Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement (CREA) and Northeast Dairy Foods Research Center (NDFRC) today announced that lu.lu Ice Cream, Oakfield Corners Cheese LLC, and Terra Firma Farm have been named winners of the inaugural Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition, an initiative that supports food innovators in launching value-added dairy products made from ingredients produced in the Northeast, following the pitch competition at Stocking Hall in Ithaca, N.Y.
Funded by a $1 million grant from the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC), each of the three winners receive $55,000 to further develop their product and bring it to market, in addition to ongoing business mentorship and a presence at the Dairy Innovation Showcase at the 2023 Grow-NY Summit on November 14-15, 2023 in Binghamton, N.Y.
In its first year, the program attracted over 50 applicants, including those making products on small and organic farms, from across the United States. Ten finalists were selected from the highly competitive pool by a committee of dairy experts, each being provided with $20,000, 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 that 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.”
Two of the three winners impressed the judges with their unique takes on ice cream. Founded by owner Laura Mack, lu.lu Ice Cream’s goat milk gelato stood out.
“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,” Mack said. “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.”
Brie Casadei, founder and owner of Terra Firma Farm, introduced a new take on the sweet treat with “Your Turn to Churn,” a ready-to-use, premium ice cream base that consumers can make in a matter of minutes. Oakfield Corners Cheese awed the judges with its Mexican-style cheese, which was inspired to bring to market to help provide a taste of home to the Hispanic population.
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 Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets served as the competition’s judges and used the following set of criteria to determine the three winners:
- Dairy product concept and execution
- Dairy product innovation or improvement
- Viability of commercialization and business model
- Use of dairy ingredients
- 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 CREA’s Director of Food and Ag Startup Programs Jenn Smith. “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 following industry experts participated as mentors, playing an integral role in helping finalists maximize their experience and impact on the Northeast dairy industry:
- Brian Bailey, founding co-owner and creator of Yancey’s Fancy, Inc. Cheeses
- Marla Buerk, Dairy Management Inc.
- Tim Cooley, dairy product consultant
- Steve Funk, Nelson-Jameson Inc.
- Judy Keenan, Dairy Management Inc.
- Sheila Marshman, SUNY Morrisville, School of Agriculture, Business & Technology
- Pulari Nair, Rich Products Corporation
- Gil Tansman, DSM
- Jeff Warner, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
- Esperanza Wingard, HP Hood LLC
- Tristan Zuber-Hrobuchak, Chr. Hansen
The NDFRC was a critical partner in developing 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 Dr. Samuel Alcaine, director of the NDFRC and associate professor at Cornell CALS. “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.”