CHICAGO — Manufacturing education. Production space. Financial support. These are some of the many resources that The Hatchery, Chicago’s food and beverage non-profit incubator, offers entrepreneurs. Working closely with the less-than-a-year-old Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network, a non-profit functioning as a networking platform to bring both big and small Chicagoland-based food and beverage companies together to work as a community, the two organizations are attracting industry suppliers and investors who are viewing Chicago as the Silicon Valley of food.
In January, Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill., partnered with The Hatchery as part of its emerging business initiative that the ingredient supplier launched to help start-up food and beverage companies turn innovative ideas into on-trend, scalable, food and beverage products. Ingredion’s partnership with The Hatchery connects the company with the local food and beverage community while helping to empower entrepreneurs with Ingredion’s customer-centric innovative ingredient solutions, deep food and beverage product development expertise, market insights and new emerging business e-commerce platform. Ingredion will work with The Hatchery to offer classes, webinars and a mentorship program to Chicago-are entrepreneurs.
“The industry is evolving, and our partnership with The Hatchery demonstrates our dedication to supporting the food and beverage entrepreneurial community,” said Evan Hyman, director of emerging business at Ingredion. “It is an avenue for us to help start-up companies emerge faster and reach their full potential with innovative food and beverage products in demand by today’s consumers.”
The mission of The Hatchery is to enable local food and beverage entrepreneurs to build and grow successful businesses through three major areas of need: access to production space, financing and resources. The Hatchery recently broke ground on a 67,000-square-foot facility in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago that will house 75 to 100 food entrepreneurs.
At an innovation breakfast meeting hosted by The Hatchery and the Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network on Feb. 8, a number of entrepreneurs shared their stories with how The Hatchery provided them with the tools to bring their passions to markets.
Rumi Spice, for example, was founded by Emily Miller, Kim Jung and Keith Alaniz, who all served in the military in Afghanistan. They learned that the war-torn country is abundant in the purple-flowering plant that yields saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the world. They also learned that Afghani saffron is some of the best quality saffron in the world.
“We wanted to introduce American consumers to quality spices,” Mr. Alaniz said. “Saffron has historically been of very poor quality in the U.S. Not anymore.”
To bring more business and more money to the farmers in Afghanistan, Rumi Spice built an infrastructure to sell saffron harvested in Afghanistan to U.S. consumers. The company employs more than 300 women to hand harvest the stigmas of flowers that then get dried and made into spice.
The company started out selling saffron to fine-dining chefs, with one ounce going for about $140. Small bottles of the spice, which are making their way into retail, will sell for about $35 and cost $8.30 to make, as the company detailed in May 2017 when the three co-founders appeared on “Shark Tank” and received a $250,000 investment for 15% equity. With that investment, and assistance from The Hatchery, the company has plans to expand beyond saffron to spice blends, tea and jam.
Award-winning journalist-turned-cookbook author Anupy Singla shared her journey that led to the creation of Indian as Apple Pie. This new line of Indian sauces, spices and pulses are making their debut in select Chicago Whole Foods Market locations and other specialty stores.
Food service entrepreneurs also may find The Hatchery’s resources useful. Alan Moy, a banker-turned-food entrepreneur, for example, is the owner of Viet Nom Nom, a Vietnamese food concept. The company started out as a catering business for Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., and recently opened a quick-service restaurant with fresh grab-and-go items, including bowl meals, salads and spring rolls. Mr. Moy is working on a line of retail products, with plans to roll out its locally crafted organic peanut sauce soon.
Many major food companies, including Johnsonville, Kellogg Co., Kraft Heinz, Mars Wrigley and Tyson, have innovation centers in the Chicagoland area. In addition to developing their own pipeline of products, these companies are working closely with many of the entrepreneurs affiliated with The Hatchery. All of this combined innovation is helping Chicago return to its roots as the hub of food manufacturing in the United States. This time around, many of the end products are more premium and specialty. They are more than blue-box macaroni and cheese.
“We believe growth will come from smart start-ups,” said Alan Reed, executive director of the Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network. “Lots of cool things are happening.”