TRACY, CALIF. – Sweet treats with functional benefits nabbed the four finalist spots Oct. 28 in the third annual Real California Milk Excelerator product innovation competition created by the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) and VentureFuel.

“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,” said John Talbot, chief executive officer of the CMAB. “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. 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 finalists include Nightfood, an ice cream formulated by sleep experts and nutritionists to satisfy nighttime cravings and help promote quality sleep; ReThink Ice Cream, a low-sugar, stomach- and diabetic-friendly treat infused with fiber and sourced from lactose-free A2 dairy; Sweetkiwi, a whipped Greek yogurt that is under 320 calories per pint and formulated with fiber, protein and probiotics for better gut health; and Wonder Monday’s new protein keto cheesecake snack bar with no added surgar and 10g of clean protein.

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.

“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 optimize our health by delivering on the functional benefits of dairy.”

Nightfood, ReThink, Sweetkiwi and Wonder Monday move on to the final, live event at 5 p.m. PST on Nov. 18th 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.

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.

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/chief marketing officer of My/Mochi Ice Cream, Donna Berry, editor of the Daily Dose of Dairy, Heather Boyd, managing director, ready-to-drink of Beam Suntory, Chad Coester, senior vice president Own Brands at Albertsons Companies, Chris McCann, chief executive officer of, Julia Bello, principal, local producer loan program at Whole Foods, John Talbot, chief executive officer of the CMAB, and Adriano Torres, senior director global marketing, dairy and plant-based beverages at Coca-Cola.

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.

The 2021 Real California Milk Excelerator taps into the thriving functional foods market – a market that has grown significantly over the past year and is projected to reach over $275 billion globally by 2025. The excelerator is focused on early-stage, high-growth companies with a cow’s milk-based product that plays a critical role in personal performance and/or recovery.