Four functional treats compete for $250,000 in Real California Milk Excelerator competition finals

Sweet treats with functional benefits took home the four finalist spots this week in the Real California Milk Excelerator product innovation competition created by the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) and VentureFuel. The finalists tap into the nutritional and flavour profiles of milk and dairy ingredients to deliver performance and recovery benefits in products consumers crave.

Finalists include:

  • Nightfood – Uniquely formulated by sleep experts and nutritionists, Nightfood ice cream delivers great taste for those nighttime cravings and a sleep-friend nutritional profile to help promote quality sleep.
  • ReThink Ice Cream – Low sugar, stomach and diabetic-friendly ice cream that is infused with fibre and sourced from lactose-free A2 dairy, ReThink Ice Cream is a decadent source of natural nutrition.
  • Sweetkiwi – Founded by a McKinsey 2021 Black Executive Leader and certified cultured dairy professional, Sweetkiwi makes whipped Greek yogurt that is low in calories and high in nutrition. Sweetkiwi pints are under 320 calories and formulated with fiber, protein, and probiotics for better gut health with fewer calories.
  • Wonder Monday – A 2020 RCM Snackcelerator finalist, Wonder Monday returns with a new protein keto cheesecake snack bar with no added sugar and 10g of clean protein to indulgently refuel.

These four innovators were selected from a field of 12 semi-finalist competitors during a two-day virtual pitch event judged by a group of experts from Hershey’s, Nestle, Mars, PepsiCo Ventures Group, Amberstone Ventures, Branch Venture Group,, Rosa Brothers Milk Company, Health Magazine, SnackRiot, and The Save Mart Companies. Over 2,000 fans also were able to vote virtually through Perksy, which provides market research for the mobile generation.

Nightfood, ReThink, Sweetkiwi and Wonder Monday move on to the final, live event at 5 p.m. PST on 18 November where they will compete for $150,000 in marketing support to bring their visions to market with a runner up receiving $100,000 towards the same goal. Registration for the event is available online.

“We had tremendous diversity in our field of semi-finalists this year but ultimately, the four products moving to the finals reflect America’s sweet tooth and our continuing desire for treats that don’t give up taste in favor of function. And the votes through Persky, which polled 2000 consumers on which of these products they would be most interested in buying, support the judge’s decisions,” said John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “These creative products are tackling some of consumers bigger concerns around sugar content and lactose sensitivity without sacrificing the taste and texture that make a dessert something special.”

The 12 semi-finalists received $10,000 worth of support each, to develop an edible prototype, while receiving a suite of resources including graphic design, lab or kitchen time and elite mentorship from global marketing, packaging, and distribution experts from companies including Branchfood, Brandology, Bristol Farms, the California Dairy Innovation Center, Diageo, Garrand Moehlenkamp, Heywell, Highlight, Ignite2x, Ketchum, LA Distributing Company, Lemos Jerseys, Mondelēz International, Rodeo, Vori, and Whole Brain Consulting. The total value of competition prizing is over $650,000.

“Great innovators often take something we love and make it better by removing an issue or adding a benefit,” said Fred Schonenberg, founder of VentureFuel. “Each of these entrepreneurs have created delicious products we all love to eat – but now help us optimise our health by delivering on the functional benefits of dairy.”

For the final event, each founder will be presenting to an all-star judging panel of experts from across CPG, retail, venture capital and food science, featuring: Russell Barnett, managing director/CMO of My/Mochi Ice Cream, Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy, Heather Boyd, managing director, RTD of Beam Suntory, Chad Coester, SVP Own Brands at Albertsons Companies, Chris McCann, CEO of, Julia Bello, principal, Local Producer Loan Program at Whole Foods, John Talbot, CEO of the California Milk Advisory Board, and Adriano Torres, senior director Global Marketing, Dairy & Plant-Based Beverages at Coca-Cola.

“It’s a tremendous honour to be a finalist in this years’ RCM Excelerator program. With support and access to resources from CMAB, we’re looking forward to securing distribution for sleep-friendly Nightfood ice cream sandwiches in hotel lobby shops across the country,” said Nightfood founder and CEO, Sean Folkson.

“We are so excited to make it to the finals, it was such a shock and means the world to us,” said Sweetkiwi founder and CEO Ehime Eigbe. “For a small brand that started in my kitchen, I cannot believe how far we have come. Thank you for the CMAB and VentureFuel for this amazing opportunity.”

George T Haymaker III, founder and CEO of ReThink Ice Cream shared, “We’re grateful to be moving onto the next stage of the CMAB/VentureFuel Dairy Innovation competition. In terms of what it means for our brand, more than anything it’s validation that others (consumers and CPG experts) feel we are on the right track and have a product of value to offer consumers; that it fills a need not currently being filled by other brands. We are trying to make ice cream as healthy as possible, without taste and texture being negatively affected. We want all people, regardless of health circumstances or restrictions, to have access to a great-tasting, creamy and decadent ice cream experience.”

Candace Wu, co-founder of Wonder Monday agreed, “We’re thrilled to be moving on to the finals, and by the reception to our 1g net carb, no sugar added cheesecake. We loved hearing the reactions of the judges when they tried their first bite. We’re glad that everyone loves cheesecake as much as we do! Thanks to CMAB and VentureFuel for giving us this fantastic opportunity.”

California, known for innovation, has a reputation for quality dairy products. As the number one producer of fluid milk in the nation, California also leads the nation in sustainable dairy farming practices. More than 1,100 family dairy farms produce the California milk found in fluid milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products identified by the Real California Milk seal.

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