New research on consumer demand for animal-free cheese in the UK conducted by German precision fermentation company Formo in collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan in Canada reveals promising figures for the nascent category and its capacity to disrupt the dairy industry.
The study shows that at price parity, animal-free cheese has the potential to share 33% of the UK cheese market. Moreover, figures suggest that if demand grows and technologies improve, the market share could increase significantly, and the products could become mainstream. The study suggests that 79% of the precision fermentation cheese market will come from traditional cheese consumers.
“The potential loss in market share from animal-free dairy cheese is a significant threat to the UK dairy industry”
But while the industry lowers production costs to reach the same prices as conventional cheese, what is the market’s potential? Study findings show that at a premium price of +25%, animal-free cheese would capture 22% of the cheese market.
Why consumers in the UK
The study, co-authored by Peter Slade, professor at the University of Saskatchewan and Formo analyst Oscar Zollman Thomas, was recently published in the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review Journal.
The study draws data from over 1,200 UK consumers that were asked to choose from various types of cheese, including traditional, plant-based, and animal-free considering their price. According to the authors, the UK is a middle ground between consumer attitudes in the US and the EU, has a growing flexitarian movement, and approvals for novel products are gaining momentum.
Formo has conducted previous studies on consumer attitudes to animal-free cheese. One report found that 71% of consumers would be willing to buy dairy made with precision fermentation. Another report shows that consumers have a positive attitude toward the technology and understand its benefits to animals and the environment.
“It was gratifying to see consumers connect the dots on the motivation behind a new way of making dairy: better for the environment, better for animals, and urgently needed given current population growth,” commented Oscar Zollman Thomas of Formo on the previous report.
Precision fermentation, which uses microbes to produce dairy proteins such as casein and whey, will help transform the food system by reducing the environmental impact of animal agriculture and animal exploitation. Companies in the industry claim that these proteins can create real cheese without the cow overcoming the challenges often associated with formulating plant-based cheese.
After this research, Formo says it is confident of the potential of precision fermentation to transform the dairy industry with its novel products. The company recently unveiled an animal-free cream cheese made with precision fermentation, hinting that it expects to launch this year.
In the UK and EU, novel products such as animal-free cheese, need pre-market approval. The plant-based ingredients specialist Fooditive Group, which claims it can manufacture vegan casein at scale, is waiting for approvals to supply its European customers.
In the US and India, Perfect Day has received approval to commercialize whey proteins from fermentation. Remilk has obtained approvals to market its cow-less proteins in the US and Israel. This June, the US fermentation tech company New Culture debuted its animal-free mozzarella at the popular Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles in a tasting for chefs, culinary influencers, and the media before its official launch in 2024.
“Our research […] speaks to the common suspicion that demand for alternative proteins comes at the expense of other plant-based products. In fact, three-quarters of those who buy animal-free dairy cheese would have purchased conventional cheese if animal-free dairy was unavailable. Notably, most of the market share for animal-free dairy cheese comes at the expense of premium cheese. The potential loss in market share from animal-free dairy cheese is a significant threat to the UK dairy industry,” concludes the study.