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The 13 Chicago Food Startups You Need to Know

Over the last decade, a food innovation community has been established in Chicago’s greater startup and tech ecosystem. The area is home to legacy food and beverage companies like McDonald’s, MillerCoors and Gatorade, and more recently, has been home to some of the most successful food startups.

In 2010, Andy Friedman and Pam Netzky launched Skinnypop, a low-calorie popcorn snack.  It is now the flagship product at Amplify Snack Brands and was valued at $1.35 billion when it went public.

And just in September, RXBAR announced that it is being acquired by Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg for $600 million, after only launching four years ago.

Chicago has the resources, talent and space for food startups to thrive, and Chicago Inno has compiled a list of the ones you need to know. They range from food manufacturers to kitchen appliance makers, and those using tech to streamline how we order our food. Here are 13 to watch:

Bee Nana

The company, founded this year by Jessica Gartenstein and Erik Nadeau, makes a non-dairy, banana-based frozen dessert, comprised of only bananas, honey and lemon. Fronen also comes in strawberry and cinnamon flavors, and by the end of November, they plan to begin selling a chocolate flavor. In May, the food startup won $20,000 at the University of Chicago’s annual venture challenge.

Eat Purely

Founded in 2016, Eat Purely sources locally grown ingredients to bring chef-crafted organic meals to people looking for healthy food. They deliver pre-cooked but chilled entrees, ranging from $7-12.

Farmers Fridge

This startup, founded by Luke Saunders, sells gourmet salads and snacks out of automated fridges. For $3-12, consumers can buy breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options like, organic salads, Greek yogurt and granola, soba noodles and more. Food is prepared in the company’s Fulton Market kitchen space and is stocked every morning in their dozens of fridges throughout the Chicagoland area.

Fooda

The local startup, founded by Orazio Buzza and Vip Sandhir in 2011, operates as a virtual office cafeteria that brings local restaurants inside busy workplaces to help give them options when looking for lunch. Besides Chicago, Fooda is available in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Boston. To date, they’ve raised more than $34 million.

Home Chef

The meal kit service, which is similar to Blue Apron, specializes in delivering weekly ingredients to consumers that allow them to prepare home-cooked meals in 30 minutes. In 2016, they moved their offices into the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue, and just in June, the company was reportedly working with Deutsche Bank AG to explore a sale for more than $600 million. Home Chef is expected to rake in $300 million in revenue this year.

Lystr

This kitchen device is designed to help people make their grocery lists. The Wi-Fi-enabled device plugs into a kitchen outlet and lets users scan item barcodes that need to be purchased at the store, which are automatically added to the Lystr app. Founded in 2015 by Kara Scanlin, Lystr is currently on Kickstarter retailing for $99, but will eventually be sold for $119.

Nuni Toaster

The local startup that makes a countertop tortilla toaster started out on Indiegogo in 2016.  The toaster, founded by Elliot Benitez, allows users to put up to six tortillas in the device and toast both sides at the same time. They come in black, grey, red and white, and retail for $89.95.

Pre Brands

The startup, which was launched in 2015 by Lenny Lebovich, sources and sells grass-fed beef from farms in New Zealand and Australia. This year, they’ve expanded their retail partnerships and now sell their products in multiple independent grocers across the Midwest, and on Jet.com and Peapod.com. Additionally, they completed a full chain expansion at Meijer and Mariano’s. They have offices in River North, but package and distribute their products from a factory on Chicago’s South Side.

Simple Mills

The company, founded by University of Chicago graduate Katlin Smith, makes gluten-free, soy-free, non-GMO and paleo-friendly baking mixes. Simple Mills can be bought online or at major grocery chains, like Mariano’s, Raley’s and Whole Foods. Instacart, the same-day grocery delivery service, predicted that Simple Mills would be one of the most in-demand food products of the year.

Tiesta Tea

The startup, founded by Dan Klein and Patrick Tannous, makes more than 50 flavors of natural loose leaf tea, which is stocked in more than 7,000 stores worldwide. Since launching, they’ve raised $4.4 million from several Chicago entrepreneurs. Joe Nogal, Eli’s Cheesecake COO, personally contributed $25,000.

Tock

The online, restaurant reservation platform, founded by Alinea owner Nick Kokonas and former Googler Brian Fitzpatrick, is similar to a ticketing system, in which consumers put down a deposit in advance to hold a table. The platform provides reservations to top-ranked restaurants in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. In 2016, the startup raised $7.5 million in a funding round led by Origin Ventures.

Tovala

Founded in 2015, Tovala is a countertop smart oven that uses a combination of steam, baking and broiling to create quality meals in less than 20 minutes. It uses cloud-data to cook a Tovala-delivered meal, and notifies users when their meal is done via a mobile notification. The oven retails for $399 and Tovala delivers meals for $36-72.

Wise Apple

The company, founded by Rebecca Sholiton and Nathan Cooper in 2015, specializes in delivering fresh, custom, ready-to-serve lunches and snacks for kids. In August, they raised $3.6 million in a funding round led by Pritzker Group Venture Capital and Levy Family. Looking ahead, the company has plans to expand its Humboldt Park production operations to more cities throughout the Midwest.

 

Originally featured in Chicago Inno.