The future of food in the heart of America

CHICAGO – “The next 10 years in food will make the last 50 look like 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 Future of-Food Venture Summit on May 25-26, the city’s new flagship food innovation conference. More than 500 start-ups, venture capital and private equity investors, and others in the food and beverage verticals came together, reaffirming that Chicago is a strong destination for food and agriculture founders, innovators and investors from around the world. . Like others in attendance, Mr. Thompson expressed his commitment to mentoring dollars and knowledge to build a food and agricultural technology business in the Chicago area.

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

Since the 19th century, Chicago has been the dominant center in the United States for food and beverage production. Its ecosystem for food innovation is significant and growing. Today, this industry is accelerating from innovation and pandemic-related changes, from the global supply and demand chain to venture capital investment.

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

Panel at Chicago summit on risks to the future of food. The city’s food innovation ecosystem is one of the fastest growing in Chicago, Mr Fasnacht said. There is more venture capital investment in the industry than in Boston and Seattle, driven by the accumulation of food companies in Chicago from large corporations to start-ups and start-ups.

In 2021, Chicago food innovation companies raised $ 723 million in venture capital, an increase of 508% over 2019. Investments in Chicago food innovation companies with active patents are the highest ever. investments in similar companies in other high-tech ecosystems have refused.

“Chicago’s food, beverage and agriculture sector is the largest in the country, generating more than nine billion a year and employing more than 65,000 people; where more than 2,800 companies located here are actively involved and contributing to the city’s dynamic startup and risky ecosystem, ”said Mr Fasnacht.

In a panel discussion on the “next generation of industrial innovation,” Brigette Wolf, vice president and global leader of SnackFutures for Mondelez International, the company’s center for innovation and risk, said: “To really lead the world of snacks, we create well and invest in cutting-edge startups. “

Michael Natal, a global leader in plant protein production, Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Illinois, listed a series of questions to ask startups you are interested in working with or investing in. These include: Do you love what you do? Are you ready to keep creating new versions until you get better? Can you make money from this product?

“It’s about investing in the right people,” Mr Natale said. “And it’s about focused development.”

It is also about supporting people and giving them the right tools to succeed. For Ferrero North America, based in Parsipani, New Jersey, with a new chocolate processing plant in Bloomington, Illinois, the first in North America, this includes many changes during the pandemic. Daniel Vera, vice president of research and development of cookies, which is based in Chicago, said that the company has turned the kitchens of its scientists into laboratories for product development. Innovation has 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 non-profit organization that promotes inclusive technological growth in Chicago, said: “Historically, Chicago has all the right parts: talent, companies, academia and more. (This includes one-bedroom apartments.) Chicago has a history of fostering innovation in the food and agricultural sectors. Today’s amazing start-ups and established corporations will continue this legacy and together transform our start-up economy. “

When it comes to investment, Ashley Hartman, managing partner, Bluestein Ventures, Chicago, explained that her company is looking for game-changing ventures at an early stage in the food industry that redefine the way consumers achieve their health and well-being. Investments cover the entire value chain, business to consumer and business to business.

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

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