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Running on Ice: The Future-of-Food edition

Hello, and welcome to the coolest community in freight! Here you’ll find the latest information on warehouse news, tech developments and all things reefer madness-related. I’m your controller of the thermostat, Mary O’Connell. Thanks for having me!

For this special edition of Running on Ice we are abandoning the traditional format and going for one topic, Thursday’s Chicago Venture Summit Future-of-Food. Investors, startups and leadership from all over the country, but mostly Chicago, came together to explore what exactly the future of food looks like. 

Throughout the day there were some overarching themes that will play a major role in the future of the food supply chain. 

Tech developments 

Bruno Jactel, co-founder of Hypercell Technologies, presents at Future-of-Food. (Photo: Mary O’Connell/FreightWaves)

As with any type of innovation, there is a strong technology component coming to the food supply chain. Visibility and tracking tools have long been a staple. Now people are diving further in. 

Hypercell Technologies has developed a comprehensive food testing program. Testing for contaminants is no longer a multiday affair. Salmonella and E. coli can be detected in 10 and 30 minutes, respectively. This tech is in a small testing box that can be kept on site at packaging and storage facilities to allow for contaminants to be discovered before product is shipped, thus dramatically reducing the amount of recalls a company has to perform. Foodborne illnesses take down 45 million humans annually, and about 20% of food in the market has been contaminated.

Therma, on the other hand, wants to get “everyone to turn off their coolers for one hour a day,” according to its president, Aaron Cohen. Knowing that wind and solar power aren’t quite where they need to be to make large impacts, Therma is trying to solve the problem now with temperature monitoring and optimization. It takes refrigeration and HVAC systems and sets them up with an Internet of Things device that then can be used to monitor facilities and track assets and meter energy usage so you don’t need to run at full power when you don’t need to. 


Hyfé Foods co-founder and CEO Michelle Ruiz, center, was named the winner of the TechRise Startup Pitch Competition at Future-of-Food. (Photo: Mary O’Connell/FreightWaves)

The other theme in almost all of the discussions at Future-of-Food was sustainability. There is expected to be almost 9 billion people on the planet within the next seven years and those people have to be fed. The main problem now is how to feed them and not destroy future harvests as a result. 

Regenerative agriculture has become popular in the last few years as farmers of crops and livestock rotate what is planted or grazed in fields each year as a way to give needed nutrients back to the soil after harvest. That will only become more prevalent as time goes on and sustainability metrics are tracked. 

Combined with better visibility into cold storage and other components of the cold chain, some interesting scientific developments come from the research of cell-cultured meat. Basically it’s “meat” that is grown in a lab by cultivating animal cells directly. Meat developed through this process never once sets foot on a farm. It’s made in a facility but it is almost identical to meat grown on a farm, only vegan and vegetarian friendly. Clever Carnivore is doing just that. 

Michelle Ruiz, CEO and co-founder of Hyfé Foods, said, “The only way that we’re going to be able to make a significant climate impact is if we [consumers] bond together as a group. When I think about developing climate solutions, I think of the food system as being a really powerful way to get all the consumers in the world who eat every single day, multiple times a day, to make a difference. I think about it as how do we make it as easy as possible for people to integrate more sustainable solutions into their cultural palette and then how do we make it affordable?”

Equal access to food

Taking part in a future of startups panel at Future-of-Food are, left to right, Mariela Salas of LatinxVC, Jay Owen of Dom’s Kitchen & Market, Michelle Ruiz of Hyfé Foods, Virginia Rangos of Clever Carnivore, and Elizabeth Abunaw of Forty Acres Fresh Market. (Photo: Mary O’Connell/FreightWaves)

Along the same lines of sustainability are equal opportunities to access food. More than 34 million people in the U.S. face food insecurity. They aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from let alone how to access fresh, quality ingredients. 

Elizabeth Abunaw, founder of Forty Acres Fresh Market, said, “For so many communities, food happens to them. They don’t really have control over the food supply chain in their communities. Who comes in is not up to them and who leaves is not up to them. What I want is to ring the alarm. Food is a human right, we all need it to live. How do you bring more sovereignty to all communities, especially those that have been removed from the food supply chain at some point in time?” 

Why Chicago?

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot kicks off Future-of-Food. (Photo: Mary O’Connell/FreightWaves)

Just about every conversation at Future-of-Food came back to: Why Chicago? Why has Chicago become the epicenter of food? Aside from Illinois having some of the best farmland in the country, Chicago is a major freight hub, which never hurts for transportation purposes. The main draw for companies in Chicago is the deep talent pool.There are 23 ranked four-year colleges within the Chicago city limits and 59 four-year colleges within a 50-mile radius. Many companies have leaned into this talent pool to start internship programs and feed their talent pool. Just about every major food company has an office or relocated its corporate headquarters to Chicago in the last five to seven years. 

Chicago Mayor  Lori Lightfoot kicked off the event by saying, , “No other city can compete with Chicago when it comes to food innovation and the food industry. Our region’s proximity to the nation’s most productive farmland and our positioning as a transportation hub is the fuel that continues to grow and thrive with this industry. Today, the Chicago metro area is home to the nation’s largest food manufacturing workforce and home to the industry’s largest and most innovative corporations.”

Shelf life

Ferrero chooses Chicago’s historic Marshall Field Building for new innovation center with strategic R&D lab

E&Y’s reimagining of the food supply chain

Chicago is the future of food and beverage

Global alliance for the future of food 

Wanna chat in the cooler? Shoot me an email with comments, questions or story ideas at [email protected]

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