TRACY, CALIF. – The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) unveiled the eight finalists for its fifth annual Real California Milk Excelerator competition, which looks to identify, curate and accelerate dairy-based innovations.

CMAB, which partners with innovation consultancy VentureFuel for the competition, said this year’s cohort represents themes of global flavors, functional benefits and sustainability.

The eight chosen finalists are:

• Arbo's Queso Dip (Memphis, Tenn.) – The company makes gluten-free, keto-friendly queso-style cheese dips.

• The Empanada Shop (Redondo Beach, Calif.) – Empanadas featuring California flavors make use of melted cheese.

• New Alchemy Distilling (El Doradao Hills, Calif.) – The distillery produces Spilt clarified milk punch cocktails, and its process utilizes upcycled whey from cheesemaking.

• Amazing Ice Creams (Stockton, Calif.) – Its novelty cookie wafer ice cream bars are covered in chocolate to stay crunchy.

• Noorysha Yo-Gut (Los Angeles, Calif.) – The company makes a specialty probiotic dairy product, which focuses on supporting gut health.

• Petit Pot (Emeryville, Calif.) – Specializing in French-style dairy desserts, the company also stresses sustainability with paper-based cups.

• Shakewell (Garden Grove, Calif.) – Emphasizing high protein with its drinks, the company’s products include only five ingredients, including upcycled whey.

• WonderCow Nutrition (Valencia, Calif.) – The company formulated a supplement to promote immunity, muscle recovery and gut health using bovine colostrum.

Per the contest’s parameters, each product contains at least 50% dairy. CMAB said the eight members of the cohort were chosen out of dozens of applications which came in from five different countries.

CMAB chief executive officer John Talbot said the open innovation theme of this year’s competition led to a variety of applications and products.

"We continue to see themes of global flavors and ingredients, a focus on sustainable sourcing and packaging, and products that go deep on the functional benefits inherent in dairy to address specific consumer needs from protein to gut health,” Mr. Talbot said. “Each member of the cohort brings something new and exciting to the marketplace and we're looking forward to supporting their journey and ultimately seeing these products in the market with the Real California Milk seal."

The eight participants selected for the 2023 cohort get access to a group stipend, as well as a network of resources for refining and scaling their products and businesses. A mentorship program connects the early-stage companies with established founders, investors, corporate executives and experts, who will offer advice on subjects such as design, marketing, sales, manufacturing, distribution and processing.

Four of the eight companies competing will be chosen at a live pitch contest on Nov. 16 to receive $30,000 that will go toward expanding their products in California. And eventually one company will receive another $100,000 as the grand prize winner for demonstrating the most promising growth over the course of a year.

"The Real California Milk Excelerator is a testament to the dairy community's commitment to forging novel connections with consumers and unexplored markets," said Fred Schonenberg, founder and CEO of VentureFuel. "We've seen incredible displays of innovation and ingenuity from participants over the past four years, and our 2023 cohort continues to underscore the boundless possibilities within the dairy sector."

Since the competition’s inception, the program has worked with 45-plus startups, and some companies have gone on to get their products distributed via UNFI and KeHE. Additionally, CMAB said many of the products that were part of past contests may be found on the shelves of national retail stores.