WHAT WE DO

We unite our region’s diverse Good Food sector…

To expand access to better-for-people, better-for-the-planet food…

Through continuing education and mentorship…

Strongly focused on enabling women and minority entrepreneurs.

The Good Food sector has experienced significant growth that reflects the growing desire of consumers for healthier and more sustainably produced goods. Naturally Chicago, launched in May 2019, provides a  year-round platform for education, information and mentorship to help early-stage entrepreneurs expand access to better-for-you, better-for-the-planet food; promote growth, jobs and opportunities in under-resourced communities; and expand business opportunities for women and minorities. A program of nonprofit FamilyFarmed, in collaboration with founding supporters KeHE, Presence Marketing and SPINS, Naturally Chicago is affiliated with the Naturally Network based in Boulder, Colorado.

Please scroll through these highlights of Naturally Chicago’s running start and the immediate impact we have made… together.

LOCAL FOCUS, NATIONAL IMPACT

Since our launch in May 2019, Naturally Chicago has built a schedule of programming around one goal: providing education and mentorship to enable early-stage businesses to grow and expand access to and availability of better-for-you, better-for-the-planet fresh and processed foods.

Our series of webinars and interactive online discussions, inaugurated in April 2020, does just that: They help entrepreneurs adjust and power through the disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic with educational and informative discussions with  local leaders and national veterans of the Good Food sector.

Our webinars have ranged from highly topical (“Food Safety, Operations and Supply Chain in the COVID Era” and “Brand Positioning in the Pandemic”) to news and views that businesses can use regardless of the circumstances (“Support Systems for New Brands,” “Better for You, Certified”).

A total audience of more than 3,000 has registered for our Navigating the New Normal, Sound Off and Office Hours programming.

GATHERING OUR COMMUNITY

KICKOFF KEYNOTE WITH WALTER ROBB — MAY 2019

Naturally Chicago’s first major event — held at the BMO Harris Auditorium in Chicago’s Loop — featured an industry legend: Walter Robb, the longtime Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market. The event also featured a panel of rising-star woman and minority food entrepreneurs, Alison Velazquez of Skinny Souping, Megan Klein of Field + Farmer, and Jordan Buckner of TeaSquares, moderated by Ryan Pintado-Vertner of Smoketown LLC.

“This opportunity for you to build a regional ecosystem here, a strong one, a vibrant one, is not just a contributor into the success of these fine entrepreneurs, but it’s going to build community and it’s going to build economic strength. It’s going to build jobs.” — Walter Robb

THE GROWING NATURAL INDUSTRY, WITH KEHE AND SPINS — OCTOBER 2019

Our second big gathering featured leaders of two of Naturally Chicago’s founding companies: KeHE, a leading national distributor of natural products , and SPINS, the leading provider of data and insights for the natural industry. KeHE CEO Brandon Barnholt’s keynote focused on the rapid market growth in the industry; Anu Goel, SPINS’ President of Client Growth Solutions, gave a data-rich presentation on the State of the Natural Industry. Our generous sponsors get a shout-out at every Naturally Chicago event.

WINTER WELLNESS PARTY AT VITAL PROTEINS — JANUARY 2020

Consumer concerns about wellness spurred rapid growth in many better-for-people products even before the onset of the COVID crisis. Naturally Chicago got 2020 off to a rousing start with the Winter Wellness Party, held at the headquarters of Vital Proteins in Chicago’s Fulton Market District. Our first members-only event prompted nearly 100 new signups, and the energy in the room was amazing: You could just tell new friendships and relationships were taking shape. Great well-focused food and mocktails… so much fun!

Vital Proteins CEO Kurt Seidensticker, a Naturally Chicago Board member who turned the collagen products marketer into one of the industry’s fastest-growing companies, spoke to the crowd, and a discussion on gut health was held by Dr. Ed McDonald of UChicago Medicine and Julie Smolyansky of Lifeway Kefir.

NATURALLY CHICAGO INSIGHTS PANELS AT SPINS

Providing learning experiences for entrepreneurs — information they need to grow — is one of the biggest reasons Naturally Chicago exists. In 2019, we held these three live Naturally Chicago Insights events at SPINS, a Naturally Chicago co-founder.

SIMPLE MILLS ON DIGITAL MARKETING — JUNE 2019

Simple Mills is a Chicago company whose delicious simple, whole food-based almond flour baking mixes, crackers, cookies and frosting have spawned enormous growth over just a few years. The company’s social media marketing played a huge role in that growth. The first event at SPINS featured Michelle Lorge, Simple Mills’ Vice President of Marketing, and members of her team.

KEHE & FRIENDS ON DISTRIBUTORS — July 2019

This Insights event featured Katie Paul, VP of Category Management & Growth Solutions at KeHE, a leading distributor of Good Food and Natural Products (and a Naturally Founder co-founder), joined by Amy Feldman, Senior Executive Vice President for Sales at Lifeway Kefir. They were joined for the Q&A by Patrick Sheridan of the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association and Jim Slama, Co-Founder of Naturally Chicago.

WORKING WITH WALMART — October 2019

For most of its history, Walmart was the epitome of a conventional retail grocer. But rising consumer demand caused a strategy shift, and now Walmart is assertively seeking Good Food brands. New Nexus Group, a consultancy specializing in working with Walmart, headed this Insights. Chicago companies that have succeeded with Walmart were represented by Tracey Halama of Vital Proteins and Matt Matros of Limitless Beverages.

ELEVATING ENTREPRENEURS

NATURALLY CHICAGO PITCH SLAM  — NOVEMBER 2019

In its first year, Naturally Chicago presented the entrepreneur Pitch Slam at FamilyFarmed’s annual Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference. Nine businesses, from more than 70 applicants, competed for a package of in-kind services and cash valued at more than $100,000. Naturally Chicago also presented the Pitch Slam at the first virtual Good Food Financing & Innovation Conference in February 2021 .

Elliott Cohen (above) of Parks & Nash, producer of bone broth instant soup cups, made the pitch that won the Judges’ Prize. The company shared the prize package with Kailey Donewald (right) and Sacred Serve, which makes delicious, rich — and healthy — plant-based gelato.

WE’LL MINGLE AGAIN

MORNING MINGLES — WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

The very first Naturally Chicago event, on May 3, 2019, was a Morning Mingle. A manifestation of our goals to catalyze collaboration and build community across the industry, each Mingle — held most Fridays through the end of February at LYFE Kitchen in the River North neighborhood — featured the best Good Food and Natural Products networking in Chicago, plus an informative presentation by an industry expert; Marc Thomann (right) of Spiral Sun Ventures was our kickoff speaker. We look forward to a return to live events, and mingling again with our friends.