Chicago Food & Beverage, Let’s Focus on the Good Stuff

By Alan Reed, Executive Director of Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network

Did you know more than 4,500 food and beverage companies call Chicagoland home? This accounts for roughly 130,000 employees and $32B in annual sales.

Food and beverage companies are clearly making an investment in Chicago, but the question is, what are we investing to foster the vast amount of talent and expertise that resides in the area? What are we doing to drive inclusive growth and secure Chicagoland’s spot as a global food and beverage hub?

All of these questions drove us to launch the Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network in April this year. Our goal is to bring together the region’s stakeholders and make Chicagoland the “Silicon Valley of food and beverage”, based on its growth, innovation, and connectedness of industry.

We recently kicked off our Innovation Breakfast Series. On July 13 we featured Barry Calpino, Conagra Brands’ new Vice President of Innovation. Barry is the first of many Chicago leaders we are highlighting as we aim to shape the future of Chicago’s regional food and beverage industry.

One of the many insightful things Barry shared with us was the idea of focusing on a few key items in order to be great. He personally shared with us the story of Mark Parker, Nike’s CEO and chairman, as an example of this concept.

After being named CEO in 2006, Mark called one of his buddies for some sound business advice. As a fellow innovator and extremely respected man in the industry, Mark’s friend gave him some invaluable advice that would help him earn the title of one of the “most creative CEOs” of his time.

The friend was Steve Jobs. He simply told Mark at Nike to “just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”

As innovators, this is extremely hard to do. Our minds constantly fill with new ideas. Our inherent tenacity eventually makes it difficult for us not to see each idea through.

This, unfortunately, is why many businesses fail. It’s impossible to do a ton of things really well. There’s power in just focusing on less, knocking those few things out of the park.

Barry explained how he had the pleasure of working with some amazing companies over his career where innovation was ingrained in their culture. As diverse as these companies are from industry to size, they all shared one goal. They all want the same thing: to make products that make people's lives better. Products that are worth standing in line for.

Barry and the ConAgra team is an example of some of the exciting things happening here in our city. Not only are they committed to brand product evolution, but they’re doing this in one of the best cities in the country: Chicago.

Chicago has a lot of exciting things going on in the food and beverage space. We’re the blend of two coasts and have the best of both the established and the new. This creates the perfect atmosphere for inspiration, but also an increased difficulty to solely “focus on the good stuff.”



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