Editor's note: This story has been updated with an emailed statement from General Mills.
- General Mills appears to be developing an animal-free dairy cheese brand called Renegade Creamery. According to Renegade Creamery's website, which was first reported on by Food Navigator, the cheese would use dairy proteins produced without a cow through precision fermentation.
- Renegade Creamery's website features images of a cream cheese product, as well as shredded cheddar cheese and packaged cheddar slices. The "About Us" page says, "Renegade Creamery is a development brand within the General Mills organization that strives to connect with consumers in order to better understand their needs and produce solutions that provide value."
- Animal-free dairy is quickly going from a concept to an ingredient. Perfect Day has its animal-free dairy proteins in several ice cream brands, including Brave Robot, made by its affiliated CPG maker The Urgent Company. There is no animal-free dairy cheese on the market yet, but Perfect Day and its competitors have said they are working on it.
The Renegade Creamery website — which was registered to General Mills in February, according to domain name records, and launched in March, according to the Internet Archive — could be the beginning of a new era of animal-free dairy products.
While Perfect Day's animal-free dairy is on the market through a handful of smaller and premium ice cream brands, no big CPG company has yet committed to a product using dairy proteins made through precision fermentation. If Renegade Creamery is actually a brand that will be available to consumers in the near future, it's bringing animal-free dairy products to a whole new level.
However, there is the possibility that the website was set up for a brand that will not exist, and it is just a place for General Mills to test the concept of animal-free dairy with small groups of consumers. After all, General Mills hasn't mentioned Renegade Creamery in any public-facing statements, earnings reports, news reports, social media (though Renegade Creamery has a Facebook profile) or on its corporate blog.
General Mills isn't currently in the cheese space at all, though it is working with cottage cheese company Good Culture and plant-based cheese company Kite Hill through its 301 Inc. accelerator program. And aside from the brands General Mills is working with through 301 Inc., the company has no current products that are made through cutting-edge food tech. The Renegade Creamery website says the brand "strives to connect with consumers in order to better understand their needs and produce solutions that provide value," which is not exactly language that signals physical products are imminent.
No animal-free dairy producer has confirmed that they were working with General Mills on this line. Perfect Day, which is one of the larger companies that can create animal-free dairy proteins through fermentation, did not respond to a request for comment by press time. A General Mills spokesperson said in an email that the company is always listening and testing new ideas with consumers, and “in an effort to be agile, we test and experiment with brands and products to better understand a consumer need often showcasing different concepts or ideas."
The Renegade Creamery products, according to the website, "start with our signature plant-based formula and then [we] add dairy proteins we created using well-established fermentation techniques. These proteins are identical to those found in cow's milk, but without the cow." This sounds like a simplified and consumer-friendly description of precision fermentation that could be used to make dairy protein for cheese, though the description of Cheddar Slices says they have no dairy, which means Renegade Creamery could also be exploring the plant-based space.
If General Mills truly is creating an animal-free cheese brand, consumer feedback on the concept has so far been favorable. About 65% of Americans said they are willing to try cheese made with dairy proteins that don't come from animals, and 53.8% said they would be willing to buy it, according to a survey from Europe-based precision fermentation company Formo and the University of Bath. But since this kind of cheese is more of a concept than a product right now, a website with potential offerings connected to a familiar company might get more exact consumer reactions to the idea.