Dairy Accelerator Participants Outside Land O

Helping entrepreneurs and elevating the dairy industry

The 2018 Land O'Lakes, Inc. Dairy Accelerator helps participants gain new skills -- and a new community

The Land O’Lakes Dairy Accelerator is one great example of how we’re leveraging the expertise of a nearly 100-year old, farmer-owned cooperative to grow the dairy industry.

“We know as well as anyone that the competitive landscape in the food industry, especially in dairy, is becoming fierce and changing rapidly,” said Chris Roberts, President, Dairy Foods and EVP Land O’Lakes Inc. “In order to ensure growth and progress within the entire industry, we needed a meaningful way to show our commitment to this growth.”

The program, which launched in 2017, provides support and mentorship to entrepreneurs in the dairy industry. As a cooperative, we know that growth in the dairy industry -- whether it comes directly from one of our individual business units, or from small, innovative dairy brands -- is good for our members.

Six dairy companies were selected to participate in the 2018 program. They received a stipend to attend and contribute to a three-month accelerator in the Twin Cities area. These start-ups span several dairy categories, demonstrating the vitality and versatility of dairy.

Roberts adds, “We created the program to help dairy entrepreneurs identify ways to strengthen their operations and realize meaningful growth. We also hope this opportunity will be a way for the entrepreneurs to gain exposure, both to Land O’Lakes leadership and across the dairy industry.”

Land O'Lakes, Inc. Dairy Accelerator Products

It’s about community, creating a network to elevate the dairy industry

When asked about his experience in the program, Frederik Christensen from Nōrr Skyr explained, “We created a lasting network and relationships that will live on well-past this program. We even formed a partnership with another participant. It is an open, giving and transparent discussion group. We might come in with some expertise from our brand, Joyce [Numa Foods] might come in with hers, and Land O’Lakes might come in with something. Everyone is able to learn, even the Land O’ Lakes staff. It was a really amazing experience.”

Joyce Zhu, founder of Numa Foods agrees. “The perspective and experience was different for each company, which was initially difficult because we all come from such different places, backgrounds and categories. [However], the community we created is invaluable. Being the youngest company in this group, I think it helped direct us. We’re very much of the attitude ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’ and so this program really put a spotlight to those things that we may come across.”

Resource sharing and learning from each other and from Land O’Lakes leaders

Throughout the three-month course, participants met with experts in a variety of ways, leveraging top-talent from within Land O'Lakes, Inc. to provide training and share expertise in various business areas, including business development, finance, brand-building, sales and leadership development.

At the conclusion of the program, participants presented their proposals and new business ideas to Land O'Lakes’ leadership.

With four trips to the Twin Cities throughout the program, each participant was paired up with a mentor from Land O’Lakes who could guide and answer questions along the way.

There is an incredible amount of energy and passion among innovators but many of these entrepreneurs want the guidance and expertise that a large, experienced consumer company like Land O’Lakes offers.

“We’re on the East Coast where the Chobani accelerator had taken off and when speaking with my peers, they had said that it was invaluable to partner with a company that has the resources and the expertise and ambition to support this community,” Joyce explains. “Land O’Lakes has always been on our radar. This is the first business experience my mom and I have had. We don’t come from a marketing or food industry. We need all the help we can get.”

Participants were able to talk with Land O’Lakes experts in the areas of sales, financial management, branding and marketing. For example, Lynn Franz, director of insights and strategy, Julie Anderla, marketing director, Julie Scheife, director of digital engagement and Sue Murray, director of brand & packaging design co-led a branding workshop. Logan Underwood, director of customer marketing, co-led a sales-focused day. Both of these sessions were very impactful for everyone.

They also met with industry experts outside of Land O’Lakes on topics such as Angel Investing, raising capital, packaging sales pitching and buyer insights.

Frederik notes, “The experts were extremely helpful in making people feel true to their brand in a sense that when you come in and you build your brand, the most important thing is that you must have something you truly believe in. Whether that’s your product or your social profiles, you must ask yourself, what is it that my brand is about if I had to tell it in an elevator pitch? We’d been trying to check so many boxes that it’s been difficult to outline those things – but one thing we got from Land O’Lakes was a feeling that we finally really know 100% who we are, and we can really stay true to our brand and our messaging. We can now transfer that to the consumer.”

Land O'Lakes, Inc. Dairy Accelerator Products On A Table

Bringing entrepreneurial energy to Land O’Lakes

Not only does this program bring together newer companies within the dairy industry, it helps our 100-year company grow as well. You never stop learning, and this is true for everyone, even those considered ‘experts’ in a particular sector.

“This program exposes our people to a more entrepreneurial mindset – one that is focused on agility, creativity and also taking smart risks” explains Roberts. “Another benefit is that it helps us create relationships with innovators in our category. Down the road, as these brands reach the next level and develop, there may be opportunities for partnership.”

The Dairy Accelerator is part of our innovation strategy as we continue to become a more consumer- and customer-oriented company, with products that meet consumer needs and deliver great returns to our retail partners and our member-owners.

Final thoughts

When asked about one of their biggest learnings from the program experts, Frederik says, “Our ‘ah-ha moment’ was velocity over broad distribution. Before, it was about getting the product into as many stores as possible. We learned that if we don’t have traction in our key markets we are going to lose traction and lose faith among our customers and we might as well just stop. It was transformative. We’ve never done any marketing before, ever. Not even using social media and we realized that we needed to step up and find a way to do it so we can increase that velocity and brand loyalty.”

Joyce’s biggest learning had to do with her company’s story. “We knew the story of our brand acutely, but for us it became a focal point to tell our story. We were telling it, but it wasn’t necessarily front and center. We immediately went back and started pivoting our branding method. It’s always a work-in-progress but now it’s front and center; this is where we come from. So that is the biggest thing moving forward.”

Meet our community

  • Blue Marble Ice Cream: (Organic ice creams and sorbets): Founded by two friends in 2007 in Brooklyn, New York, Blue Marble Ice Cream products are made of milk from certified organic, pasture-raised cows. Ice cream and sorbet flavors include classics like vanilla and chocolate, and more unique options like Mexican Chocolate, Pumpkin and Green Tea.

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  • Darling Pickle Dips: (Cream cheese dips flavored with pickled vegetables, herbs and spices): Born out of a love of snacking by its founders, Darling Pickle Dips offers refrigerated dips made from a cream cheese and white bean base, combined with pickled vegetables, herbs and spices.

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  • Nōrr Skyr: (Flavored organic skyr): Offering Icelandic-style high-protein strained yogurt, Nōrr Skyr ('skyr' meaning "thickened milk") products are organic and grass-fed and incorporate unique Scandinavian flavors like sea buckthorn, gooseberry, elderflower and raspberry rosewater.

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  • Numa Foods: (Milk-based chewy snacks inspired by Taiwanese nougat): Numa's Milk Chews are milk-based chewy snacks infused with nuts and dried fruit inspired by Taiwanese nougat, a popular treat in China and Taiwan. Milk powder and butter are core ingredients, achieving the milky flavor profile these treats are known for.

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  • SmashPack: (Protein fruit smoothie pouches and grass-fed pudding pouches): Launched in 2015 by a husband and wife team who aspired to create a healthier version of a protein snack, SmashPack offers protein-packed fruit smoothie and grass-fed pudding in on-the-go squeeze pouches. Flavors include Chocolate and Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Pudding and Mixed Berry, Tropical Fruit and Orange Peach Protein Fruit Smoothies with MCT oil.

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  • Tulip Tree Creamery: (Hand-crafted soft-ripened, semi-soft and fresh cheeses and butter): Indianapolis-based Tulip Tree Creamery produces specialty handcrafted cheeses and butter, using traditional European recipes combined with the founders' own twist. All products are made from milk that is sourced from family dairies in Indiana.

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