TRACY, CALIF. – The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) announced the Real California Milk Excelerator competition is returning for its fifth year.

The program, created in partnership with innovation advisory VentureFuel, is seeking products that utilize dairy in an innovative way, whether it be for foods, beverages, personal care products, packaging, material sciences, textiles, pet products or any other creative project. The only stipulation is that a product must be made with at least 50% dairy.

Competition organizers shared that they use an open approach to encourage innovation across product categories and highlight dairy’s versatility.

Per CMAB, the Real California Milk Excelerator this year will award up to $500,000 in prize money and program value “for products that introduce novel applications in any form and drive utilization” of California dairy. 

"The program has grown and evolved over the last five years as we've had the pleasure of bringing some interesting, innovative and delicious products to the market using milk from our California dairy families,” said John Talbot, CMAB chief executive officer. “What hasn't changed is our focus on creating the future for dairy product innovation in whatever form that takes. Real dairy continues to be an attractive tool for product developers, with functional and practical benefits hard to replicate. The business insight, contacts and tools this program offers, along with the marketing power of the Real California Milk seal, makes this a golden opportunity for brands."

Since the competition was established, 45 startups have worked with the program, covering categories such as food, beverage, direct-to-consumer platforms, textiles and personal care. CMAB said some of the program’s alumni have gone on to work with organizations such as UNFI and KeHE, with products now available at retailers including Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, Amazon and Whole Foods.

Eight participants will be chosen for the 2023 cohort, and organizers said each will be provided with a group stipend and a network of resources. A mentorship program also is involved, with access to “successful founders, investors, leading corporate executives and experts across design, marketing, sales, manufacturing, distribution, farming and processing industries.”

At a live pitch event in November, four of the participants will earn $30,000 each to grow their product, with one company eventually being awarded another $100,000 as a grand prize by establishing a presence in California and demonstrating the greatest potential within the final 12 months of the competition.

The deadline to apply is July 7. An application and more information about this year's competition is available online at the Real California Milk Excelerator website.