The future of food in the heart of America

CHICAGO – “The next 10 years in the food industry will make the last 50 seem like they are going at a snail’s pace,” said Don Thompson, CEO and founder of Cleveland Avenue, Chicago. “He will be hyperaggressive and hyperactive.”

Mr. Thompson, former president and CEO of McDonald’s Corp., spoke at the Chicago Venture Summit Future-of-Food held May 25-26, the city’s new flagship food innovation conference. More than 500 startups, venture capitalists and private equity investors and others in the food and beverage industry came together, confirming that Chicago is an important destination for food and agriculture founders, innovators and investors from around the world. Like others in attendance, Mr. Thompson expressed his commitment to mentor dollars and knowledge in order to build the food and agricultural technology businesses in the Chicagoland area.

“If you give entrepreneurs what they need in terms of resources, and then step back, they will thrive,” said Thompson.

Since the 19th century, Chicago has been a dominant US hub for food and beverage manufacturing. Its food innovation ecosystem is sizable and growing. Today this industry is accelerated by pandemic-related innovation and changes, from global supply chain and demand, to venture capital investments.

“What we do in Chicago can and will change the world of food and agriculture,” said Michael Fassnacht, president and chief operating officer, World Business Chicago, and chief marketing officer of the city of Chicago. “We compete around the world not only for our main strengths, but also for our values, our culture, our commitment to diversity and equity.”

Panel a Chicago Venture Summit The future of food. The city’s food innovation ecosystem is one of the fastest growing ecosystems in Chicago, Fassnacht said. The industry is seeing more venture capital investments than Boston and Seattle, spurred by a grouping of food companies in Chicago, from large early stage companies and startups.

In 2021, Chicago food innovation companies raised $ 723 million in venture capital, a 508% increase over 2019. Investments in Chicago food innovation companies with active patents are at an all-time high, while investments in Chicago food innovation companies with active patents are at an all-time high, while investments in similar companies in other high-tech ecosystems have declined.

Chicago’s food, beverage and agricultural sector is the largest in the nation, generating over nine billion annually and employing over 65,000 people; where over 2,800 companies located here actively participate and contribute to the vibrant startup and venture ecosystem of the city, ”said Fassnacht.

In a panel discussion on the “next generation of industry innovation,” Brigette Wolf, vice president and global head of SnackFutures for Mondelez International, the company’s innovation and venture hub, said: “To truly lead the world of snacks, we are creating well-being brands and investing in cutting-edge startups “.

Michael Natale, world leader in plant protein, Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Illinois, listed a number of questions to ask startups you are interested in working with or investing in. These include: Do you like what you do? Are you willing to keep creating new versions until you get it right? Can you make money with this product?

“It’s about investing in the (right) people,” said Mr. Natale. “And it’s a purpose-oriented development.”

It’s also about supporting people and giving them the right tools to be successful. For Ferrero North America, based in Parsippany, NJ, with a new chocolate processing plant in Bloomington, Illinois, the first ever in North America, this included many pins during the pandemic. Daniel Vera, vice president of cookie research and development, based in Chicago, said the company has transformed its scientists’ kitchens into product development labs. Innovation never stopped.

“The new Girl Scout cookies – Adventurefuls – were created in a one-bedroom apartment right here in Chicago,” said Mr. Vera.

Brad Henderson, CEO of P33, a nonprofit organization driving inclusive tech growth in Chicago, said, “Historically, Chicago has all the right pieces: talent, companies, academic institutions and more. includes one-bedroom apartments.) Chicago has a history of fueling innovation in the food and agriculture industries. Today’s amazing startups and established companies will continue that legacy and together transform our startup economy. “

When it comes to investment, Ashley Hartman, managing partner of Bluestein Ventures, Chicago, explained that her company is looking for groundbreaking, early-stage initiatives in the food industry that redefine how consumers achieve their health and Welfare. Investments span the entire business-to-consumer and business-to-business value chain.

“What makes us excited about the future of food is that consumers are changing what they are eating,” said Ms. Hartman. “And consumers are changing the way they get their food. Forty percent of our portfolio is in Chicago. ”

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