African Animal-Free Startup De Novo Dairy Bags Pre-Seed Funding For Milk Without Cows

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South Africa’s De Novo Dairy, the continent’s first precision fermentation dairy startup, has announced the close of a successful round of pre-seed funding that will enable to company to push forward on R&D. One of a growing number of startups using pioneering precision fermentation around the globe, the company is creating dairy proteins identical to those found in nature, without the cows or the cruelty.

Launched earlier this year, the Cape Town-based De Novo Dairy is working on pioneering animal-free foods in Africa. Helmed by the same team that founded Gourmet Grubb, an insect protein-based ice cream, De Novo’s round, which remains undisclosed (the team told Green Queen it’s in the “high six figures”), was backed by New York and Singapore-based VC Big Idea Ventures, Kale United, Ryan Bethencourt’s Sustainable Food Ventures as well as additional angels and family offices.

R&D plans on track

De Novo Dairy is betting on precision fermentation technology, the same used by US first-mover Perfect Day, to create a range of animal-free dairy products that include ice cream, cheese, and yoghurt. The products will be lactose-free, cruelty-free, and bio-identical to conventional dairy products.

The company plans to continue its initial R&D efforts, which include creating a prototype, and eventually scaling up production. Thanks to their participation in the Big Idea Ventures accelerator, the startup is on track to meet its targets.

A second funding round is earmarked for early 2022 in order to raise enough for the construction of a pilot production facility.

Africa: a growing food tech hub

Motivated by environmental concerns, weather changes and growing awareness about food security, the landscape of Africa’s alt protein scene is becoming increasingly diverse. Vegan meat brands such as Nigerian-based VeggieVictory and longstanding Durban-based player Fry’s Family Food Co. are giving consumers more options. So too are newer names, including Sea-Stematic, the first South African cell-cultured seafood enterprise, and Mzansi Meat, a cultivated meat startup that is also based in South Africa.

The plant-based sector has enjoyed continued growth in Africa due in large part to concerns about animal welfare and sustainability. Domestic startups bringing innovation into everyday food choices will ensure that this trajectory continues.

“The massive amount of international capital flowing into the African continent is an absolute game-changer for food tech companies such as De Novo Dairy. We are finally getting the opportunity to put South Africa on the map as a hub for food tech companies,” noted De Novo’s founder and CEO Jean Louwrens.

Animal-free dairy on the rise

Looking to use precision fermentation to create a variety of milk-based products, including baby formula, De Novo is in good company with a host of other startups in the sector such as US-Australian Change Foods, which is laser-focused on animal-free cheese made from casein and Formo, a German dairy-free cheese company that recently raised a record-breaking US$50 million Series A.

Perfect Day is undoubtedly the young industry’s de facto giant: the company has announced animal-free whey cream cheese, protein powder and cake mix in recent months, and its Bravo Robot ice cream continues to dominate on store shelves. Earlier this month, the company scored a big win with Starbucks, currently testin Perfect DAY’s milk at a few pilot locations.

Lead image courtesy of Pexels.


  • Amy Buxton

    A long-term committed ethical vegan and formerly Green Queen's resident plant-based reporter, Amy juggles raising a family and maintaining her editorial career, while also campaigning for increased mental health awareness in the professional world. Known for her love of searing honesty, in addition to recipe developing, animal welfare and (often lacklustre) attempts at handicrafts, she’s hands-on and guided by her veganism in all aspects of life. She’s also extremely proud to be raising a next-generation vegan baby.

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