by Katie Spring, Outreach & Content Specialist
In August, three winners took home the grand prize at the inaugural Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition.
Among them was Laura Mack of lu.lu Ice cream, a previous NE-DBIC grantee. Mack impressed the judges with her goat milk gelato, which she originally developed with support from the NE-DBIC Goat & Sheep Dairy Supply Chain Grant. Through that grant, Mack was able to bring the new product to market while sourcing goat milk directly from a local producer, Midnight Goat Farm.
The multi-stage Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition saw over 50 dairy businesses apply, with just 10 finalists making it through the first round. Those finalists received $20,000 and three months of industry mentoring from Cornell’s food processing and business experts. In August, the finalists pitched their products to a panel of judges.
The three winners – lu.lu Ice cream of Vermont, Oakfield Corners Cheese of New York, and Terra Firma Farm of Connecticut – took home an additional $55,000 each and will receive ongoing business mentorship.
Along with the prize money and mentoring, Mack and the other finalists will be featured at the Dairy Innovation Showcase at the 2023 Grow-NY Summit in November, where they’ll introduce their products and network with companies and organizations from around the region.
We caught up with Laura Mack to hear more about her experience at the Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition:
NE-DBIC: Why did you decide to enter the competition?
Laura Mack: Our decision to join the competition has a rather amusing backstory. Last year, just as we were finalizing our goat milk supply chain grant with NE-DBIC and getting ready to launch our new goat milk product, a snowstorm decided to shake things up. Our plans for a goat milk gelato party got snowed in.
But surprisingly, Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts braved the weather and joined us. Over chats and gelato, he suggested we’d be a great fit for the Innovation Competition. After checking it out ourselves, we couldn’t help but agree. His encouragement, combined with our confidence in our unique goat milk supply chain, convinced us to jump into the competition with both feet.
NE-DBIC: What were your goals going into the competition?
LM: Initially, I thought my main motivation was to change people’s views about goat milk and prove that not all goat milk products have that distinct “goaty” taste, all while assisting another dairy farm partner. As the competition progressed, my focus evolved. From working with my mentors, I began to visualize our brand in a whole new light – by adding the product line of goat milk gelato – we can become an inclusive brand that holds steadfast to our farm-to-spoon mission.
One of the most gratifying moments was collaborating with our food science mentor to make our gelato not just lactose-light, but entirely lactose-free. This breakthrough meant that our goat milk gelato could be enjoyed by a wider range of people. Now, whether it’s in our store or on retail shelves, our offerings are accessible and inclusive for everyone. The competition as a whole, exceeded any of my goals.
NE-DBIC: Thinking back to the mentorship and coaching you received as one of the 10 finalists, what are some of the specific resources that were most helpful to you?
LM: One standout was the personalized guidance offered by experienced mentors. Their practical insights provided a roadmap for refining our project’s trajectory and enhancing our presentation skills. Notably, our food science mentor’s expertise was a game-changer. Her assistance in discovering a natural approach to creating lactose-free goat milk gelato was revolutionary for our product’s inclusivity.
Moreover, the pilot plant at Cornell University proved indispensable. The hands-on training we received there armed us with the essential skills to confront production challenges confidently. These resources collectively propelled our project from concept to reality, empowering us to embrace larger production strategies, including the ambitious endeavor of scaling up for a more expansive market reach.
NE-DBIC: What are your goals for the next phase of your mentorship and funding?
LM: The initial success and validation received has propelled us to take the next steps in our dream expansion process. With the continued guidance of our mentors, we aspire to refine our business model and operational strategies, ensuring they align seamlessly with our expansion objectives. This phase presents an opportunity to secure the necessary resources to scale up our production and widen our market footprint. We aim to establish strategic partnerships, optimize our supply chain, and enhance our distribution channels.
Through this journey, our ultimate goal is to solidify our position as a leading player in the industry, making our lactose-free goat milk gelato accessible to an even broader audience and demonstrating the viability of sustainable and inclusive dairy solutions.
NE-DBIC: How do you see this competition impacting not just your individual business, but also dairy farmers and the wider dairy sector?
LM: This competition’s impact extends beyond our individual business, resonating within the dairy sector and farmers. As our business flourishes, a ripple effect cascades through the community of farmers – dairy and others.
Our growth translates into increased demand for goat and cow milk, creating a mutually beneficial cycle where our expansion directly contributes to the growth of our farm partners. This symbiotic relationship stimulates economic opportunities for local dairy farmers, enhancing their livelihoods and encouraging sustainable practices.
The spotlight on our innovative approach also challenges conventional notions, potentially prompting a broader shift within the dairy sector towards more diverse and inclusive product offerings. In essence, our growth has the power to uplift dairy farmers and inspire positive changes within the wider dairy industry.
Meet Laura Mack and the other Northeastern Dairy Product Innovation Competition winners at the 2023 Grow-NY Summit.
The summit will be in Binghamton, NY from November 14 through November 15. Learn more and register here.