Milk polarizes: For some, it’s a refreshing drink that goes well with cookies. For others, it’s a cursed liquid that causes tummy troubles. Even with alternative milk shelves crowding supermarket coolers today, the U.S. dairy industry is a $15 billion category with a 90% penetration rate, according to John Talbot, the CEO of the California Milk Advisory Board.
However, the industry is not known for sustainability or pioneering creations. Milk processing plants focus on one thing: do it well and efficiently, but don’t make small series and don’t get involved in product development or innovation. It took the industry some time to realize the need for ingenuity, but it is now embracing new ideas, Talbot said.
He believes this is partly due to the fact that the milk category is declining for a number of reasons: Fewer children are being born, the biggest milk drinkers, and more people are opting for a quicker breakfast than a bowl of cereal. . Not to mention the aforementioned number of alt-milks out there. But it’s not just dairy alternatives — water also plays a big part in people’s drink choices, Talbot added.
The California Milk Advisory Board saw a need for innovation and turned to those best at it: startups.
For the past four years, the organization has hosted the Real California Milk Excelerator to find interesting dairy use cases and connect entrepreneurs and processors so that both sides are involved.
“We now rely on the ideas of these entrepreneurs to help processing companies through the innovation process,” added Talbot.