The Building Blocks of Chicago Food Innovation

Some people dream of owning their own food business. Making it big. But the reality is, very few make it that far.

During our 100-member Innovation Breakfast event on Oct. 12, we heard from three Chicago-based industry leaders. Each went from startup to booming food business. The founders of PRE Brands, Farmer’s Fridge and Grow Forward provided insight on creating an idea, developing a business plan, implementing a business model, and growing a network (no pun intended).

Lenny Lebovich, founder and CEO of PRE Brands (, credits his economic education background. This is what helped him recognize the importance of planning. The first step, he says, “is convincing investors to believe in your idea and care about it as much as you do.”

Luke Saunders, founder and CEO of Farmer’s Fridge (, stated that his past career experience helped him grow the business, specifically when recruiting employees. He said, “Identifying a clear mission and developing a company culture enticed people to come work for us. Chicago has an incredible talent pool. We’re able to find workers that share our core beliefs. We’ve been growing ever since.”

Jim Murphy, founder of Grow Forward (, drove home this one point: generating revenue is the basis of any business. Generating profits continually helps businesses grow. Whether it’s adding more employees or acquiring a business for vertical integration, investors want to see that their investment is growing.

The Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network is helping connect food businesses across the industry. “We have all the pieces right here -- talent, packaging, marketing, transportation and more,” says Jeremy Anderson, Chicasgoland Food & Beverage Network Board member, Innovation Breakfast host and co-founder of Fifty Gazelles. “The future will be built by how these pieces are put together, and it starts with who we are connected with.”

Each panelist told of different times where relationships helped grow their business. A perfect example is from Luke Saunders. He buys tomatoes from Jim Murphy for his Farmer’s Fridge salads. More of these collaborations from food and beverage companies will only help grow our local economy. This specific tomato-salad collaboration proves that Chicago is the place to be for starting and developing a food business.

In the end, all three food entrepreneurs agreed: Chicago has the resources needed to start and build up a food business. It’s a massive hub in the national food and beverage industry with over 4,500 companies and employing more than 135,000 people.

Join us at our next event, Sowing The Seeds: Chicago’s Leadership In Food & Agriculture Education on November 6. We will hear from a panel of Chicago government and food leaders, education leaders and food entrepreneurs. How can we funnel more local students into working in the food and beverage industry? Register and find out.

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