Friday, November 20, 2020

Dairy Foods Innovation: Two thoughts to fuel product development and marketing in 2021


Photo: Jessica Weiss Levison, founder and CEO, Peekaboo Ice Cream

For the majority of us, this year has been unlike any other. All aspects of life were disrupted and continue to evolve. Our agile nature enabled most of us to pivot and adapt, as best as possible. 

Last night while judging the virtual semi-finals of the Real California Milk Snackcelerator, I concluded that while the dairy industry is already amazing, the two areas where we excel can be summed up with two terms: clean and relationships. 

What we all learned in 2020 is that clean hands and surfaces have never been more important. We also learned the power of strong relationships with family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. Clean and relationships are not something to take for granted. There’s no price tag to put on either. 

For the dairy world, clean and relationships have additional meanings. Communicating these concepts through product innovation and marketing will keep dairy thriving in 2021.  

To mark its 90th anniversary, Anderson Erickson (AE) Dairy, for example, is serving up some nostalgia by bringing back vintage carton designs for its AE French Onion and Party dips. It’s all about connecting with the consumer. It’s one type of relationship where regional dairies excel.

Clean: Think nutrient-dense white canvas that can be consumed as milk or simply converted into delicious foods—butter, cheese, ice cream, whey, yogurt and more—with the help of just a few natural ingredients, stainless steel machinery and a dedicated team. 

Relationship: Think of that dedicated team, from the farmer to the retailer to the customer. 

Clean: Think farm to table transparency, often on a local level.

Relationship: Think of how cows (ruminant animals) contribute to healthy soil through regenerative agriculture practices. 

Clean: Think of how our virtuous nature helps entrepreneurs bring dairy innovations to market to keep dairy foods relevant.

Relationships: Think of how small the dairy industry is and how much we care and look out for each other. 

Last night the four finalists of the California Milk Advisory Board’s (CMAB) Real California Milk Snackcelerator presented to a panel of eight judges, me included. There was an instant connection among all the judges, even though most of us had never met and now were only doing so through a screen. But the fact that we were giving up almost three hours of our evening to help grow the dairy industry was pretty darn impressive. 

Honestly, if felt fabulous to be involved, albeit remotely. The thing about all this remote communicating is that it requires two (or more) agreeable parties to commit to clicking that link and connecting. It’s not like a convention or exposition where you start random conversation with someone at their booth or over a glass of wine and canape. The dairy industry is a relationship-driven business and gives us leverage over so many other food and beverage categories. 

With that said…all four finalists presented delicious concepts with clean ingredient labels. All four were winners in my book. But because there can only be one winner, once all votes were counted, Peekaboo Ice Cream took home the grand prize of $200,000 to bring a 3.6-ounce mini cup of its organic ice cream with hidden vegetables to the snacking category.

Flavors are: Chocolate with Hidden Cauliflower, Cookie Dough with Hidden Zucchini, Cotton Candy with Hidden Beets, Mint Chip with Hidden Spinach, Strawberry with Hidden Carrot, Unicorn Swirl with Hidden Zucchini, and Vanilla with Hidden Zucchini. 

Want to know how Peekaboo tastes? Watch THIS.
Congrats to Jessica Weiss Levison, founder and CEO, and her team!

Peekaboo's mission is to solve the parental dilemma of getting children to consume more vegetables by putting them into a format they can't get enough of: ice cream. As the owner of a popular ice cream scoop shop in Miami, she turned her frozen dairy knowhow into flavorful superpremium ice creams hiding a nutritious, vegetable secret. The products are currently available in pints at select retailers but Levison is looking forward to introducing the single-serve snack line and expanding distribution with Real California Milk at the core. 

“Like many of our fellow startups, we confronted what seemed like insurmountable challenges this year. This win validates our innovation, our mission and our team’s hard work and resilience,” said Levison. “We learned so much from this Snackcelerator experience and cannot wait to launch Peekaboo minis into the market, made with Real California Milk, of course! Much gratitude to everyone involved.” 

It’s all about relationships.

The first runner-up was Yummy Industries for its line of Cheese Bits snack packs. The start-up company received $100,000 towards the same goal. These innovators are producing all-natural, fresh and wood-smoked scamorza and chechil cheeses, conveniently shaped and packaged for snacking fun.

“Being selected as a semi-finalist really was significant for us because we were associated with a tremendous caliber of founders and snack concepts,” said Yummy Co-Founder Stefen Choy. “Throughout this process, the feedback and mentorship sessions have really helped move our business forward significantly. We have changed our strategic plan and even added a broker based on this competition. The bonus of continued support as a runner up is icing on the cake.”

It’s all about relationships.

The two other finalists were:
Petit Pot, which developed an indulgent, clean-label refrigerated chocolate mousse dessert made with organic ingredients and sold in two packs of glass jars. 

Sach Foods Organic Paneer, which plans to make a snack-size bar of its flavored artisanal paneer cheese. 

“This was a tough decision, all four of these finalists presented products that fit the needs of our current consumer and each with their own unique take on snacking. Peekaboo just had a slight edge because of its unique concept marrying two things that normally don’t go together like ice cream and vegetables and then executing the producer perfectly in terms of creative flavor combinations,” said John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “Not only are we excited to grow the dairy snack portfolio offered with Real California Milk by helping to expand distribution for Peekaboo ice creams, we look forward to continuing our relationship with all of our finalists and semi-finalists to see what they are able to achieve.”

Fred Schonenberg, CEO and Founder of VentureFuel, managers of the event, said, “Innovation is the ultimate growth accelerator for any business or category and this competition continues to deliver a flywheel of new ideas, new products and new ways to think about dairy from a consumer perspective. When my family begged me for more samples between the semi-finals and finals, I knew we had chosen four winners all, of which can make an impact on-shelf. Peekaboo’s cotton-candy with beets flavor dominated the pre-judge chatter as one of the most delicious and unique desserts the judges had ever tasted, meanwhile Cheese-Bits was the product everyone was snacking on behind the scenes. They are making premium cheese easy to snack on and introducing new styles and flavors that will stand out.”

To watch the taped event, link HERE. (There were some technical difficulties with background noise near the beginning. Don’t let that deter you from watching. There’s a lot to learn from others. It’s all about relationships.) 

Ready to expand your expertise? Link HERE to some quick-bite videos on ingredient solutions, consumer insights and helpful applications advice to keep dairy foods relevant. 

got a great new product idea?  
Five years after launching its initial Accelerator program, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) is gearing up for its 2021 program with the announcement of a new name, DFA CoLab Accelerator, and continued focus on helping accelerate and grow ag-tech and dairy food product companies. With the latter, DFA has worked with a number of startups including Cheddies, an all-natural, protein- packed cheddar cheese cracker; RifRaf ricotta cups, a first-of-its-kind ricotta cheese snack cup; and Wheyward Spirit, a new clear liquor that takes excess whey from dairy and turns it into a smoother, better-tasting and more sustainable farm-to-flask spirit.

“As we start thinking about recruiting companies for our fifth year program, what’s really exciting is that we continue to work with many of our past participants, which is the end goal, to hopefully help and partner with them in some way,” says Doug Dresslaer, director of innovation at DFA. “On the food front, the sky is really the limit as long as one of the main ingredients is dairy. This last year, we had several entrepreneurs who had developed products using dairy by-products like whey, which is really exciting because these types of innovative products go beyond the traditional dairy case, which is helping drive industry growth.” 

For the 2021 program, DFA is looking for early-stage food product companies that are dairy-focused or dairy-based, including products using milk, cheese, butter, whey or other milk-based ingredients. The DFA CoLab Accelerator includes: a 90-day immersive program, with both in-person and virtual training and mentorship from April 2021 to June 2021; access to top executives at DFA, with each startup having a senior-level DFA contact relevant to their business area; educational sessions on a variety of topics important for startup growth, including finance, business development, distribution and supply chain, product development, brand building, sales and marketing, packaging and pricing; and additional workshops that focus on areas such as leadership development, team building and creating company culture. 

For more details and the 2021 application, link HERE.

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