Modeled on the network TV show – Shark Tank – the goal was to attract start-up companies that had innovative dairy products with potential for commercial success.
Carroll and his colleagues at the California Milk Advisory Board in Tracy, Calif., set out to make it happen. At a conference, John Talbot, CEO of the Milk Board met Fred Schonenberg of VentureFuel, a firm that connects startups with venture capital as well as global brands.
Working together, CMAB and VentureFuel attracted 31 entries for the competition and then narrowed the field to nine finalists, with the requirement that each new product would contain at least 51% California fluid milk to be produced in the state. They would compete for a $250,000 investment by CMAB in promotion and marketing support as well as visibility to venture capital investors and dairy firms.
According to Talbot and Schonenberg, “Our goal is to inspire innovation and investment in fluid milk products, packaging and capacity within California.”
The nine finalists each received guidance from 12 industry mentors with experience in branding, promotion, packing and product development as they prepared for the final competition, along with a $25,000 to prepare for the presentations.
“These nine finalists are utilizing an array of pioneering technologies, unique flavor combinations and dynamic creative thinking to highlight milk’s nutritional benefits while reintroducing it in inspired ways to connect with evolving tastes,” say the two organizational leaders.
In keeping with the high-tech approach, each product was sampled by a consumer panel who were evaluated by a digital biometric process, not just a simple preference. Research partner Thimus, itself a start-up company, applies neuroscience and biometric research to electronically determine a person’s preference for a product’s taste and appearance. Using a headband and electrodes that measure a subject’s brain activity, Thimus can identify the impact of a product or experience on its intended target consumer. Based in California and Italy, Thimus works not only with food companies but also celebrity chefs and brands in automotive, fashion and more. CEO Mario Ubiali and Scientific Director Andrea Gariselli tested eight people earlier in the day. The cumulative results counted for one vote. (Your editor tried out this equipment… watch for the video to be posted on Nov. 25)
At the event, the presenters for each finalist had four minutes to tell their story about the product including costs, margins and plan to go to market, followed by judges’ questions.
At the conclusion, votes were tallied. Coming out on top was winner Bears Nutrition, a sports drink fortified with extra protein, vitamins, minerals and Omega 3’s. In second was Perq, a carbonated, flavored dairy beverage from Allpur Nutrition, Inc. While in third was a collagen infused latte by Good Citizens. The Stuyt Dairy Creamery’s “dessertables” liquid yogurt-style drink in a squeeze package was recognized as the favorite by both the people in attendance voting and the electronic evaluation by Thimus.
Most everyone in attendance seemed to agree with CMAB’s John Talbot when he said, “I haven’t been to a dairy event with this much enthusiasm and excitement since… well, I don’t know when!” Best of all, these innovative and delicious new products represent real business opportunities not only for the owner – entrepreneurs but also the dairy producers supplying the milk required.