Three dairy innovators – lu.lu Ice Cream, Oakfield Corners Cheese LLC and Terra Firma Farm – were named winners of the inaugural Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition following a pitch competition on Aug. 8 in Stocking Hall.
Funded by a $1 million grant from the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC) and administered by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement (CREA) and Northeast Dairy Foods Research Center, the competition supports food innovators in launching value-added dairy products made from ingredients produced in the Northeast.
Oakfield Corners Cheese produces Mexican-style cheese, addressing a market need for the Hispanic community, which represents the second-largest demographic in the country. Terra Firma Farm’s ready-to-use, premium ice cream base, “Your Turn to Churn,” allows consumers to make their own ice cream in minutes, while lu.lu Ice Cream offers gelato made with goat milk.
“Our growth from this program has been enormous, purely from the fact that we had the ability to learn how to make our product fully lactose free,” said Laura Mack, founder and owner of lu.lu Ice Cream. “As opposed to just having good digestibility, we now can express to the consumer that it’s lactose free. That would not have happened if we weren’t in this program.”
Each of the three winners receives $55,000 to further develop their products and bring them to market, in addition to ongoing business mentorship and a presence at the Dairy Innovation Showcase at the 2023 Grow-NY Summit, Nov. 14-15 in Binghamton, New York.
The program drew more than 50 applicants from across the United States in its first year, including those making products on small and organic farms. Ten finalists, selected by a committee of dairy experts, were each provided with $20,000 for competition-related expenses, along with early stage incubation assistance from Cornell’s food processing and business experts, access to the university’s food processing facilities, industry mentorship and training on product prototyping.
“Congratulations to all of our dairy innovators, who made the inaugural Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition such a success,” said Laura Ginsburg, center director for the NE-DBIC. “This competition highlights the creativity and energy that dairy entrepreneurs bring to their work, showcasing new ideas and products which build on the strong tradition of dairy that is foundational to the region.”
Judges John Chrisman, CEO of the American Dairy Association North East; Sue Miller, award-winning cheesemaker and co-founder of the Birchrun Hills Farm; and Anson Tebbetts, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, determined the three winners based on:
- Dairy product concept and execution;
- Dairy product innovation or improvement;
- Viability of commercialization and business model;
- Use of dairy ingredients; and
- Consumer value
“Today’s Dairy Innovation Competition showcased how dairy innovators can harness entrepreneurial skills to create and scale value-added products that address today’s consumer preferences while increasing the utilization of dairy ingredients produced in the Northeast,” said Jenn Smith, CREA’s director of food and ag startup programs. “Congratulations to this year’s entire cohort, who are all helping to strengthen our rural economy and make our regional food system stronger.”
From May until early August, finalists received industry mentorship and entrepreneurship coaching that included support with pitch development, technical training, and identifying industry networking and resource opportunities. The NDFRC helped develop the competition program, recruiting industry mentors and determining necessary resources.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled with the progress the Dairy Innovation Competition participants made over the course of the program,” said Sam Alcaine, M.S. ’07, director of the NDFRC and associate professor of food science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “This competition sparks more product lines and business opportunities for our region’s dairy farmers, continuing to solidify the Northeast as a leader in the dairy industry.”
Lauren Simpson is a marketing communications coordinator for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement, a division of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.