Success Requires Focus: Top Tips for Chicagoland Food & Beverage Innovators

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

We launched the Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network with the goal of driving innovative growth by bringing together the region’s stakeholders. With more than 4,500 food and beverage companies that call Chicagoland home, the sheer size and investment in Chicago by our industry requires an investment on our part to foster the talent and expertise that resides in the area.

One of these local talents is Barry Calpino, Conagra Brands Vice President of Innovation. We had the pleasure of hearing him speak during our inaugural Innovation Breakfast Series on July 13th. Barry is the first of many Chicago leaders we will highlight as we aim to shape the future of Chicago’s regional food and beverage industry.

With the astronomical amount of growth and constant shifting occurring in our industry, Barry says it’s important for innovators in the Chicago food and beverage industry to remain focused on doing the following three things:

1. Don’t Forget the Chefs


Tech is the hot, ‘it’ word. Technology is constantly changing the way consumers shop, how they find out about products, how they rate products. However, we can’t forget the actual food. Twenty years from now everyone is still going to need and want to eat food, still bond over it. Food can fill us with emotions; it’s powerful. Let’s take the time to visit restaurants and see what they’re doing. Chicago chefs are doing innovative things - just as much as tech people are.

2. Immerse Yourself in Inspiration


Barry said ConAgra is nestled in the middle of downtown Chicago for one reason. Inspiration. From the local talent to the vast network of industry partners. “Opening our doors to inspiration is vital to fueling growth and innovation within our companies,” says Barry.

3. Be Flexible


Consumers constantly drive change in our industry. The lifeblood of any company should be adaptability. “At ConAgra for example, they’re making their center store products so interesting and engaging that consumers will buy them in the store and online. In order to remain relevant, we have to adapt to the trends of the time,” adds Barry.

As innovators, we have to become comfortable with the idea that positive outcomes are not always possible. There will be some failures along the way. And that’s okay. Each failure hopefully gets us closer to that next, big idea that will change lives for the better.



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