CALIFORNIA – The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) has partnered with VentureFuel to launch the new and improved return of its annual dairy innovation competition. The Real California Milk (RCM) EXCELerator, the third installment of the CMAB competition, will award $650,000 in prizes for new dairy products that aim to improve athlete performance and recovery benefits.

The contest, which is one of the largest dairy competitions in the world, showcases the prosperous functional foods market – a market that has seen significant growth in just a year’s time and is expected to reach over $275 billion globally by 2025. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen consumers paying more attention to their personal health and wellness. As a result, this competition seeks applicants who are in the early stages of creating a high-growth, milk-based product that plays a critical role in personal performance (focus, energy, strength, etc.) and/or recovery (relaxation, gut health, sleep, etc.).  

Over the past year, there has been an increase in companies conducting research on how athletes, from professionals to novices, perform during a workout, as well as the subsequent recovery afterward. New technology has been developed in an attempt to improve performance and cutdown on recovery times, with many companies looking to complete these goals in a more natural plan of action – this includes a dairy-driven alternative. 

“Consumers are redefining what health and wellness means and looking for foods that provide not only flavor but functionality to help them achieve optimal health” said CMAB CEO John Talbot. “Whether to maximize daily performance or replenishment after physical activity, dairy is the ultimate functional food supplying quality protein plus several vital nutrients that translate to the products consumers are looking for today. With the EXCELerator and Incubator platforms, we will be able to support companies as they innovate with dairy to bring more of these products featuring milk from California dairy farmers to market.”

California has a reputation for creating unique, high-quality dairy products. Over 1,200 family dairy farms produce the California milk found in grocery store staples such as cheese, ice cream and other dairy products. As leaders in the dairy industry, the state is aiming to bring a new wave of innovation and investment potential to the market. 

Up to a dozen applicants will be selected to join the RCM Excelerator program, with each contender receiving a $10,000 stipend to help support and refine their business. Each applicant will also be entered into the CMAB/VentureFuel Mentor Program, which is made up of founders, investors, leading corporate executives, and experts in fields to help make their products successful in the marketplace. 

The first-place winner will receive up to $150,000 worth of additional marketing support from CMAB to help accelerate their product growth, with second place receiving $100,000. To further advance opportunities for finalists, a private event will be hosted for finalists to pitch to actual clients to drive business development and secure financing. The value of the competition awards is totaled at $650,000.

A new element added this year includes CMAB and VentureFuel awarding three companies the ability to enter into the new Real California Milk Incubator Boot Camp, which is a viable option for companies that are too early for the competition. Led by executives at CMAB, VentureFuel and the California Dairy Innovation Center, participants of the boot camp will also gain entry into the VentureFuel Mentor program.

In previous years, the EXCELerator competitions have focused on fluid milk and snacking product startups. This year, a collaborative platform was created to further product-oriented innovation and enhance productivity for the California dairy industry through research, training and education.

“Excelsior is a Latin motto meaning ‘Ever upward’ and after the tremendous success of our first two programs with CMAB, where we have provided mentorship and accelerated 24 dairy focused startups, we wanted to cement a name that showed our commitment to moving the industry ever upward, ever quickly – this is how we landed at the Excelerator,” said Founder of VentureFuel, Inc. Fred Schonenberg. “By adding the Incubator Bootcamp and Buyer/Investor Day, CMAB continues their commitment to creating a product innovation ecosystem to further increase the demand for California Dairy while supporting and accelerating the influx of new startups and entrepreneurs creating better-for-you products.”

The deadline for application is June 25, 2021, with competition rules and application documents available at