Exec Spin: Food for Thought
Friday, June 29, 2018
Posted by: Gary Hotze
"Chicago is already home to one of the country's most vibrant food scenes so the rekindling of its urban food manufacturing roots shouldn't come as a surprise. It's the breadth and depth of the food innovation that is a revelation."
Julia Kanouse, CEO, ITA
Kraft Heinz's recently launched Springboard incubator platform has already chosen its first five disruptive brands within the ever-burgeoning food innovation category. Be on the lookout for egg-white chips and anti-oxidant lemonades to hit the store shelves soon.1 Earlier this month, McDonald's completed its multi-million dollar relocation to the West Loop with an eye towards engaging future talent. These are just a sign of the times. Chicago was once an urban food manufacturing hub and it's becoming one again on the back of technological transformation. We don't have iPhones, but we do have our Big Macs, thank you very much.
Chicago is already home to one of the country's most vibrant food scenes so this news shouldn't come as a surprise. It's the breadth and depth of the food innovation that is a revelation. Food is not a segment that many associate with innovation and this disconnect is something I encountered head-on. During my tenure at the National Restaurant Association (NRA), I saw the disruption that technology brought to the industry. We launched a Restaurant Innovation event and created “start-up alley” at the 60,000 attendee NRA Show to help restaurateurs touch and feel how their businesses were going to be transformed. From back office applications to marketing tools to the food itself, things changed rapidly in a brief period. Consequently and even more so today, driving food-centric brands in the digital age is a challenging task in a swiftly evolving and often uncertain food and beverage market.
The digital disconnect is also real in the mind of consumers who often don't consider the creation, process and delivery of the foods they purchase and consume. So much is happening behind-the-shelf. Additionally, food innovation doesn't deliver the zestful media coverage that consumer electronics and simple software bring to the table. Even so, in Chicago's kitchen, chefs and creators are forging ahead in this sector across many different categories.
The catalog of companies spearheading this movement reads like a lengthy list of ingredients, and it was challenging to cherry-pick from the cornucopia of startups, growth-stage companies and incubators changing the paradigm. However, through conversations with our members and refining the focus down to specific segments I was able to provide a snapshot that still demonstrates the span and strength of food innovation happening here built on the foundation of Chicago's food manufacturing heritage.
Food Sourcing & Delivery
Competing in the heated subscription meal kit and food delivery space, this Chicago, Illinois-based company, is commanding its piece of the pie. Recently purchased for a cool $200 million by Kroger, Home Chef and its fresh ingredients will soon be hitting store shelves.2
Peapod invented grocery delivery in 1990 before grocery delivery was even a thing with over 40 million orders to date. And earlier this month, the largest player in online grocery delivery relocated its headquarters and 300 employees from Skokie, IL to downtown Chicago. Let's get cooking.3
Think OpenTable, but for unique culinary experiences and the trendiest restaurants, Tock is all about granting access to hidden, delicious and high-demand edible adventures across the globe. The pre-book, pre-pay mechanism of the platform allows restaurants to streamline the dining experience, opening up availability for patrons at the hottest dining destinations.
With its unique take on restaurant delivery and technology, Fooda is empowering hungry employees by bringing large-batch lunch orders from local restaurants to the table. Full bellies are just the beginning; the Chicago-based service is partnering with hundreds of restaurants nationally to post double-digit gains in their lunch business.
Nutrition facts are only the beginning. Concerns about sourcing, quality and process have pervaded the conversation about grocery store shelves for the last few years. Label Insight is leveraging data to provide transparency, understanding and information across the food ecosystem. After all, you are what you eat.
Food Engineering & Science
Instant Pot, who? The "Keurig for food" is here and from a company in our backyard! With Tyson Foods as a recent investor, Tovala is bringing the complete meal package to the table with its revolutionary steam oven and from scratch meals which are designed to be cooked in under 20 minutes. Yum.
You've seen them across the city and increasingly nationally but did you know that this "No BS," no processed ingredient bar is local? Freshly acquired by Kellogg in November for a bargain-bin $600 mil, this protein bar-centric brand launched, nut butter spread, its first foray into other food categories this spring while scaling from 70 employees in October 2017 to likely 240 by the end of the year.4