Chicago has been a hot spot for startup shopping recently, too. HelloFresh announced last month it would pay up to $277 million for Batavia-based meal delivery service Factor 75. In recent years, Kroger paid up to $700 million for meal kit company AG亚洲国际游戏home Chef, and RXBar sold to Kellogg for $600 million.
Chicago's food tech scene still has a ways to go, Henderson says, but all the factions are working together more coherently.
At food incubator the Hatchery, which opened its space in East Garfield Park in 2019, more people than ever before are looking to start food companies, says CEO Natalie Shmulik.
Enrollment is up in the incubator's monthly class on how to start a food business (now virtual). Typically, half the ideas people bring are for brick-and-mortar businesses, and half are packaged goods. Now, they're skewing toward delivery and ghost kitchens.
To be sure, startups based at the Hatchery have shut down amid the pandemic, and the nonprofit's revenue streams have taken a hit, Shmulik says. It has been a crucible of a year. But issues that have long plagued food businesses behind the scenes, like low profit margins or delivery hiccups, have come to light.
"What this has allowed us to see is, OK, there are clearly challenges throughout the entire supply chain," Shmulik says. "Now we can really focus on how to improve them."
Companies built during economic downturns tend to be well constructed and strong, as there isn't room for error, says Paul Earle, adjunct lecturer of innovation and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
"The problems they're solving have to be real and proven," he says. "If you can get something airborne during this time, it's a really good plane."