Milk does a body good: 12 startups featuring functional benefits of California dairy compete for $650,000 in prize funds

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/ 10'000 Hours
Source: Getty/ 10'000 Hours

Related tags Milk Innovation Functional food

From immunity- and metabolism-boosting kefir to a sugar-free lassi that supports mental clarity to trendy boba lattes optimized for performance and recovery, the 12 semi-finalists in the Real California Milk Excelerator are reinforcing the old adage “milk does a body good” as they compete for more than $650,000 in prize funds.

The Shark Tank-esque competition​ is hosted by the California Milk Advisory Board and the innovation consultancy VentureFuel as a way to support startups developing and marketing products that showcase cow milk’s performance and recovery benefits and open the door for California dairy farmers to the fast-growing functional foods market, which is projected to reach more than $275bn globally by 2025.

In exchange for committing to produce their products in California with milk from California dairy farm if they win the competition, each semi-finalist will receive $10,000 worth of support for product development and marketing. The first place winner will receive up to $150,000 worth of support and the second place winner will receive $100,000 in support to accelerate their products to market.

The competition comes at a time when consumption of conventional low-fat and non-fat milk are down – falling 4.3% and 14.1% respectively in 2020, according to USDA ERS data​. This continues a downward trend in fluid milk consumption that began in the 1970s. Despite these declines, whole milk sales are a bright spot – climbing 4.1% in the first eight months of 2020 – a shift that suggests growing consumer interest in the functional as well as indulgent benefits of whole milk.

To build on this glimmer of hope for the category, the 2021 RCM Excelerator will work with the following 12 companies to advance their businesses and products before they go head-to-head in a pitch competition this fall:

  • Alexandre Family Farms​ – California dairy farmers developing brand extensions for liquid milk, powder and yogurt with functional benefits, including anti-anxiety and gut health;
  • Boba Guys​ – A 15-store boba tea chain developing a milk tea latte optimized for performance and recovery;
  • GoodSport Nutrition​ – A milk-based sports drink with three times the electrolytes and less sugar than traditional alternatives;
  • Nightfood ​– A line of ice cream designed to help curb cravings for midnight snacks and promote sleep;
  • Rizo Lopez Foods​ – Makers of a line of Ready2Go Whey products that support gut-health;
  • ReThink ice Cream​ – Fiber infused ice cream made with lactose-free A2 dairy;
  • The Indian Milk & Honey Co. – A company that blends ayurvedic immunity supporting herbs and spices in a sugar-free probiotic lassi for mental clarity;
  • Top O’ the Morn Farms​ – A California-owned dairy farm making clean-label chocolate milk for pre- and post-workout consumption;
  • WunderSacks​ – A finalist from last year’s competition that makes protein keto cheesecake snack bars; and
  • Positive Chemistry​ – A bubbly blend of milk and recovery salts that dissolves in the bath to promote recovery;

Two companies still too new to compete in the Excelerator program but with promising milk-based prototypes will receive a mentoring and support from CMAB, VentureFuel and the California Dairy Innovation Center through the new Real Milk California Milk incubator Boot Camp. They include:

  • Darvida​ – which seeks to make a gut-healthy milk beverage made with 100% colostrum. Also known as first milk, colostrum is an emerging ingredient produced just after lactating mammals give birth and packed with immunoglobulins, nutrients and more than 250 functional components that support a newborn’s immune system and digestive health.
  • Perfect by Nature​ – which wants to bring farm-fresh milk to the masses by using high pressure processing to protect the proteins and enzymes in the milk.

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