The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), Tracy, Calif., announced the 12 semifinalists in the Real California Milk Excelerator, the third edition of the CMAB’s dairy product innovation competition in partnership with innovation consultancy VentureFuel. The companies will compete for more than $650,000 in prizes for their emerging dairy products that promote personal performance and recovery benefits.

The 2021 Real California Milk Excelerator taps into the thriving functional foods market — a market that has grown significantly over the past year and is projected to reach over $275 billion globally by 2025, CMAB said. With consumers prioritizing personal health and wellness in response to the pandemic, the competition identified early-stage, high-growth companies with a cow’s milk-based product that plays a critical role in personal performance such as focus, energy, exercise and strength — and/or recovery benefits such as rejuvenation, relaxation, gut health and sleep.

“This competition is designed to inspire new ideas integrating the natural benefits of real milk and dairy products as functional ingredients delivering a flavor and nutritional profile that’s hard to beat. This year’s entries demonstrate the versatility of these ingredients and how they can be used in endless formulations,” said John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “Just as our definition of health has evolved, our desire for functional benefits from our food and beverage choices has evolved with it. Our 12 finalists certainly capture this evolution, with every manner of benefit from maximum athletic performance to gut-health and even sleep support — all in relevant formats that will appeal to today’s consumers.”

VentureFuel, a New York-based corporate innovation consultancy, is partnering with CMAB for a third straight year to direct the program, identifying and recruiting applicants from their global network of investors, founders and academics.

“Each year we see such disruptive and unique products, built specifically around consumers’ evolving needs and wants,” said Fred Schonenberg, founder of VentureFuel. “This year’s applicants were particularly inspiring as each sought to create better-for-you products that can improve and sustain the many ways we define health. We saw applications from Australia to Austin, from local dairy farmers to Ph.D.s to celebrity chefs, all tapping into the natural nutritional value of real dairy. Now we move to accelerating these businesses to drive commercial growth through mentorship, strategic resources and introductions to buyers and investors.”

Each semifinalist’s product is made with cow’s milk dairy as the first ingredient and making up at least 50% of the formula. The startups have committed to producing the product in California, with milk from California dairy farms, should they win the competition. Each semifinalist accepted into the cohort will receive $10,000 worth of support to develop their product further while receiving a suite of resources, CMAB said, including lab or kitchen time, graphic design, consumer insights and elite mentorship from global marketing, packaging, and distribution experts. The first-place winner will receive up to $150,000 worth of additional support ,and the second-place winner, $100,000 worth of additional support to accelerate the commercialization of their product to market. The total value of competition prizing is more than $650,000.

CMAB said the 12 semifinalists for the 2021 RCM Excelerator are:

  • Alexandre Family Farms — fourth generation California dairy farmers with functional brand extensions for liquid milk, powder and yogurt focused on properties for anti-anxiety and gut health.
  • Boba Guys — trendy tea brand Boba Guys, with 15 brick and mortar locations in California, is developing a bottled milk tea latte with key nutrients, vitamins and caffeine to optimize performance and recovery.
  • GoodSport Nutrition — a first-of-its-kind all-natural sports drink made from the goodness of real milk that delivers superior hydration with three times the electrolytes and less sugar than traditional sports drinks.
  • Kefir Lab — Kefir Lab takes kefir and makes it more effective with organic milk cultured with 24 live and active potent protein strains for a bottled kefir that boosts immunity, metabolism and brain health.
  • Nightfood — uniquely formulated by sleep experts and nutritionists, Nightfood ice cream delivers great taste for those nighttime cravings and a sleep-friend nutritional profile to help promote quality sleep.
  • Positive Chemistry — a dissolving pouch that melts in the bath, releasing a bubbly, fizzing mixture of real milk and recovery salts to promote recovery for skin, muscles and the soul. A hidden exfoliating sponge with a message of positivity is designed to float to the top of the bath.
  • Rizo Lopez Foods — award-winning and family-owned, Rizo Lopez utilizes Old World recipes and traditional techniques for their Ready2Go whey products derived from a specially processed whey protein concentrate for a creamy, delicious and gut-healthy drink.
  • ReThink Ice Cream — low-sugar and stomach- and diabetic-friendly ice cream that is infused with fiber and sourced from lactose-free A2 dairy, ReThink Ice Cream is a decadent source of natural nutrition.
  • Sweetkiwi — founded by a McKinsey 2021 Black Executive Leader and certified cultured dairy professional, Sweetkiwi makes whipped Greek yogurt that is low in calories and high in nutrition. Sweetkiwi pints are under 320 calories and formulated with fiber, protein and probiotics for better gut health with fewer calories.
  • The Indian Milk & Honey Co. — sugar-free probiotic lassi with Ayurvedic immunity supporting herbs and spices, that also support mental clarity, in one environmentally-friendly carton.
  • Top O’ the Morn Farms — a California-owned dairy farm with an expansive line of fresh products, Top O’ the Morn’s Cow-Pow chocolate milk is a clean-label pre- or post-workout beverage fortified with whey protein isolate and natural caffeine.
  • Wunder Snacks — a 2020 RCM Snackcelerator finalist, Wunder returns with a new protein keto cheesecake snack bar with 10 grams of clean protein to indulgently refuel.

Semifinalists will participate in a series of mentoring and support events leading up to the virtual pitch event semifinals in November, where four companies will be selected for a final virtual event to select the Excelerator winner, CMAB said.

In addition to the semifinalists, two companies were selected to participate in the new Real California Milk Incubator Boot Camp program, which was built to assist ideas and promising prototypes that are too early for the Excelerator, CMAB said. These companies will receive mentoring and support from VentureFuel, CMAB and the California Dairy Innovation Center (CDIC).

  • Darvida — Darvida’s concept is a bottled, drinkable milk beverage made with 100% fresh colostrum, with high concentrations of vitamins and minerals to improve gut health.
  • Perfect by Nature — Perfect by Nature is using the revolutionary process of high-pressure processing, which leaves the original proteins and enzymes in farm-fresh milk intact, to bring the nutritious and delicious qualities of real fresh milk to the masses.