Introducing Carol Fitzgerald: A Dairy Runway alum launching her new business, Hazy Fudge

Each year, 6 million people visit the Finger Lakes, generating around $2.5 billion in annual sales,
with the bulk of revenue from local wine and alcohol producers. Carol Fitzgerald found herself
in a unique position to merge local industries when she founded Hazy Fudge, an alcohol-infused
fudge company using ingredients sourced from upstate New York dairy farms, wineries, and

Fitzgerald’s entrepreneurship journey began with making whiskey-infused fudge for members
of her son’s band, Whiskey Shivers, and their parents as a gift around the holidays

“It took a few tries,” Fitzgerald said about her original batch of fudge. “But it finally came out
great…They all went crazy for it.”

Fitzgerald lives on a farm with her husband, Dan Guth, who she mentioned has been an
amazing help through the development of Hazy Fudge. He spent his career as a large animal
veterinarian, giving her an advantage in understanding the dairy industry.

In 2023, Fitzgerald enrolled in Dairy Runway, a free program through the New York State Dairy
Promotion Order that provides entrepreneurship resources for food innovators who are at the
ideation stage of developing a value-added dairy product and source their cow-milk from New
York State.

During the first phase of the program, participants learn about the customer discovery process
through a six-week online, synchronous course. Throughout the course, leaders from various
industries present on topics such as branding, consumer preferences, and launching CPGs.

Those who attend all sessions advance to the “kitchen incubator,” which provides fully funded
access to Cornell’s Food and Processing Development Laboratory (FPDL), where participants
work toward a product prototype with support from dairy specialists and food technicians. In
addition to prototype training, each participant receives one-on-one coaching from a CREA
Entrepreneur in Residence.

Fitzgerald made it through the first phase of Dairy Runway into the kitchen incubator, where
her business really started to progress. The process helped Fitzgerald explore scaling batches of
her fudge, storage methods, and navigating alcohol distribution laws.

She explained that the most important steps for her specific venture were the preparatory trials
to determine packaging and alcohol content.

“Making a batch of two dozen in my kitchen is not hard, but scaling it to production level is kind
of a different recipe. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do that,” Fitzgerald said. “Rob Ralyea and the
team at the pilot plant were amazing. They helped to solve problems and to move development
forward, so now we know it’s scalable and viable.”

Fitzgerald explained that Ralyea, a senior extension associate in the Department of Food
Science, was one of her primary mentors during the development process. He helped her adjust
her recipe to keep her product within the legal 5% ABV range. Each package also comes with a
small wooden spoon, another decision made from the results of preparatory market testing.

“There’s something nostalgic about that wooden spoon that for some reason people really,
really enjoy,” Fitzgerald said.

The Dairy Runway program is a hands-on program where participants complete their own
testing and evaluations. Fitzgerald shared the importance of being able to do this work herself
to fully understand her product’s market and the necessary steps to determine viability of her

Mentorship and a community of entrepreneurs were key to Fitzgerald’s success through the
development process. She described how important it was to share in both the hardship and
happiness of development with her entrepreneurship community, and the benefits of learning
from program leaders that have experienced their own commercialization journey.

Heather Sandford, a CREA Entrepreneur in Residence and founder of The Piggery, served as an
instructor of Dairy Runway alongside Ken Rother, director of Rev: Ithaca Startup Works.
Sandford was a Dairy Runway coach through the during the program and worked closely with
Fitzgerald as she developed her business.

“It was so beneficial to see someone who has been through it, and to be able to bounce ideas
off her when I’m feeling frustrated,” Fitzgerald explained about Sandford. “It’s just so nice to
hear, ‘Did you think about this?’ or ‘Did you check that?’ to find a solution.”

After finishing Dairy Runway’s kitchen incubator, Fitzgerald enrolled in Food Spark, a program
that allowed her to complete the eCornell Food Product Development Certificate. Through
Food Spark, she was able to fully round out her business model, licensing, and food safety
education to finally launch Hazy Fudge. Fitzgerald’s next stage will be applying for Grow-NY’s
Food and Agriculture Competition
this spring.

“It’s been quite the journey, and I am excited! It all just started with Dairy Runway,” said
Fitzgerald. “When I look back at it, it’s pretty quick to be able to wrap up and be just about
ready to start selling.”

Applications for the next Dairy Runway cohort are now open and will be accepted through Wednesday, June 5, 2024 at 5 p.m. ET. Apply now.