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Creating an inclusive, continuous, fresh food distribution in Chicago

Experience-oriented data-driven subscription delivery model that better consumer preference, end food waste and empower food deserts

Photo of Trista Li

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Lead Applicant Organization Name


Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

1) Corporate stakeholders: companies such as Fortune 500 Corporations, Chicago Film sets, WeWork 2) Supplier stakeholders: Small to Medium size grocery stores, Food Service distributors 3) Community education stakeholders: Community organizations that has food education programs such as Inner City Muslin Action Network (IMAN), Growing Home 4) Community Retail stakeholders: grocery stores in the food deserts.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Chicago, a city in the United States, covers a total area of 606 km^2

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

As the 3rd largest city in the United States, Chicago represents the nation’s broken food system. It showcased the imbalance in food access due to an urban/rural divide. Our inspiration stems from the real-life challenge of families living in Englewood. Three years ago, we worked on a project to reduce childhood obesity incidents in the inner city community, and we learned the harsh reality of fresh food access in the food-insecure neighborhood: Lack of community infrastructure to support a healthy food system; Hardworking single mothers spend 5-6 hours every week, taking bus after bus, going from store to store to purchase food for the family... Regardless of a hot summer day or snowy winter morning. Access to fresh food is also a growing challenge for working professionals; The disconnect between public support through nonprofits and the community's own desire to achieve a self-sufficient economy.

As we learn further about the regional food system, another theme emerges. The lack of fresh food access is not only impacting the underserved communities, but also the suburban affluent communities. Poor access to fresh food with limited variety and questionable quality further deterred residents from choosing healthy options. 

Since Chicago is home for all of our teammates. It also contains the hope for a potential solution: It is the food hub for the Midwest region. The local distributors have experience in fresh produce trading. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

A combination of Manhattan smashed against Detroit: On one hand, Chicago has the glamour of any metropolitan cities. Its world-renowned architecture, its world-class museums, its rich culinary history, its lengthy debate about the best pizza. It is slowly becoming the Silicon Valley for new food and beverage manufacturing. On the other hand, Chicago faces the awful urban divide, the twin forces of globalization and technological change are enriching a handful of big urban areas, while resources are drained from the heartland, leaving it often devoid of opportunity and prosperity. Such a divide aggravates the existing inequality, safety and food insecurity in underserved communities.

Funnel of America’s Food System: In 1890, farmers took advantage of its good transportation options. Today, Chicago is the capital for Food and Beverage manufacturing with many global brand’s headquarters, such as McDonalds and Kellogg.

Deep Dish Pizza and Hot Cheeto: As the heart of the midwest City, Chicagoans embrace a standard American diet that consists of a high intake of red meat, processed meat, pre-packaged foods, butter, fried food, and high-fat dairy products, eggs, refined grains, potatoes, corn, and high-sugar.  

Urban Jungles and Food Deserts: In rich white Streeterville, Chicagoans can expect to live to 90. In poor black Englewood, it’s just 60 – the most divergent of any US city. Such discrepancy demonstrated the inequality in food access in the Chicago area, along with other public health access. However, while food deserts are a well-known problem, policy on increasing food access has not been effective in addressing this problem.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The US fast food industry and packaged goods industry spends $6 billion dollars in advertising, while the USDA spends $6 million on fresh produce. This disproportionate spending is a great snapshot of the problem facing the US food system: an economy rooted in unhealthy food distribution and retail. 

In Chicago, we are already seeing the problem in the low-income community and the urban working environment: About 10% of the residences live in the food insecure communities and could not have access to affordable fresh produce. In the urban environment, the lack of marketing and overall education leads people to have limited options and knowledge. The daily purchasing habits are still influenced by marketing to prefer packaged goods. 

If we don’t rethink the system that creates demand for fresh perishable, the future of the food system would heavily favor packaged goods. As a result, we would develop a diet that is increasingly focused on processed food, an environment that has a lack of biodiversity. Meanwhile, as technology speeds up the production and distribution of unhealthy goods, our growing economy is forming a culture that further dependent on unhealthy food. Such a direction is going to harm the nation at the expense of high healthcare costs, and the worst quality of life.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

In order to counter the fast-food culture, we need to reignite the demand for a wide variety of fresh food that exists among everyday consumers. If Starbucks can create a consumer-driven coffee culture, there must be a way to use the same method to re-introduce healthy, real, fresh food to everyday consumers.  

1. Create Demand for Fresh Food - use experience economy to educate everyday consumers the diversity of produce: In our vision, nutrition and food education should not be a garring lecture but something businesses are willing to include as part of their marketing budget. In our model, our corporate customers receive a weekly subscription of exotic fresh fruits. We also offer a fruit tasting experience. Through this method, we are introducing new varieties of fresh fruits such as golden kiwis from New Zealand, yellow dragon fruit from Ecuador, Cactus Fruit from Mexico to the consumers. 

2. Reduce Food Waste - use technology to optimize regional fresh food distribution: In our vision, a regional technology platform could help increase the transparency of access inventory from various small to medium-sized distributors. With the data, we then utilize an algorithm to create a fixed price fruit basket to share with the offices to be consumed within 24 hours. Moreover, additional produce would be organized into a smaller batch of wholesale products to be delivered to franchised produce stores in the urban food deserts.  As a result, we can introduce a large variety of fruits and vegetables to the consumer without compromising our profit margin to make the business sustainable.  

3. Food Deserts - reinvest profit to build fresh food infrastructure: In our vision, there will be better inner community infrastructure to foster a prosperous economy around fresh food. As a result, we reinvest the profit to increase food delivery capacity and increase the products being sold within the community harvested from the local urban agriculture system. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

As humans, we all share the desire to connect with nature. Our vision is to offer an equal opportunity for education and access in a human-centered way, so we would choose healthy and fresh food, and create a sustainable food distribution system to keep the financial incentive around healthy food. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Globally, fast food generates revenue of over $570 billion - that is bigger than the economic value of most countries. In the United States, revenue was a whopping $200 billion in 2015 - quite a lot of growth since the 1970 revenue of $6 billion. Meanwhile, the Snack Foods market worldwide is projected to grow by US$217.2 Billion, driven by a compounded growth of 5.6%. 

Such fast food centric economy is becoming the major driving force behind unhealthy consumer preferences. As the industry accelerates its growth, our food system is facing pressure to adopt practices that increase the burden on our public health system, and a sustainable environment.

In our vision, we believe conscious driven, health-focused foodservice models could help restore the healthy food landscape by adding a margin into healthy, natural, historically underpriced fresh food. 

1. Health Driven Fresh Food Service Model: Service models such as subscription, or interactive experiential offerings could draw novelty in promoting healthy, nature, organic food, shifting the pop food culture to become more health-conscious. The early success around healthy food companies such as sweet green has proven the growing consumer demand, so services that can capitalize on 

2. Efficiency Based Regional Technology: Such a new economic model could create a ripple effect in building a better more equitable food delivery infrastructure. With increased revenue, regional food services would have additional financial incentives to increase efficiency and modernize the distribution. A shared digital network could help distributors manage inventory, and report access inventory to healthy food businesses on a just in time basis, further prevent food waste at a distribution/consumer-facing level. 

In the case of KitcheNet’s subscription delivery model, we utilize an algorithm to create office fruit baskets to delight our corporate clients. Since the product is curated by the supplier, it decreases the food waste issue caused by the mismatch between consumers and suppliers. 

3. An “Open Source” regional cold chain distribution: To facilitate distribution, and open-sourced regional food distribution infrastructure that is equipped to support cold chain delivery could increase the efficiency of fresh food delivery and lower the cost. By using idle vans from various nonprofits, we can create a robust distribution team without additional investments. 

4. Paying back to boost community-driven green economy: While the price of healthy food could increase due to the added experience value, lower-income communities could benefit from the technology platform and the existing delivery infrastructure to boost regional economies. Such infrastructure easily links small distributors, urban farms with existing community stores. 

In the case of KitcheNet’s model, we reinvest the delivery process from the office delivery to offer sales and distribution support for local store owners completely free of charge. By significantly removing the logistic and opportunity cost of fresh food procurement, we can increase the profit margin to incentivize store owners to sell more produce, sourced from local farms and distributors.

5. Healthcare Tax on Fast Food Economy: Policy that links fast food to the healthcare cost should be implemented to further regulate the fast food and processed food industry. Marketing and labeling standards such as cigarettes should also be used for banning fast food. 


Our vision believes that we can create a better food economy through new business and services models in the food industry. 

- Economics: The new business model aims to build a marketing margin into fresh food. Just like Starbucks is able to increase the margin for a cup of coffee, using experiential-based, or other innovative business models, we can create a new economy that puts fresh, healthy food at the forefront. 

- Culture: With the new business model, healthy eating would become a new pop culture. 

- Diet: As consumers are more educated on fresh, healthy food, the modern diet would improve with an increased amount of fruits and vegetables, creating a more balanced diet.

- Technology: On an industry level, technology would be adopted to support the growth of the industry for healthy food products, repackaging. Regional supply optimization would require technology platforms.  

- Environment: With added responsibility to the new business models, and improved regional distribution, the environmental burden caused by food waste would be improved and reduced. 

- Community: With a dual impact system, the current food distribution infrastructure could also remove the key barrier that prevents certain communities from access to fresh food. We hope with an open-sourced food distribution infrastructure, the local community can better organize the fresh food economy through urban farming and promote healthy food retail at the community store level, slowly surround the community's core economic strength with regenerative agricultural activities. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website
  • Prize partners
  • LinkedIn

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

Based on the feedback from the open submission phase, we started our refinement journey by asking the following questions: 1) How might we include more local food into our existing supply chain? 2) In what way could data and technology enhance the efficiency of our food system? 3) How can we improve the livelihoods for both the producers and consumers? 4) How does our solution create a positive impact on the environment?

Following these questions, we sought out insights from local experts in the circular economy, food distribution, and urban farming spaces. We also consulted with investors, policymakers, data scientists, and technology experts to inform the viability of our vision from a financial and technical perspective. 

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).

The following individuals from represented organizations contributed more than 10 hours to refine our vision: 

David Carlin from United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (NGO)

Fred Daniels from Growing Home (local urban farm) 

Di Fu from CDC Group plc (Investment) 

John Kostopoulos from Fresh Start Food Services (local distributor) 

Elizabeth Lyon from Plant Chicago (local nonprofit)  

Lyzeth Mondragon from American Heart Association Chicago (NGO)

Sean Shatto from Local Foods (local distributor)

Johnathan Wittig  from Top Box Food (local NGO) 

Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

Our primary research consists of 20+ expert interviews and extensive literature reviews. These activities informed us about trends and innovative business models related to building a healthy, sustainable food system. We then identified stakeholders whose areas of expertise are most relevant to our business model. Some of the questions we tried to answer include: 1) How might we drive consumer demand for healthier and more sustainable food? 2) How might we design a more efficient supply chain? 3) How might we design a local circular food economy? 

Our team also believes that an understanding of investment trends and environmental policy will be critical to developing a viable long term vision. As a result, we gathered 8 stakeholders from 5 industries ranging from their 20s to late 50s. (See attachments)

To diverge our thinking, each stakeholder engaged in one-on-one discussions with the project lead, where the stakeholder explained the unique challenges faced by their respective industry. Post the initial consultation, we hosted weekly hour-long group conference calls to brainstorm trends and possible solutions for a better system across the six themes. To design our vision, we hosted a three-hour creative thinking workshop to draw our system maps and write about our protagonists. Ultimately, each stakeholder reviewed and edited the Vision document before the final submission. 

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

Eating well and saving the planet: A global growth spurt in plant-based diets underlines an ongoing shift in our diets. Americans currently get about 15% of their protein from plant-based sources. Shifting that to 25% could result in enough water savings to provide two-thirds of California’s water supply (Guardian,2015). The latest Nielsen data shows a quadruple increase in meat alternatives sales during COVID-19. It means consumers are susceptible to change when "planet-friendly" choices are available.

A simpler path to local food: In an era that Amazon is in a price war with the grocery industry, and Wal-mart is advertising local food, consumer demand for fresh and local food is growing twice as fast as other food categories (Mintel.2019). However, only 0.4% of U.S. households are buying produce directly from a local farm. The contrast between demand and stagnant performance in local farms calls for a better path for their service models (Simon Huntly, 2018). 

Retail rides the mixed-use wave to help small farmers: Food retailers are evolving to combat the pressure from e-commerce. Almost 40% of Starbucks ' revenue comes from the non-beverage products (Statistica, 2019);  Workchew, a startup in DC, allows restaurants to rent out dining space for co-working purposes. It won't be long when retail stores are taking on additional processing capability to help small farmers store and create value-added products.

Data can shape integrated local distributions: Delivery platforms such as Doordash connect restaurants to clients, simplify their ordering process, and use data to make delivery better. Their models serve as a powerful analog of what an efficient local food supply chain could look like. In fact, 80% of daily tasks for small farmers and distributors can be automated. Moreover, "demand forecasting looks like a person in a room making lots of phone calls and sending lots of emails..." said Sean from Local Foods. With technology, many intermediary services can be horizontally integrated and become more efficient. 

Market-based solutions for food access and affordability: We’ve seen an emergence of community-based organizations in Chicago, creating their own food aid and food exchange program to help their neighbors meet their food demands. LA-based startup Evertable bringing jobs to the community by setting up healthy fast food retail franchises. These initiatives show the resilience of the community and calls for support to enhance solutions that can be sustainable.

Attempts at circular food economy: According to a report conducted by McKinsey and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, optimization on waste could bring $125 billion/year in savings. The latest trends in the circular economy show a growing number of startups turning waste into food or energy. For example, Boulder, Colorado-based startup Emergy Foods is using Mycelia grown from brewery waste to create ingredients for plant-based chicken nuggets. 

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

It is 6:45 AM on a hot summer day. Laura Mazzenett is enjoying the morning breeze in the Pilsen neighborhood as she walks towards the Laines Bakery three blocks away from her home. As the delivery specialist, Laura is a super connecter who brings farm-fresh food to various locations. She loves the smell of fresh-baked bread, and Rachel, the owner of the shop often leaves something special for her. Today she gave Laura a toast with tomato jams for her to try. "How do you like it?" With a mouthful, Laura's face says it all! It was delicious. 

As she finishes up her breakfast, Laura walks towards the garage where her KitcheNet electric car was charging overnight at the coffee shop. She loads up the compacted compost and off on her way. Laura's morning route consists of 10-15 coffee shops in the neighborhood. After saying hi to various business owners and loading up the dry and compact compost units, she is off on her way to the local farms. 

Around 10:00 AM, Laura arrives at the farm collective. She drops off the compost and picks up the freshly harvested produce. "What do you have this week?" Laura asks Fred, the farm director at Growing Home. Around noon, Laura returns to KitcheNet's regional hub where lunch is ready. After lunch, she joins the team meeting to talk about any issues on the route. 

Laura has one more stop before the end of the day. She arrives at a CPS school and drops off the community packages. Laura helps setting up the market, displaying the product carefully as she explains to the market lead all the wonderful knowledge she accumulated from Fred over time, and as families trickling in, she feels wonderfully content! That is her favorite part! 

We identified a few more protagonists. See the attachment for the full rundown of their daily schedule! 

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

For every dollar we spend on food, we increase environmental costs by two dollars. Our food system is responsible for 1/3 of the entire carbon emission, and that is largely due to unsustainable farming practice, inefficient transportation, and food waste. The local regenerative farms improve environmental resilience by improving soil quality and planting diverse crops. While smaller local farms are fighting a good fight, their environmental impact is hard to be seen due to the lack of a meaningful scale. Often time, the carbon benefit a bushel of apple created is offset by the carbon emission associated with hauling them into the farmers market. 

In our vision, we presented a few steps to mitigate our impact of climate change, maintain the integrity of regional food systems, and adapt to the impact of climate change. 

1) Connect more consumers to local food: Many small farms lack the scale, infrastructure, and knowledge to cater to consumer's needs for convenience and choices as a chain grocery store. We envision a digital platform (think Shopify) that helps small regional farmers act as a part of a large farm. By combining multiple farm's offerings, we can extend a variety of products, and increase their access to more audiences. 

2) Remove redundancy: We remove their redundancy through route optimization to help many smaller farms access shared cold-chain distribution and production facilities. With added capacities, distribution channels, and customer base, these farmers could prevent food waste, reduce greenhouse gas emission associated with distribution, and increase farm viability with value-added products. 

3) Quantify climate traceability: We provide farmers the tools to easily communicate their sustainability practices to the consumers through a carbon impact value (for example, a bag of chips has 80 points carbon impact, but a local apple has 20 points). Such an approach can drastically differentiate them from industrial organic farmers who have been overusing the "organic" certification.

4) Inspire consumers with “golden kiwis and purple carrots”: The loss of biodiversity is partially facilitated by consumers’ decreasing knowledge about food and increasing demand for convenience. We envision encouraging consumers to explore beyond their normal boundary of food through a recommendation approach (think Netflix). Such recommendations are based on existing preferences we learned from them over time, and the availability of products from local farmers to be included in the subscription offerings. In the short run, consumers can explore a new variety of produce, growing to like them, and contribute to the aggregate demand for a diverse group of products. 

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

Today's consumers demand convenience. When they can order deep dish pizza, steak, and Italian beef sandwiches with the ease of one-click, they are not watching their blood pressure and cholesterol. On the contrary, for someone who wants to eat healthy (maybe due to dietary restriction) and sustainably, a-la-cart grocery shopping is an ultimate math test: next time you are in the local chain supermarket, try to count total calories, optimize for sodium and fiber, try for zero waste, and think of a recipe without using a calculator!

Convenience drives unhealthy decision making because buying unhealthy, processed food is increasingly easier and cheaper. In our vision, we want to shift the health outcome by making it easy and exciting to eat fresh, healthy, and sustainable food.

1) Healthy food and a happy planet all in one box: We envision new grocery experience (think Stichfix) where we take a science-based approach to curate weekly baskets of fruits and veggies baskets. Each ingredient is sourced primarily from the local farmers. With their individual nutrition and environmental impact value, our algorithm can create a "perfect basket" that meets certain nutritional standards and environmental impact. For example, a customer can purchase a grocery basket that is rich in fiber (“helps you poop better”) and decreases household carbon footprint by 80% (“planting 4 trees”). The box content is based on their prior preference and adventure level. 

2) Help organizations meet their nutritional and sustainable goal: The similar “math” problem (balancing nutrition, calorie, budget, AND environment) also creates significant food waste problems and potential health risks for large organizations like Google and Facebook. We envision a science-based, experience-driven, on-click solution (think Blue Apron for restaurants) that helps corporations create new cafeteria experiences: 1) Institutions share their procurement policy, nutritional guidelines, waste targets, and environmental goals. 2) We curate week to week produce bundles using available local ingredients. 3) We periodically introduce a new variety of products and create recipes with their chefs. 3) On the employee-facing portal, food education is offered with other marketing materials for display in the cafeteria. Employees can respond with their preferences. 4) Organizational waste is examined and reported to us to inform consumers about consumer preferences and improve curation algorithms to reduce waste.


At the same time that convenience and choice are seemingly all around us, many residents in cities like Chicago do not have access to nutritious foods due to a range of geographic and economic factors. Residents of low-income, low-access areas are often faced with a difficult choice of taking a long trip to the grocery store or purchasing food from convenient and close-by options like fast-food establishments and corner stores. 

1) Increase access through self-organized markets: We envision a plug-and-play-solution for small, community-based organizations to host a community farmers market. More specifically, they can lot on to our platform to order a community bundle for resale. Through our platform, we will arrange the delivery and market set up for free. As a result, they are accessing high-quality produce at 30% of what they would have paid for. 

2) Empower community through markets: Local community members can not only place their orders for the farmers market ahead of time, pre-pay their order with their EBT cards, but also signup to be paid by managing the market or teaching the community about the event. As a result, we can create 1-2 jobs opportunity per market and allow residents to access the wholesale product at a smaller quantity. 

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

Chicago has a rich history of being a hub for food aggregation and manufacturing, and a bustling restaurant scene. However, since 2013 more than half of all farmers have lost money every year and lost more than $1,644 this year. Across the nation, farm loan delinquencies are rising. Moreover, the number of restaurants in greater Chicago fell as the industry is feeling the pressure for a tight margin. The increase in restaurant closures also dumps more vacancies on a retail real estate sector already awash in empty space.

1) Reduce costs with integrated logistics: We envision an integrated logistics supported by the distributor and retail industry that local farmers can rely on to significantly decrease their operational costs. More specifically, large food services and grocery stores will evolve into 3rd party logistics, and adding additional services such as managing and consolidate online orders, produce value-added farm goods, and manage delivery and pick-up for customers (think Amazon). Restaurants and coffee shops will have added functions as storage and retail sites to hosts as a farmers market in increased utilization of the real estate. In the short run, the added capability from these mixed-used intermediaries would increase job opportunities with flexible hours, which could complement the skils of hospitality industry workers.

2) Retain value with specialty products: As an online aggregator, we can help smaller farmers access larger clients as part of larger orders. Farmers can see an immediate improvement to their operational cost by switching to use our consolidated logistics. Moreover, KitcheNet's value resides in its ability to introduce a wide variety of products to inspire our consumers. We are not trying to match the market price that encourages volume. As a result, smaller farmers are rewarded by adding novel varieties to our platform to drive product varieties. By switching away from the traditional volume-based farming model, we hope to help farmers retain a better margin. Our current model in fruit products indicates a 16 - 34% increase in supplier's margin overtime. 

3) Community-based fresh entrepreneursWith the support of a digital platform, community organizations, or neighborhoods can set up a marketplace by plugging into the existing product offering and logistics KitcheNet offers. Our customer-facing end can help the hosting organizations manage their clients' pre-order, on-site payment, as well as EBT- purchase. The market vendor would receive a wholesale price produce bundle with suggested retail price and sales manual. The product will be delivered to the site with a zero logistics charge to further decrease the price. With an enhanced margin, local organizations can hire local workers to help the operation of such a market without raising the price of the product. The educated worker would further enhance the knowledge of fresh food at a community level. 

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

In addition to being the former “hog butcher of the world” and birthplace of meat and cheese-heavy items like deep-dish pizza and the Italian beef sandwich, Chicago is also the “city in a garden”, and was home to a robust agricultural landscape in the 19th and early 20th centuries. From its very beginning when indigenous peoples used the land in and around Chicago as a key trading area, Chicago has been a gathering place and crossroads of the food economy. However, due to climate change, fireflies, monarch butterflies are dying off, altering the ecosystem of such a garden. 

As packaged Cheetos does not teach you about how bees impact the food you eat. KitcheNet's subscription wants to take the responsibility to connect people with their food system better. In our vision, our various service offerings bring people and nature closer by creating memorable moments where they can share food with each other. Through these community experiences, they can know more about their food system, ignite collaboration, creativity, and mutual understanding.

1) Food that brings joy: As the speed of our work-life accelerates, a growing proportion of our diet is consists of “food-like” food. Our hope is to bring a moment of enlightenment for people to connect with their food system, and create a sense of community by sharing food and culture with each other. Whether it is when they try their first bite of golden kiwi during their coffee break, learning about purple carrots with their colleagues in the cafeteria, or take a blueberry trip with their family on a KitcheNet affiliated local farm in Michigan. More importantly, such an experience is offered to both individual consumers as well as institutions, where our consumers will have multiple touchpoints to connect directly with their food, the grower, and beyond.

2) Food that brings community closer: Community culture needs to be re-written by the community. Our vision supports tight-knit communities where people feel comfortable sharing left-over produce, reduce waste, and even produce on a smaller scale. Local communities are involved in shaping and running the local food economy (including planning, production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste/nutrient management). We intend to keep as much of our food system within the community as possible in a self-reinforcing way that builds deeper trust between neighbors.  

3) Food that empowers: Urban Agriculture training programs like Windy City Harvest, which train residents, including many people of color, to be urban farmers, are a great example of programs that create community-based farms. When residents of a neighborhood see someone from their own community owning and operating aspects of the food system, such as an urban farm, this increases both confidence and participation in the system. With more “protective” policy, local institutions and local people would have a stronger identity with their food system, allowing the community to take pride in their own food system’s heroes such as farmers. Such a sense of community would also protect the price of their local food.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

Chicago's emerging food technology companies have been shaping the local economy and food culture. GrubHub and Chowly use the marketplace platform to help the restaurant industry; Homechef and Fooda redefine the convenience for family and office meals. Most of the technology in our food system is already out there and was adopted by other industries. In our vision, we have highlighted how digital platforms, data science, and renewable technology can build a better and more inclusive food system. 

1) Digital platforms can scale impact: we are building a platform that brings various farms to act as one large farm, as a result, they can access large institutional buyers and individual consumers from various ways. Centralized procurement and logistics processes can significantly reduce operational costs for smaller farmersSimilar platform already exists within larger players such as Indigo Marketplace. However, our solution would be more regionally focused and vertically integrated with retail stores. Such a digital platform can also scale up the community-based impact. Individual community organizations can use the white-label platform to create their own farmers market. They can purchase institutional bundles at a discounted price, so they can resell these items with a larger profit. 

2) Data transparency can minimize waste: The mismatch between consumer preference and retail supply accounts for 40% of food waste. In our vision, data science would help improve the matching between supplier and consumer. We can learn about individual consumer preferences on an aggregate level through their purchase and their feedback. Consumer’s receptiveness towards a new variety of products could inform the farmer’s production planning to minimize waste. 

3) Data automation can improve efficiency: Meanwhile, 80% of the manual labor in distribution is spent in matching orders and correcting operational errors. Statistical modeling such as AI algorithms automatically matches orders and correct operational errors. AI algorithms could automatically create menus using available products to match consumer preferences and prevent waste. In the short run, the supply chain industry would be shifting their labor time from correcting mistakes and other redundant work to create procedures to improve production for long term success. 

4) Scale enhances accessibility: We are creating a community distribution network. As the network grows, we are collecting more data to widely share with the food industry. More importantly, the scale would be critical in driving down the cost and increase the adoption of renewable energy on the farm, which would further our environmentally sustainable practices.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

We believe that big changes can occur on the local level too when it comes to food systems and sustainability. The City of Chicago recently adopted the Good Food Purchasing Policy, a huge step toward cultivating this system at an institutional level. Building on this success in the next several years is critical to the implementation of our team’s vision, which needs policies that make urban farming more accessible, increase the quality of jobs in the city’s food sector, reduce food waste, and support residents and families in pursuing healthy, sustainable lifestyles.  

Support regenerative farming practice & increase circularity:

1. Purchasing policies like the Good Food Purchasing Policy, which has been adopted in several cities across the US, including Chicago, should be reinforced by higher education institutions and should also be adopted by companies and public schools. 

2. Easing land access, water access, and zoning that facilitates small farming activities can make urban farming more accessible to a wider variety of city residents across diverse neighborhoods.

3. Creating public resources and training programs geared toward urban agriculture and food production will help more people get into urban farming. 

4. Policies such as municipality collect compost, raise the costs of producing waste, and landfill bans for organic waste would be critical to support the next step towards a healthier local economy. 

5. Policies that support the installation of the infrastructure associated with increasing biodiversity and renewable energy are critical to driving down greenhouse gas emissions and the cost of these infrastructures to urban farmers. 

Support all types of workers: 

1. Updated food regulation that accommodates the multifunctional nature of food business: school, pop-up markets, or even residential facilities could be used to organize community-based food and waste exchange. 

2. Updated food safety that could accommodate the transportation of food and compost within the same supply chain. 

3. Policies that require a living wage and facilitate flexible work hours and affordable childcare are integral to our vision. 

On a federal/global level:

1. EBT Online: Allow SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) to be used online nationwide at a wide variety of retailers, including farmers' markets, farm stands, and small grocers. 

2. Restrictions on food marketing: Our vision requires a massive shift from processed food to healthy, natural food. We can learn from Chile’s most sweeping measures to combat mounting obesity: Warning labels on banned food, eliminated cartoon characters on unhealthy labels, eliminated processed food in school and eliminated advertising of junk food from 6-9. 

3. Restrict agricultural subsidy: The government incentivizes growers to produce extra, with the promise that the USDA and NGOs will buy the excess product for feeding programs. (This is being piloted now during the pandemic, but should be a standard plan for dealing with excess product across all categories). The government will incentivize the growth of cereal crops for direct human consumption rather than for heavily-subsidized meat and dairy industry usage.  

4. Carbon Credit: As technology allows us to calculate the total greenhouse gas emission by various farms and industry, a universal carbon credit would be effective further incentivize consumers to consume more sustainably.

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

We consider each interconnected theme as a component on a flywheel. Each theme increases momentum in building a community-focused circular operation and provides greater stability to enhance local health, the local economy, and the food culture of local residents. 

Such a flywheel is centered around experience value: The better curation we offer to consumers (through a combination of personalization and recommendation), the more appealing our service is to our prospective consumers, attracting more local farmers to join the marketplace. The influx of farmers increases the variety of KitcheNet's products -  a key differentiator of our platform - and continues to improve our curation, further fostering increased customer engagement and conversion. 

Consumers are happier with better matching results. With the growth on the consumer side, comes the ability to lower cost structures. We can reinvest capital into marketing for sustainable and healthy food, offering our product at a lower price point, and subsidizing the underserved markets. 

Suppliers are happier with increased sales and added capacity. With the growth on the supplier side, comes the distribution efficiency and improved margin. They can invest in regenerative farming practices and offer more nutritious food and enhance sustainability. 

As our flywheel shifts towards a local-food centered economic engine, it can strengthen the local economy through job creation, and bringing entrepreneurial culture to the underserved communities. It also facilitates environmental improvements through the changing culture around diets.  

We believe that policy would be an important outside factor that can facilitate such a transformation of the regional food system. Local governmental support for farmers can come in the form of contracts between farmers and local schools or municipal offices. In addition, credits and incentives for using clean energy and reducing waste can change behaviors in line with our goals of sustainability and zero-waste. 

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

Tradeoff 1: As a marketplace platform that provides subscription boxes to consumers, we understand that to satisfy consumers’ operationalized preferences, we won’t be able to adopt 100% fully local produce. More specifically, when locally produced apples could be equally expensive as imported cherries, consumers would be driven to optimize novelty. As a result, the transition from imported goods to local goods would come through time. As local suppliers increase their variety of products over time, we can slowly move towards increasing the proportion of local produce. However, during the initial stage, we can help them increase revenue by connecting them with institutional buyers and value-added production capacity. 

Tradeoff 2:  Presently, the efficiency of the farm-to-consumer marketplace is low in comparison to food distributors. While we continue to build our direct supply networks with farmers, we may need to rely on regional food distributors to complement the product offerings. In the short run, that would mean that some of the costs are paid to the distributor rather than directly to the farmer. However, we can prioritize products that might become waste from the distributors to strengthen our commitment towards zero food waste. As we continue to improve our logistics and demonstrate the model’s effectiveness, we should be able to secure additional funding to scale up our distribution networks. Furthermore, greater consumer demand will also make these direct channels more economical. 

Tradeoff 3: In our vision, we would like to see the traditional food pantry phase-out by a community-based food exchange or fresh produce market. Such services could be carried out by community organizations or even community individuals. However, in the short run, food-insecure households would depend on the existing food pantry. Our plan is to look at ways to integrate our online platforms to facilitate subsidized and EBT-friendly farmers’ markets and determine how these can become a more central fixture in communities of all income levels. 

Tradeoff 4: As the demand for local farms is proportionally increased, it is possible that this may not directly lead to more sustainable farming and energy use practices. However, in the short-term, while we recognize this limitation, we want to increase support farmers who are shifting to (or are currently practicing) sustainable agriculture. 

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

Between September 2018 to March 2019, seventy-two corporate offices explored more than a hundred varieties of fresh fruits through KitcheNet's subscription. More than 5,000 consumers learned how to distinguish up to 12 types of oranges: Orri Jaffa, Murcuotte, Satsuma... With the proceeds, we opened one community market servicing 100 clients weekly. We are thrilled to see the momentum created through our initial offerings, and we plan on taking more Chicagoan on this journey of rediscovering their local food.

Phase 1. Pilot produce focused operation: Launch pilot operations with local partners (Plant Chicago, Local Foods, Top Box Foods, Freshstart Service) to test our assumptions on consumer/supplier demand, and clarify technology requirements. We envision our assumptions would become clear once we’ve acquired one institution partner,  one to two community markets, 500 individual clients, and a group of local farms. 

Phase 2. Build a minimum viable tech platform (MVP): Enhance our existing platform by clarifying supplier inputs and consumer requirements, define algorithm models, and build a low fidelity interface. We envision our MVP can help growers/distributors list their products, and calculate the environmental impact of their chosen logistics, and generate several varieties of subscription boxes to sell to consumers(i.e. Southside Box, 50% Carbon Reduction Box, etc.). 

Phase 3. Scale across Chicago: Key insights learned from building the MVP can help us understand how specific features could impact our platform growth (i.e. how can we satisfy customer dietary requirements better by onboarding an additional farm; unit economics for break-even on the platform level and how that might shift with scaling to neighborhoods with different purchasing power, etc.). In addition, the initial accumulation of data can help us create useful information and insights to be shared with other food companies and partners.

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

By 2030, curation driven shopping experience is a norm. Consumers can design their weekly grocery basket to include certain health value and environmental impact. Such baskets would include a large portion of local produce, or value-added product, without compromising their personal preferences. 

Institutions will have comprehensive metrics for food and breakroom program. Cafeteria program design will have a clear goal towards carbon neutrality, and significant support for regional farmers and jobs creation. 

Local restaurants and coffee shops become multifunctional. Increasing interconnectedness between farms and communities allows shop owners to add grocery/market in the forms of retail or gardening. They can rent out their storage and prepping space. 

Food distributors underwent a digital transformation. Distributors no longer have to work 14+ hours per day. The data-driven platform would help handle invoicing and payment collection. With the added "scan and track" capacity, the warehouse operation is automated extensively.

Community food insecurity and waste can be minimized through the self-organized exchange. Consumers are paying a small monthly fee to join a community-based food exchange, allowing them to bring access food to a centralized location. 

The hunger industry evolves to become job training and production facilities. Large charities are offering job training opportunities for families to enhance their skills. They are transforming their centralized warehouse and kitchen. As a result, through donations and other forms of subsidy, charities are able to provide large group based healthy meals. 

Regional food waste becomes an important form of resource. As carbon tax is implemented globally, the cost of alternative energy becomes attractive. Composting is not only a norm, but also an opportunity for new companies to source food waste as raw materials for packaging, new forms of food, or energy.

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

1) Launch an offline pilot - $65,000:

1) Onboard local farmers: Work with partners to onboard 6-10 local farms. Understand the challenges within their sales process and how can we expand their sales reach.

2) Qualify institutions and individual consumers: Work with partners to understand institution buyers such as schools' procurement processes and challenges. Create a focus group among existing corporate audiences to understand the opportunity to enhance their experience with existing farm to consumer box services. 

3) Run operations: Work with existing logistics partners to create prototype boxes for consumers, test delivery and pick up operations, and gather feedback. 

4) Launch a community market: Organize and pilot an on-going food exchange.

2) Create an online minimum viable marketplace -  $70,000:

1) Database: Seek new partners through the University of Chicago or other research institutions to create a database that can create estimates on carbon footprint value based on a few input data points. And assign nutritional data and environmental data to each product listed on the website.

2) Create a beta platform that includes the following components: a dashboard for farmers to upload product information, an intuitive consumer interface to register their budget and preferences and a core algorithm to generate multiple product combinations for the food delivery box that matches supply and demand based on the specific inputs from farmers and consumers.

3) Office program: We can also design an MVP for the workspace program if there is a promising demand from institutional buyers through the offline pilot. 

3) Project Management and Fundraise Preparation: $65,000

Actively plan, manage, and monitor the pilot project. Track and analyze key performance against the assumptions. Use the data to support the fundraising effort.

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

Our vision has three pillars that we believe are critical to ensuring vibrant, successful communities in 2050.

Sustainability: At a global level, the climate crisis is the most serious challenge humanity has ever faced. Its effects will be felt in regions and societies throughout the world. We want to play a positive role in reducing our carbon footprint and shifting consumer's preference to a sustainable pallet. We do this by directing more consumers to support farmers that are committed to regenerative agricultural practices. We are also are eager to decrease waste in the food sector by increasing efficiency and circularity.

Economic Inclusion: Rising income inequality has deepened inequalities of opportunity. This economic unfairness is felt most acutely by marginalized communities, such as those of color. We want to create tools and infrastructures that can bring economic opportunity to these communities. This means both paying our partners fair wages and making them active collaborators in our vision. 

Health: Finally, at our core, we are focused on health, both individual and community. We want everyone to experience the benefits that natural, vitamin-backed food can bring them. At the community level, we want to serve places where fresh food is a rarity (food deserts) and educate people about healthy eating habits. This type of information can help children develop healthy habits and avoid health problems later on in life. 

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

From the left to right, you will find the following stakeholders: local farmers, food hubs in the form of spare capacity from regional distributors or grocers, a waste hub that turns compost into a value-added product, independent restaurants or coffee shops who can help store products for smaller. institutions such as schools, hospitals, schools are adopting better cafeteria and office snack programs.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Trista Li congratulations on putting together a clear and articulate Vision address the problems of the region upfront. During refinement, how might you detail out your Vision to address some of the assumptions you have put out, especially from a financial viability standpoint?

Photo of Trista Li

Hi Itika,
I think this is a wonderful question. I wonder if you might have any thoughts to share further on what type of assumptions you might be looking at and what type of financial viability models you would be interested in knowing?


Photo of Itika Gupta

Hey Trista Li I think the one most important place the team would like to learn more about financial viability is in making the subscription model affordable and accessible to people with limited access to healthy fruits and vegetables in food deserts

Photo of Trista Li

Hi Itika,

Great, this is very helpful! I have a question on how to integrate the assumptions we listed in the final write up. Do you know what might be a good way to share the assumptions, do you have any examples of a good assumptions to share?


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