Beating out 14 other brands, co-founders Hayley and Stephanie Painter won the highly coveted prize package for their lactose-free yogurt. See how they did it.

Dawn Reiss

March 20, 2024

5 Min Read
In the 2024 Expo West Pitch Slam, Painterland Sisters won the grand prize; Kekoa won Audience Choice; and Gut Nuts won runner-up.
Bryan Beasley Photography

Regenerative organic agriculture is having a moment.

Touting the need to support more farmers and their lactose-free yogurt, Stephanie and Hayley Painter, the co-founders and co-CEOs of Painterland Sisters, bested a field of 15 emerging brands to win the 2024 Natural Products Expo West Pitch Slam during Natural Products Expo West at the Anaheim Convention Center.

“You’ve seen the bumper stickers,” says Stephanie Painter, who co-founded Painterland Sisters with her sister, Hayley. “No farmers, no food.”

With only 2% of the population directly involved with agriculture and almost a quarter-million farms going out of business in 2017, the sisters say something needs to be done.

“We need to bridge the gap between consumers and farmers before it’s too late,” Hayley Painter says.

The fourth-generation dairy farmers grew up in northern Pennsylvania on a family farm that practices regenerative organic practices.

“Now it is our mission to connect consumers to the direct source of their food, the American farmer,” says Stephanie Painter.

With 68% of people having some lactose sensitives, according to the National Institutes of Health, the co-founders created a lactose-free, Icelandic-style skyr yogurt. They say the style is richer and creamier than traditional yogurt, yet high in protein and low in sugar.

Related:Expo West Pitch Slam: Who will be the playmaker?

“We sold our first cup of yogurt two years ago and since then we’ve gained national traction,” Stephanie Painter says.

Painterland Sisters yogurt is now sold in 2,000 locations in 50 states—after entering into Alaska two weeks ago—including Sprouts, Whole Foods, NCG and Natural Grocers. That landed the sisters on Forbes’ 2024 “30 under 30 Food & Drink 2024” list of entrepreneurs who are changing the future of food.

“We want to make dairy cool,” Stephanie Painter says.

Left: Sisters Stephanie Painter, left, and Hayley Painter, right, co-founded Painterland Sisters to save their family’s dairy farm and connect consumers with farmers. (That’s Hayley’s toddler in the middle.) Right: Painterland Sisters’ mascot cows and marketing team helped set the mood on the Pitch Slam stage. Credit: Bryan Beasley Photography.

Getting to the grand prize

The competition began with each of the 15 founders sharing their company’s story, market data and other important details within a three-minute time limit.

A panel of judges then narrowed the field to five finalists: Maria Covarrubias, founder of hot sauce brand Cien Chiles; John Kye, founder of Dr. Noah, a Korean-based bamboo toothbrush company; Theo Mourad, founder of Theo's Plant-Based, plant-based jerky; Tim Richards, founder of Philosopher Foods, which offers fermented nuts and sprouted nut butters; and, of course, the Painter sisters. Together, they faced the judges in a lightning round of questions about market strategies and opportunities.

Kye wants to transform the entire plastic toothbrush industry by replacing all 30 billion plastic toothbrushes thrown away every year with bamboo, he says. 

Related:How Painterland Sisters Organic Skyr Yogurt saved the family farm

“We don’t want to grow into a niche brand,” says Kye about his patented technology. “We want to tackle the entire toothbrush industry.”

Tim Richards, founder and CEO of Philosopher Foods, also has plans to disrupt the snacks aisle.  

“Gut nuts are fermented with probiotics that generate savory, tangy and umami flavors in nuts that were formerly sweet,” says Richards about the Regenerative Organic Certified almonds and cashews. “Think sourdough nuts.”

Snack nuts represent a nearly $5 billion market, says Richards, but the channel hasn’t seen innovation in a long time.  Richards hopes to make Gut Nuts the “kombucha of snack nuts” with its first-to-market intellectual property that is patent-pending in the U.S. and globally, he says.

“While we’re starting with Regenerative Organic Certified,” Richards says. “We actually see this as much bigger. We’re getting rid of the toxins that are in conventional agriculture through fermentation. My ultimate mission is to get out into mainstream America and help people regenerate their guts because I suffered from that as a kid. I don’t want anyone else to suffer like I did.”

After another deliberation, the judges named Philosopher Foods runner-up and Painterland Sisters the winner. The grand prize includes a free booth at Natural Products Expo West 2025 and more than $30,000 in New Hope Network services.

While the judges deliberated, audience members voted via a QR code for their favorite.

Danny Auld and David Fullner, co-founders of Kekoa Foods, which makes organic baby food pouches, won the Audience Choice Award.

Other competitors in the Expo West Pitch Slam included:

  • Alison Elliot, founder of Farmer Foodie, maker of dairy-free, gluten-free cashew-and-parmesan products.

  • Jovani Prince, founder of The Cracker King, maker of gluten-free, nut-free crackers

  • Alex Duong, founder of Fair & Square, maker of gut-friendly, "childhood" snacks that are free of the top nine allergens.

  • Daniel Schwarz, founder of Chuza, maker of spicy dried fruit snacks.

  • Tania Sweis, founder of Brune Kitchen, maker of gluten-free, vegan tahini-based cookies.

  • Elyse Eisenberg, founder of Alice's Sweet Tooth, maker of plant-based, gluten-free cookies.

  • Ben Bacon, founder of Lentiful, maker of on-the-go microwavable lentil cups.

  • Margarita Womack, founder of MasPañadas, maker of frozen mini empanadas.

  • Stephanie McGregor, founder of Ringa, maker of functional beverages made with moringa.

The 2024 Expo West Pitch Slam can be seen on YouTube. Due to technical issues, the beginning of the program was not recorded.

About the Author(s)

Dawn Reiss

Dawn Reiss is a Chicago-based journalist who has written for TIME, The New York Times, The Atlantic, AFAR, Travel + Leisure, Civil Eats, Fortune.com, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, among others. Find her at www.dawnreiss.com.

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