This issue contains our annual “State of the Industry Report,” which offers a snapshot of current and emerging trends and product development opportunities within each dairy segment.
The report also takes a look at category-specific challenges. And if there’s one challenge all dairy categories share, it’s meeting the call for continued innovation — and doing it quickly.
Cooperatives take the lead
Recognizing this reality, a number of dairy organizations have been putting the innovation pedal to the metal — via accelerator programs that aim to assist startups in getting fresh ideas to market. Both Arden Hills, Minn.-based Land O’Lakes Inc. and Kansas City, Kan.-headquartered Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), for example, launched accelerator programs back in 2017.
The Land O’Lakes Dairy Accelerator program supports innovation in the dairy industry by providing tailored coursework and mentorship to dairy entrepreneurs. To qualify for consideration, companies are required to use dairy as a primary ingredient in their products, the company noted.
Selected participants take part in a three-month course, meeting with both Land O’Lakes and external business mentors and attending seminars focused on topics that include finance, brand-building, sales and leadership development. Past participants include Dreaming Cow, a producer of grass-fed cultured dairy products, and Tulip Tree, a maker of hand-crafted cheese and butter.
The DFA Accelerator, meanwhile, is open to organizations involved in any portion of the dairy value chain, including but not limited to product testing, data management, herd health and management, supply chain optimization, sustainability and traceability, and dairy-focused or dairy-based food and beverages. The 90-day immersive plan is part of the Sprint Accelerator program, DFA noted.
Participants work directly with leaders from DFA, CoBank, Sprint and other industry experts and mentors to create strategic long-term partnerships. Past participants on the dairy foods side include artisanal small-batch butter producer Brooklyn Buttery and milk-based candy-maker Numa Foods.
In late 2018, Agropur, a Longueuil, Quebec-based dairy cooperative, also jumped on the accelerator bandwagon with the launch of Inno Accel. The program aims to help reinvigorate and reinvent dairy with the support of “entrepreneur-in-residence” Patrick Gagné, CEO of the OSMO Foundation; “chief ambassador” Jérôme Ferrer, chef and co-owner of the Europea Group; and a strong network of mentors, Agropur said.
Inno Accel is an offshoot of the Inno Agropur program, the largest open innovation initiative in the North American dairy industry. It matches Agropur’s resources with high-potential startups to reinvent dairy and quickly bring the most exciting innovations to market.
A shot in the arm for milk
Accelerator-type programs aren’t solely the territory of cooperatives. The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) recently launched the Real California Milk Accelerator program. The competition is designed to inspire ideas integrating the values of fluid milk into contemporary products and provide resources to help bring them to market, Tracy, Calif.-based CMAB said.
And that’s something that’s desperately needed: Although true innovation will be critical to growth across all dairy segments, it will be particularly important to the milk category, which has been losing ground to a growing array of nondairy beverages for decades.
The competition specifically aims to inspire innovation and investment in fluid milk products, packaging and capacity within California, CMAB said, by connecting manufacturers, producers, investors, ideas and entrepreneurs for high-quality, sustainable dairy beverages.
CMAB selected nine milk innovators to receive up to $25,000 of support each to develop protocepts while receiving elite mentorship from marketing, packaging and distribution experts. One grand prize winner will be chosen to receive up to $250,000 worth of additional support to deliver its new product to market.