The event, created in 2019 by the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) and VentureFuel to fuel innovation in new dairy product development, is a global search for the best emerging products to bring to market using California milk and dairy ingredients.
As grand prize winner, Nightfood will receive $150,000 in resources and funding to take its sleep friendly ice cream novelties to hotel locations across the US.
As presented by founder and CEO, Sean Folkson, a self-identified night snacker and former insomniac, Nightfood's mission is to help night-time snackers around the world satisfy their hard-wired cravings in a better, healthier, and more sleep-friendly way.
The company recently completed a successful pilot program with a global hotel chain to introduce Nightfood ice cream pints into hotel lobby shops across the country. Excelerator prizing will be used to help grow distribution for a novelty version of the ice cream in the hospitality channel.
"I'm honored for Nightfood to be selected by the CMAB, VentureFuel and the panel of industry-expert judges as the first-place winner in this year's Excelerator competition. Sleep is becoming a massive health trend, and many consumers wrestle with hard-wired nighttime survival cravings for calorie-dense foods like cookies, chips, candy, and, of course, ice cream," Folkson said.
"Those high-sugar, high-fat snacks tend to be both unhealthy, and sleep disruptive. Nightfood helps consumers satisfy those prehistoric biological cravings in a better, healthier, more sleep-friendly way. With the help of the CMAB, we look forward to making Nightfood sleep-friendly ice cream sandwiches available in lobby shops in 20,000 hotels across the country."
Nightfood was one of four innovators selected from a field of 12 semi-finalist competitors to present to a judging panel from the CPG, retail, venture capital, food science and media world representing such companies as Albertsons Companies, Coca-Cola, Beam Suntory, My/Mochi Ice Cream, Whole Foods and more in a live virtual pitch (and sample) event.
All four finalists represented products in the frozen dessert space – a market valued at more than $52bn in 20201 and growing, driven by the rising demand for better-for-you dessert options. Alongside the three other finalists, Nightfood was judged on uniqueness or innovation, taste, the ability to scale and the founding team.
Sweetkiwi came in second place and will receive $100,000 in support for growth and distribution for its low calorie whipped frozen Greek yogurt formulated with fiber, protein, and probiotics.
"I am incredibly overwhelmed and excited that we were one of the chosen winners," said Ehime Eigbe, founder and CEO of Sweetkiwi.
"It is such an exciting time for us, we're really pleased the judges saw the value in our innovation. We look forward to carrying the Real California Milk seal and being part of the California dairy family."
The three previous events focused on fluid milk and snacks, however, the 2021 competition spotlighted products using the nutritional and flavor profiles of milk and dairy ingredients to deliver performance and recovery benefits in products ranging from sports drinks to indulgent desserts.
Twelve semi-finalists were selected from 62 entries to move through the Excelerator process, receiving $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 mentorship from global marketing, packaging, investment and distribution experts. The total value of Excelerator prizes is more than 650,000.
"Excelerator winners were judged as much for the founders and founding teams as for the products themselves and we had an incredible group of competitors this year. Nightfood stood out because it really nailed the performance and recovery objective of this year's competition and they have a solid plan for owning the sleep space," said John Talbot, CEO of the California Milk Advisory Board.
"We look forward to partnering with Sean and Ehime to bring both Nightfood and Sweetkiwi's functional dairy desserts, fueled by Real California dairy ingredients, to the larger marketplace."
"Every product that made it into this competition was a winner, having gone through extensive vetting and due diligence to determine their potential," said Fred Schonenberg, CEO of VentureFuel.
"Our mentors helped each accelerate and, in the end, over 2,000 consumers and the 24 expert judges chose these amazing two winners. CMAB and VentureFuel continue to assist all of the companies that made it into the program – so expect to see many of these participants on a shelf near you very soon."
Last week, CMAB and VentureFuel hosted a private retail buyer/investor event to introduce the finalists to the market, which resulted in more than 20 one-on-one meetings with industry decision makers. The program also hosts a multi-week Incubator Boot Camp for idea-stage companies not quite ready for the main Excelerator.