CHICAGO — Chicago is home to some of the world’s largest food companies, including Ferrero, Kraft Heinz, Mondelez International and PepsiCo’s Quaker Foods North America, to name a few. The city also is home to many entrepreneurs seeking to gain traction and scale. At this year’s Chicago Venture Summit, the two groups came together in early May under the theme of the Future of Food to learn and, possibly, do business with each other.

“As we navigate the evolving food industry, entrepreneurship plays a critical role in its continued growth,” said David Casper, chief executive officer of BMO Financial Group, Chicago. “Here in Chicago, we have the distinct advantage of being the center for innovation in the food and agriculture sector.”

Alanna Cotton, president and chief business officer with Ferrero North America, the Venture Summit’s opening keynote speaker, said entrepreneurs need to focus on the consumer.

“Keep the consumer at the center of what you do,” she said. “It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Remember, food is a catalyst to create moments.”

Rajiv Nathan, founder, Startup Hypeman, Chicago, added “Most startups don’t have a product problem. They have a messaging problem. Really good storytelling helps new products grow to a brand.”

Most startups have a story. Global companies, on the other hand, may not. And today’s younger shoppers are attracted to startups with a good story.

“You cannot pretend to be a startup if you are big,” said Rainer Struck, global vice president for innovation transformation, Mars Wrigley.

That’s why the company invests in startups, he added.

“We take time to get to know each other,” Mr. Struck said. “We have sort of a long ‘dating phase.’ The startup has to complement our strategy.”

He explained that in the past, consumers were willing to make tradeoffs for an attribute they wanted from their foods and beverages. Such sacrifices are not being made any longer.

“Good enough is not good enough anymore,” Mr. Struck said. “Consumers have too many choices. They will go elsewhere. This makes us all work harder.”

Alan Kleinerman, vice president of disruption for Kraft Heinz, agreed. He acknowledged “startups are growing for a reason.”

They relate to consumers. This is why Kraft Heinz keeps a company’s founder involved as a partner once it’s acquired.  

Kristin Kroepfl, chief marketing officer for PepsiCo, Inc.’s Quaker Foods North America, ended the conference by saying, “Good ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. Nutrition and taste are important, but you have to be distinct and enduring.”

That’s what Globowl, an internationally inspired baby and toddler food brand that participated in the Naturally Chicago Pitch Slam held during the summit, believes it has accomplished. The startup won the $100,000 prize package, which includes a booth at Expo East, consulting services, retail sales data and more.

“Globowl is honored to have won the Naturally Chicago Pitch Slam and can’t wait to put the generous prize package to good use as we gear up to launch the brand online and in retail this summer,” said Erica Bethe Levin, founder. “Having a booth at Expo East the same quarter that we launch will be incredible for brand awareness, meeting with buyers and spreading the good Globowl word to a whole new audience.”

This year’s Chicago Venture Summit brought together more than 1,000 investors, founders, innovators and corporate executives representing more than 450 companies, startups, financial and investment firms, universities, and other business and innovation groups.

“The Chicago Venture Summit is the epitome of our unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusivity in economic development,” said Michael Fassnacht, president and chief executive officer of World Business Chicago and chief marketing officer of Chicago. “With a record-breaking 156 innovative startups in this summit’s portfolio, nearly half of which are led by female-identifying founders and 66% led by founders of color, we’re proud to be leading the charge in creating a more equitable and inclusive future.

“As a global leader in food and agtech, we’re excited to continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and creating a brighter future for all.”

Click here to learn more about some of the startups at this year’s Chicago Venture Summit.