Harvest Dairy Project,” hoping that New Harvest’s established network would help with the application.
Ryan had already done a lot of work on proposals around producing milk in cell culture. He had recently moved to an entrepreneurial co-living space in Boston called Krash, and he got in by posing the idea of producing milk in cell culture. Over the next few hours, and days, I was just shocked and impressed to see how Perumal and Ryan burst forth with all this research literally overnight. Patent searches, protein structures, pros and cons on different steps in the production process. It was inspiring, to say the absolute least.
Four days later, after several hours on Google Hangouts, Google Docs and Prezi, we had a sound presentation. One day ahead of schedule!
April 22, 2014
WE GOT IT! The New Harvest Dairy Project was going to receive $30,000 and laboratory space for the summer. We were thrown into a frenzy of incorporating, buying plane tickets, opening bank accounts, getting visas and quitting jobs. We kept stumbling on what to call this thing. The names we came up with were embarrassing, to say the least (Noccau, Herdler, Bovino are just a sample of the atrocities we came up with). Finally we got on a call and decided on Muufri. Great searchability, a free .com, and we thought it sounded awesome. Haven’t looked back since!
The name and logo we put together for the New Harvest Dairy Project: now known as Muufri!
April 28, 2014
We incorporated Muufri.
April 30, 2014
Ryan lands in Cork, Ireland. When I first saw photos of Ryan in Ireland I couldn’t help but think to myself – “What have I done?!!?!” Seemed to turn out OK though…
May 8, 2014
New Harvest’s Dairy Project goes out in the NH newsletter. Feedback from the newsletter was fantastic. The Muufri team was already receiving fan mail and media inquiries from journalists, including New Scientist – a forefront science magazine in the UK.
Perumal (in a Muufri t-shirt we designed ourselves) and Ryan just outside the lab in Ireland
May 16, 2014
Perumal lands in Cork.
May 19, 2014
Isha lands in Cork. The Muufri team meets in person for the first time ever.
Literally a couple hours after we first met.
Meeting for the first time was nuts. I mean, we were all essentially strangers. I was shocked by how well we got along online and how well we seemed to work together remotely. But what about in person?
It turned out to be a breeze. The other accelerator teams there thought we were all old friends – not that we had just met. It was unbelievable.
Muufri’s new workspace at University College Cork, in Cork, Ireland
The following weeks and months turned out to be a flurry of experiments, research, and making contacts. Without a doubt, New Harvest helped hook Muufri up with all kinds of resources and connections.
June 5, 2014
Natalie lands in Cork.
Natalie Rubio, New Harvest’s intern in 2014, in the lab where Muufri was getting started in Cork, Ireland
During the summer of 2014, Natalie Rubio was New Harvest’s star intern. Knowing she was up for travel this summer, I invited her to come to Ireland to work more closely with me (Natalie and I were also working remotely) and help out with Muufri/take advantage of the accelerator environment and learning experience. Natalie stayed for a whole month.
June 30, 2014
Muufri’s self-authored article appears in New Scientist.
The summer proceeds with a lot of hard work in the lab and online.
Ryan adds precise amounts of milk fats to a mixture of powdered casein, powdered whey, and water. This early experiment was to see if milk could be reconstituted from its component proteins, fats, and water.
July 2, 2014
Horizons Ventures contacts Muufri.
Muufri had been engaging with several investors throughout their time in Ireland, but were especially blown away when Horizons contacted us. The disruptive investment group has a killer portfolio including huge brands like Facebook, Siri and Spotify, alongside our inspiring friends Hampton Creek and Modern Meadow. They had seen our piece in New Scientist and wanted to chat.
July 31, 2014
Ryan, Perumal and Isha land in Hong Kong to meet with Horizons Ventures.
Ryan, Isha, and Perumal in Hong Kong
This was one of the most surreal things for me. I got my ticket to Hong Kong the day before flying out, and the whole 15 hour flight I was thinking to myself: this is nuts. We were getting the richest man in Asia excited about transforming the food system. Our conversation was great and we could feel the excitement. We wanted to do something big and Horizons wanted to help us do that.
As we worked through the paperwork, I decided to remove myself as a company founder on paper. It is important to me to keep the non-profit voice strong in this new, emerging industry. It will help the industry grow faster, more responsibly, and encourage cooperation and communication. I was more than happy to put the future of Muufri in Ryan and Perumal’s extremely able hands. From then on, New Harvest held a bit of equity in Muufri, and I personally have none.
August 29, 2014
Muufri meets again – in New York City. It is beginning to get ridiculous how we’ve been meeting up in places where none of us live. This trip turns out to be more of a fun visit. We check out Modern Meadow’s Brooklyn lab, which is just beautifully outfitted with the most high tech gear – then we check out the community at Genspace and meet a lot of talented folks who can relate to our modern-day, internet-relationship start-up story.
Sarah Sclarsic of Modern Meadow, Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi of Muufri, Francoise Marga and Andras Forgacs of Modern Meadow, Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society of the United States, and Isha Datar of New Harvest at Modern Meadow’s office. Ryan, Perumal, Paul and I tasted cultured meat for the first time just before this photo was taken!
We also made a little jaunt out to Connecticut to meet Ryan’s parents!
Isha, Ryan, Ryan’s Dad Sameer, Perumal, and Ryan’s Mom Nandini at Ryan’s parents home in Milford, CT.
September 1, 2014
Muufri moves to San Francisco.
And really, this is where phase two of the adventure begins. The team starts securing laboratory and office space and the search for new hires begins.
September 30, 2014
$2 Million lands in Muufri’s bank account.
And this is where it all started to finally feel real. I mean, the past 5 months and 15 days had just been an absolutely whirlwind. We were an idea – a seed – blowing in the wind. We went on an international adventure, three people from three different countries – Canada, the US, and India, meeting in three other countries – Ireland, the US and China, not knowing where we were going to land. It was the kind of whirlwind which seems like it’s gonna just blow over or blow away and be gone as quickly as it came. But seeing the money in the bank was like seeing Muufri planting some roots. We’re trying to break ground on making a food future which is sustainable, healthy and humane. This is really, truly, just the beginning.
The new lab space! Newly leased and ready to be outfitted for making milk without cows.
Written by Isha Datar on October 4, 2014.
On March 19, 2015, New Harvest suggested to Ryan and Perumal that they apply for the Dutch Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, the largest annual international sustainability innovation competition that seeks to promote a low carbon economy and a greener future by investing in emerging green entrepreneurs
Six months later, in September, Ryan was on stage in the Netherlands sharing his pitch on Muufri.
With that awesome pitch, Muufri won €200,000 in non-dilutive funding to make milk without cows. Another testament to New Harvest's ability to direct funds to cellular agriculture.
Written by Isha Datar on November 22, 2015
Muufri has their latest milk prototype ready for tasting. Tasters have so far described the milk as having the same mouthfeel as milk from cows.
The latest prototype of Muufri's milk.
Muufri has also expanded their team! Below, from left to right: Balakrishnan Ramesh (Postdoc), Perumal Gandhi (Cofounder), Han Chen (Fermentation), Lou Hom (Strain Development), Ryan Pandya (Cofounder/CEO)
Written by Isha Datar on December 30, 2015
For the past two years, Ryan and Perumal have been hard at work perfecting their process, growing their team, and thinking about the kind of company they wanted to create.
After lots (and lots) of late nights, they decided to change their name from Muufri to something that they felt better captured their company’s values, process, and products.
They came up with hundreds of names. And then one day they stumbled upon a study from two scientists who discovered that dairy cows who listen to soothing music like the Lou Reed song ‘Perfect Day’ are calmer and happier, which makes them produce more milk.
Then it hit them. They could make their own kind of Perfect Day. One where we could enjoy the dairy foods we love, while making the world a kinder, greener place. And, the rest was history.
They’re hard at work on research and development and will be introducing our first products in 2017. Can’t wait that long? Check out their new website to sign up for their newsletter, follow Perfect Day on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Milk is made up of a handful of proteins (casein and whey proteins) and fats. The proteins contribute to the creaminess of milk and the ability to turn milk into cheese (aka the functionality of milk) and the fats contribute to the flavour.
Today, milk is made by artificially inseminating a cow at 13 months of age, having it bear a calf 9 months later, having the calf removed (to be made into veal), and then maintaining the cow in a lactating state for about two years. By age four, the dairy cow is culled for beef.
Milk is usually made by mother cows kept in a lactating state in an industrial setting. Instead, we can make the exact same milk by brewing it, using a culture that consumes simple sugars to make milk proteins.
Muufri’s milk proteins are made in yeast, rather than in mother cows. Yeast is reprogrammed to produce milk proteins by inserting the genes for casein and whey proteins into the yeast cells.
The yeast culture can then be grown in large stainless steel tanks to brew milk. The yeast starter culture consumes simple sugars to produce the exact same milk proteins that a lactating cow would produce. The process of yeast consuming sugar to make a different product is called fermentation. After enough milk proteins have been produced, the yeast and milk protein mixture is separated so only the casein and whey proteins remain.
Ryan warms up some milk fats in a water bath before he adds them to milk proteins and water to make milk.
The fats are sourced from plants. The proteins, fats, and water are combined to make milk. Because this milk is molecularly identical to milk from cows, it can produce cheese, yogurt, kefir and cream.
Compared to producing milk from cows, producing milk proteins from yeast offers many benefits.
First, there are zero animals involved in the process, which means there is no opportunity for contamination by bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli, which live in the gut and feces of animals, nor contamination by other common milk contaminants, such as blood or pus. Because of the reduced risk of contamination, Muufri’s milk could theoretically have a longer shelf life, and require less pasteurization.
Second, it is much easier to maintain a stable supply of milk if it is made with yeast and plant-based fats. The milk supply varies depending on environmental factors and the spread of disease. Muufri’s system is much less prone to these uncontrollable forces.
Third, Muufri is using a very simple organism - a yeast, which doubles every couple of hours - rather than a cow, which produces milk after about two years. Because we’re using a much simpler and direct system for producing milk, it should require less land and water inputs to produce Muufri’s milk. It should also produce fewer waste products and a much safer working environment for milk producers.
Using a yeast based system to produce milk also allows us to do things we could never do before. For example, because we are choosing which components to produce, we can tailor the milk mixture. For example, we can exclude lactose and/or cholesterol. We could also alter the proportions of the components to make milk that is particularly protein rich, or creamy, or flavorful.
The last time we used biotechnology in dairy, we created cheese, yogurt, and other fermented milk products. Today we’re introducing fermentation to dairy in a whole new way, and it’s going to be exciting to see what new flavors and formats these new foods might have.
Written by Isha Datar November 5, 2015