Scientists at Massey University making dairy-free cream, milk powder from seeds

Andfoods plans to soon launch its whipped cream on to the market.
Andfoods plans to soon launch its whipped cream on to the market. Photo credit: RNZ

By Jimmy Ellingham of RNZ

Scientists in Massey University's Palmerston North labs have come up with a way of making dairy-free milk products out of seeds.

And the university is so confident about its technology that it is getting behind a new company that has its eyes on selling to the world.

For the past four years, scientists at Massey's Riddet Institute have worked away at a fermentation process to extract plant-based milk from the seeds of legumes.

They have developed dairy-free creams and milk powders, and the university, through Massey Ventures, was a large shareholder of new company Andfoods, that has raised $2.7 million to get itself off the ground.

A chunk of that was from Icehouse Ventures, a New Zealand venture capital firm.

Andfoods chief executive Alex Devereux said pulses were the seeds of legume plans.

"Things like chickpeas, peas, lentils and beans - and they've primarily been used in their original format.

"We believe we're one of the only companies that's using this particular crop for dairy alternatives."

At the moment, the company was not saying which legume it used, but plans to in the future.

Andfoods chief executive Alex Devereux; Dr Arup Nag.
Andfoods chief executive Alex Devereux; Dr Arup Nag. Photo credit: RNZ

Its chief technology officer Dr Arup Nag said the secret legume was widely used overseas, often as a rotation crop between rice plantings.

"This particular legume grows mostly in India.

"About 70 percent of our production is in India and, me being Indian, I knew about this crop right from my childhood, but never thought of this unique application in dairy alternatives," Nag said.

"These dairy alternatives were not very popular."

Now though, it's a huge industry. By some estimates the dairy-free milk market topped $40 billion last year.

There was oat milk, soy milk and various other products, but Devereux said Andfoods' legume seeds had the edge.

He said the company was initially looking to launch its own whipped cream.

"That's because the unique traits of the material we use, combined with the process we use as well, gives this amazing frothy, foaming, creamy feeling and taste that you don't get with any other dairy alternative without filling it full of other stuff."

Andfoods was angling to be an ingredient-producing company for the food-service industry, he said.

"We're also developing ice cream in ingredient format, so we've got powders and creams that combine to make great ice creams and we're talking with huge multi-nationals around the world on formulations for that."

The products were not bound for the supermarket shelf. Andfoods was instead looking at Asian, European and American bakery and coffee chains.

Through its agreement with Massey, research and development would continue in Palmerston North, but much of the operation could be offshore.

"We source all our material overseas already," Devereux said.

"Making product in New Zealand is still an option, but we're also trying to be as environmentally friendly as possible and I don't believe that shipping ingredients around the world is the best way to do that, so we will likely make offshore and sell into food service outlets in Asia to begin with."

Nag said the company's technology was developed and patented over the past four years.

"Then we decided to commercialise it by forming a company, so that's how the company was born.

"When professionals like Alex and myself joined the company, that's how it started its journey."

Massey would typically develop technology then licence it to other firms, so Andfoods was different, Nag said.

"This time the university has taken a bigger risk and actually wanted to implement it itself.

"You can call it a classic example of a spin-out company. The technology is developed in the university and the company is also co-owed by the university."

Andfoods was trying not to waste anything - even developing its waste product from its primary goods into something healthy that could be added to the likes of muesli bars.

Usually in the industry, Devereux said, such offshoot products became livestock feed.

"So you get very healthy pigs and cows around the country because they get this high-protein, high-fibre slurry they're getting from oat milk factories.

"Our intention, and it's a big ambition, is to turn these into another valuable ingredient product."

Sometimes when Andfoods demonstrated its products, that offshoot attracted the most interest, he said.