Friday, December 8, 2023

Winners of the 2023 Real California Milk Excelerator Innovation Competition Announced

Startups Amazing Ice Cream, Arbo’s Cheese Dip, Petit Pot and WonderCow claim victory in 5th Annual Real California Milk Excelerator Final Pitch Event. Created by the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) and innovation advisory VentureFuel, the competition is designed to discover, fund and accelerate innovation in dairy-based products, from consumer food and beverages to textiles and others. The four group winners will each receive $30,000 in resources and funding to scale their products in California and compete for an additional $100,000 in support based on sustained performance over a period of one year.

In its fifth year, the 2023 Real California Milk Excelerator advances innovation in its truest state: open innovation. As one of the largest dairy competitions in the world, the program is looking for early-stage applicants with high growth potential who can create a 50% cow’s milk-based product or working prototype.

Eight finalists participated in the November 16th live pitch event where they presented to judges from companies representing retail, consumer packaged goods, food distribution and media in front of a live audience of key stakeholders. During the event, 2022 DOSA and Wheyward Spirit cohort members each opened $100,000 and $25,000 in additional funding after demonstrating their ability to grow their businesses in California over the past 12 months. The event also featured a first-ever “Future of Dairy Expo” where attendees tasted and tested products from 15 of the industry’s newest startups, and a panel highlighting the insights of impact of dairy innovations on retail sales and consumer behavior.

“It is a great privilege and honor to be part of the CMAB and VentureFuel Family,” said Donald Anit, Founder of Amazing Ice Cream. “Seeing how dairy products are processed in California, from beginning to end, inspired us with an endless vision of the paths of the dairy industry. Meeting new processors, Buyers and partners add many assets to the growth of our business and the future of our company.

“As the only non-CA-based brand selected for the Excelerator, I jumped at the opportunity, and immediately felt that Arbo’s Cheese Dip had struck gold because of the recognition and inclusion. When I toured the Fiscalini Farmstead operation, it the first time I really felt what it takes for a milk-based brand to be a business from the beginning to the end, and their work is not a walk in the park,” said Andrew Arbos, Founder and CEO in Arbo’s Cheese Dip. “California dairy farmers are focused on a cleaner, more sustainable future, but they need brands like ours to support them. This is why I became so passionate about adding the Real California Milk seal, because it carries the true weight of what it takes to be innovative and sustainable. Chosen as one of the winners, it is my duty now to support California farmers, so that we can collectively provide the highest quality products across the country.

“We are truly humbled to be selected as a cohort winner in such an extraordinary assembly of innovative companies. This recognition is a testament to the dedication and hard work of our team over the years,” said Maxime Pouvreau, Founder of Petit Pot. “The timing of this prize could not be more perfect, as we will use the funding to support the new Petit Pot paper cup desserts at Publix and Target. We look forward to working with CMAB to push the awareness and relevance of our products and Real California Milk nationwide.”

“Being part of the CMAB cohort has been a great experience for our WonderCow team,” said Rob Diepersloot, Founder of WonderCow. “We have met many like-minded entrepreneurs, educators, and industry leaders who we will continue to collaborate with as we grow our new company. It is these relationships and connections that will guide us as we take WonderCow to the next level.” level. California’s dairy industry has an amazing story when it comes to innovation and sustainability, and we’re so blessed to be a part of it.”

“It was a close competition this year, with each member of the cohort bringing something interesting to the table. In the end, however, the four winners each had a strong product and a complete selling story that will connect with consumers,” said John Talbot, CEO of CMAB. “California dairy families understand the value of innovation and are investing in research and opportunities like the Excelerator competition to ensure continued role for real milk and milk in the changing lives of consumers.”

“This year’s winners – ranging from pastry chefs to veterans – demonstrate the bright future and dynamic impact of combining dairy with innovation,” said Fred Schonenberg, CEO of VentureFuel. “Each of the founders is dedicated to driving excitement and demand for Real California Dairy through their innovative products and we look forward to supporting their continued growth as they seize the opportunities created from the program.”

The eight Excelerator finalists were selected from a field of dozens of qualified entries and over the course of 12 weeks had access to a group stipend and a strong network of resources to refine and scaling their product and business. They also participated in the CMAB/VentureFuel Mentorship Program, which consists of elite advice from successful founders, investors, top corporate executives, and experts across the design, marketing, sales, manufacturing, distribution, farming, and processing industries. Past mentors include venture capitalists, successful entrepreneurs, and executives from organizations such as Unilever, UNFI and Mondelez. The total value of the competition awards is half a million dollars.

The 2023 Real California Milk Excelerator celebrates the state’s role as the number one dairy producer in the United States. California, known for innovation, has a reputation for quality dairy products and leads the nation in sustainable dairy farming practices. More than 1,100 family dairy farms produce the milk found in fluid milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, and other dairy products recognized by the Real California Milk seal.

Over the past four years, Real California Milk Excelerator has worked with more than 45 startups across multiple categories including food, beverage, direct-to-consumer platforms, textiles, and personal care. . Representing nearly 40 percent of states across the US, the program’s alumni have gone from idea to distribution in organizations such as UNFI and KeHE; and many can now be found on the shelves of retailers such as Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, Amazon, and Whole Foods.

Details about the 2023 cohort, mentors and the final pitch event are available on the RCM Excelerator site.

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