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John S. Forrester
May 25, 2022
2 Min Read
A new report showcases Chicago's growing role as a food innovation hub.Image courtesy of Susan E. Degginger / Alamy Stock Photo
Chicago has long been a center of food and beverage manufacturing activity, but a new report published this month shows the Illinois metropolis has also become a major hub for food innovation investment in recent years.
Economic development organization World Business Chicago’s “Innovation in Chicago’s Food Industry” report points out that more than 2,800 food and beverage innovation-related firms are in the Chicago metropolitan area, operating incubators and accelerators like Food Foundry and corporate innovation centers such as the Conagra Brands Center for Food Design. Venture capital firms and other food industry partners support also support local food innovation efforts.
“When the team reviewed the data and trends, it was clear to us that Chicago’s dominance is deeply rooted, but also a result of consistent innovation; not something you typically see in stalwart, legacy industries,” Robin Ficke, vice president, research for World Business Chicago, said in a release.
Researchers found some $723 million in venture capital was invested in Chicago-area food innovation firms in 2021, representing a 508% boost from 2019. About half of those funds went to companies involved in the development of new ingredients and manufactured food and beverage products. $238.3 million was injected into distribution-related firms.
During the first quarter of 2022, Windy City food innovation companies have brought in $111 million in VC investment.
The report’s author’s also point out that Chicago’s proximity to inputs and customers and its central location in the US also contribute to the strength of the area’s food innovation ecosystem.
“Chicago has the full value chain for food manufacturing. The region’s strategic location – in America’s breadbasket and at the nation’s crossroads – means easier access to inputs and getting products to market,” World Business Chicago wrote in the document. “Combined with the fact that Chicago is a leader in the professional services industry and home to preeminent research institutions, food manufacturers and innovators have the tools they need to develop and commoditize products, processes, and services.”
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