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Competition aims to hasten dairy product innovation

A new competition will enable agricultural entrepreneurs to introduce new dairy products for consumers, ultimately boosting dairy sales in New York state.

The state Department of Agriculture and Markets, the New York Dairy Promotion Order (DPO) Advisory Board and VentureFuel have introduced a new startup competition, MilkLaunch, focused on accelerating product innovation for dairy products statewide.

The competition includes more than $200,000 in awards, including providing $15,000 to support four finalists in perfecting their product via lab time, customer insights, research and elite mentorship from global experts across the consumer products, retail and dairy industries. The grand prize of $150,000 will be used to accelerate the winner(s) of the competition to get to market and drive dairy sales.

“We want to inspire the dairy community in New York, from large operations to small family-run farms, to put forth new ideas and unique products while inspiring global beverage entrepreneurs to unleash their creativity on the milk category,” said VentureFuel Founder Fred Schonenberg. “Our goal is to rethink what is possible and to deliver exciting milk-based products that customers will love.”

The dairy industry is the largest single segment of New York’s agricultural industry. The state has nearly 4,000 dairy farms that produce nearly 15 billion pounds of milk. It is the fourth-largest producer of milk, the largest producer of cottage cheese and sour cream and the second-largest producer of yogurt.

The DPO Advisory Board, a 10-member board that advises the state Department of Agriculture on the allocation of milk producer funds, supported the project as part of its 2020 goals to promote and increase the consumption of New York milk and dairy products.

“The Department (of Agriculture and Markets) is excited about the kick-off of MilkLaunch, which was enthusiastically supported by the DPO Advisory Board members,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball. “I believe that for any industry to grow and thrive, we must always listen to our customers and be ready to adapt and change to meet their demands. This competition builds on that idea, fueling the innovation of the next great dairy product to provide consumers with a new and fresh way to enjoy the delicious flavor and health benefits of milk and boost the New York dairy industry.”

Finalists will have an opportunity to collaborate with top food scientists from Cornell University’s Food Processing Development Laboratory and Sensory Evaluation Program to improve their product’s safety, quality, labeling and product marketing practices. During the process, finalists can access the expertise the Cornell team has gained from tens of millions of dollars of NY Dairy Promotion Advisory Board-funded dairy research through the Milk Quality Improvement Program (MQIP) and Northeast Dairy Foods Research Center.

“New York is an ideal place for dairy innovation, especially with Cornell research, processing and product resources available to startups and entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Nicole Martin, associate director of Cornell University’s Milk Quality Improvement Program. “We look forward to working with VentureFuel to identify and support new dairy product development in New York.”

The competition is for early-stage applicants ranging from idea-stage to existing new products. Products must contain at least 50 percent fluid milk, have sales of less than $250,000, and the winners must commit that all milk will be sourced from New York producers for at least 12 months.

Entries are open to all including dairy farms, processors, producers, entrepreneurs, academics and ideators. In addition, VentureFuel will tap into its worldwide network of more than 500 venture capitalists, seed investors, founders and university labs to help discover applicants.

Competition rules and application documents are available at and the deadline for application is Sept. 15.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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New process could extend life of fresh milk and juice

Russian inventors working with a Rochester-area company and Purdue University are trying to bring a new technology to food processors in the United States that could extend the shelf life of refrigerated milk by weeks if not months.

The technology might also make it possible for a processor of fresh juices to distribute over a much larger area because the juice would remain fresh during longer transit times.

More than 30 consultants and industry representatives learned about the technology last week when JCS Process & Control Systems Engineering held a forum about beverage processing at the Lodge at Woodcliff.

JCS, headquartered on Metro Park in Brighton, handles engineering of food processing systems and has an exclusive license to develop the pasteurization process developed by Millisecond Technologies (MST) of New York City. Millisecond’s principals are from Moscow.  JCS CEO Philip R. Frechette, who discussed pros and cons of common pasteurization techniques at the forum, is also the chief technical officer for MST.

MST has been funding research on the process at Purdue University by Professor Bruce M. Applegate, a microbiologist.

According to Andrei Arofikin, the Russian inventor who came up with the MST process over the last 15 years, the technology grew out of a process designed to kill pathogens in blood. The MST process breaks the liquid into micro-droplets so small that no fats or other structures can hitch a ride and buffer the sterilizing effect of the heat. As a result, the heat is more effective and can be used for a much shorter time.

Frechette said in most of the world consumers use shelf-stable milk that has been rendered safe to use without refrigeration by treating it with very high temperatures for an extended period of time. The high temperatures kill potential pathogens, but also change the proteins and the flavor of the milk. Americans tend to prefer the taste of milk pasteurized at lower temperatures, or for a shorter amount of time, even though that milk has to be refrigerated and it spoils sooner.

The MST process is already in use in Puerto Rico, where Frechette lived for 14 years. “JCS for 14 years did every major (food processing) project in Puerto Rico,” he said. In May, Vaqueria Tres Monjitas, one of two main milk processors on the island, announced that it had adopted MST technology in its efforts to gain a larger share of the Puerto Rican milk market and expand to the Virgin Islands.

Tres Monjitas President Jaime Fonalledas told Caribbean Business the MST process offers his company’s milk products “the greatest durability, to provide a fresh milk product that is superior to that we now know. We began the celebration of our second centenary with the most important innovation in the industry since they awarded the milk produced in Puerto Rico ‘grade A.’”

Frechette said MST-treated milk products in Puerto Rico are already on shelves in Sam’s Club, Walmart and supermarkets as well as sold by restaurant chains such as Subway and McDonald’s.

Given the devastation of the Puerto Rican economy by Hurricane Maria, “This is kind of like a breath of fresh air from something investing in Puerto Rico,” Frechette said.

Not only does the process triple or quadruple the shelf life of milk, the developers are tweaking it with the aim of having it certified as a process for creating shelf-stable milk.

Just as MST kills bacteria in milk, it can also dispatch yeasts in juices that start to grow over time and spoil the juice. But there’s another beneficial side effect, Applegate said:  “It enhances the flavor because the process releases volatile oils.”

This isn’t for your average canned apple juice that already has a long shelf life. The developers said the MST process is for the kind of juices that most people consume only fresh, such as mango juice or coconut water fresh from the shell. They claim the process keeps those fresh flavors longer.

“If you’re dealing with a premium juice, you won’t get the caramelization or off-color,” Applegate said.

Frechette said JCS has a presence in the Philippines, where it expects to use MST on coconut and mango products. He envisions Filipino fast-food giant Jollibee, which has about 1,000 stores in the Philippines and more than 100 stores in Indonesia, being able to use the technology in its fresh coconut drinks.

But what makes Frechette’s eyes really glow is the thought of the growing number of Asian students who come to the United States and are disappointed to realize that fresh, tropical juices readily available on the streets of China, Singapore, Indonesia and other countries are nowhere to be found here. That could change with MST.

[email protected]/ (585) 363-7275


New York No. 1 producer of cottage cheese, yogurt

Almost a quarter of all land in New York state is farmland, which may come as a surprise to those who think of the state as one Big Apple.

A report issued by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli Thursday says $4.8 billion in revenue came from New York’s farms in 2017, with more than half of that — 56 percent — from milk alone.

“Agriculture is a crucial piece of the state’s economy, with farms contributing nearly $2.4 billion to the state’s gross domestic product,” DiNapoli said in a statement that accompanied the report. “Our farmers continue to provide jobs and fresh, locally sourced food, while also preserving open spaces. However, farmers face a number of challenges, from declining milk prices, which can threaten family businesses, to tariffs and restrictions on immigrant workers.”

New York was among the top five producers in the nation for 15 different farm products, and held the No. 1 spots for cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt. It’s No. 2 for maple syrup, cabbage, apples and snap beans. And it’s No. 3 for milk, milk cows, grapes and Italian cheese.

Agriculture generates $4.8 million in revenue in New York.
Agriculture generates $4.8 billion in revenue in New York.

In descending order, the top five crops by dollar value in New York are: milk, corn, hay, apples, and cattle and calves.

DiNapoli’s report describes some trends of growth, particularly in the number of organic farms and in crops such as Concord grapes and maple syrup. Production of Concord grapes – used primarily for juice and jams – nearly doubled from 2012 to 2017. Some things remained stable though. Wyoming County, which has the largest number of cows in the state, at 47,500 head of cattle, still has more cows than people.

But DiNapoli warned of some clouds on the agriculture horizon in terms of trade and labor force.

“Declining milk prices have cut revenues sharply, in some cases threatening family businesses. Tariffs, including those imposed recently on agricultural products by the nation’s trading partners in response to those imposed by the federal government, have increased financial uncertainty for many farmers in New York and nationwide,” the report said. “Federal policies relating to visas for migrant workers and other immigration programs have increased restrictions on such workers, who play an important role in the state’s agricultural workforce; such steps may add to the challenge of planting and harvesting on a timely basis.”

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