Almost a year since its founding, Chicagoland Food and Beverage Network gears up for new projects

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

iStock / ZRFphoto
iStock / ZRFphoto
The Chicagoland Food and Beverage Network started almost a year ago with the mission to make Chicago the ‘Silicon Valley of Food and Beverage.’ Today, it’s gearing up for new projects including a seed fund for minority entrepreneurs, and creating a database of co-packers.

Executive director of Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network​ Alan Reed is happy with how the network has progressed so far. In addition to its individual members, it has over 50 corporate members, from big corporations such as Kellogg and Kraft Heinz to smaller, newer ones like Tiesta Tea.

“We’ve really tapped into the vibe of what’s happening in the food and beverage industry here in Chicago,” ​he told FoodNavigator-USA. “There’s magic in bringing the really large players here in town and connecting them with the smaller players.”

Where big meets small is what distinguishes Chicago among the many American cities where the food and beverage industry can thrive. “I mean, not to beat up Boulder, but the large companies there, like WhiteWave or Hain Celestial, are terrific, but compared to Kellogg, Kraft Heinz, ConAgra, Tyson—they’re quite small,” ​he said.

“What Chicago has uniquely is the very large companies who are all interested in growing, in innovation and corporate venturing, and then connecting those with the small, energetic, passionate start-ups.”

Next up: A seed fund, a co-packer database, and food manufacturing curricula

Recruiting new members and building member value is a continuing project for the network, which started with a grant from JP Morgan Chase and the MacArthur Foundation to help create food and manufacturing jobs for the Greater Chicago Area.

Next on its agenda is to start a seed fund, Reed said. “We provide our members a lot of value through networking and education on what’s happening, but we know we need to do more,” ​he said.

“We’re looking to launch an early stage food and beverage seed fund which will benefit female and minority food entrepreneurs in particular,” ​he added.

In addition, the group is also planning a co-packer database slated for completion at the end of April, a job board, and a food manufacturing training curriculum.

“We’re honored by the funding we’ve received from additional funders like the McCormick Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Polk Brothers Foundation, and anonymous donors in order to move the mission forward,” ​Reed said.

“We have very engaging members with more coming each day.”

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