In 2009, Back to the Roots was founded by college students-turned-entrepreneurs Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora upon a beautifully simple concept for urban mushroom farming. Since that time, Back to the Roots has evolved from a single product to a thriving business dedicated to the disruptive proposition of "un-doing food" and reconnecting families to it through the creation of fun, innovative and delicious Organic Cereals and Organic Indoor Gardening Kit products. In 2010, Back to the Roots launched its first product, the Organic Mushroom Farm ($19.99), which grows delicious organic mushrooms from a box of recycled plant-based soil in just 10 days. Their second product, the Water Garden ($59.99), a self-cleaning fish tank that grows fresh herbs and edible plants by condensing the features of large-scale aquaponics into a 3-gallon tank, debuted in 2013 and was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $250,000. Nikhil and Alejandro have been honored with several awards recognizing their efforts in sustainability and entrepreneurship including BusinessWeek's 'Top 25 Entrepreneurs under 25,' Inc.'s '30 Under 30' and Inc. 500, Forbes' '30 Under 30,' CNN's '10 Next Entrepreneur's to Watch,' and more. In addition, Back to the Roots was named a 2013 Martha Stewart Top Ten American Made honoree and were recognized by President Obama as Champions of Change.
Andrew S. Whitman
Andy Whitman is a successful consumer products executive and investor who melds the experience of a Fortune 100 leader with the passion and resourcefulness of an entrepreneur. After a successful career with General Foods and Kraft Foods and recognizing that nurturing smaller businesses to achieve rapid growth was his passion, he focused on investing in and helping to operate small consumer products companies. Andy has been an active part of the emerging branded consumer products eco-system since founding 2x Consumer Products Growth Partners in 2001.
Andy began his career managing icons like Kool-Aid and Tang. After years of delivering results on big brands, he jumped at the opportunity to run small, autonomous businesses within Kraft in a shirtsleeves environment. Taking charge of brands as small as $10 million that Kraft had been unable to grow or run profitably, Andy's entrepreneurial leadership produced outstanding results. His ability to grow businesses comes from his proven general management experience built upon a diverse breadth of prior functional assignments, including marketing, sales, operations planning and corporate development.
He currently or previously assisted pro bono by serving as a board member for the Jewish United Federation Foods & Hospitality Trade Sector, Marketing Executives Network Group (MENG), Venture Board of the Women's Self-Employment Project and White Plains Child Day Care Association, a Head Start agency.
Andy received a B.B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and an M.B.A. from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. He is an outdoor adventure traveler, an active skier, an avid college basketball fan, a Culinary Institute of America-trained cooking enthusiast and a devoted Parrothead – as a result of traveling early in his career with singer Jimmy Buffett.
VP of Innovation & Consumer Insights
Andria is a transformational innovator who has successfully driven strategic growth at 5 companies in the intensely competitive CPG space across food, beverage and personal care.
Her expertise is quickly identifying opportunities by understanding insights in the rapidly changing consumer, competitive, and industry landscape.
Andria has extensive experience at top tier CPG companies like Kimberly Clark and Kellogg, and across a diverse range of categories and brands. She has worked on some of the worlds most recognized and valuable brands like Sara Lee, Cheez-It, Huggies, St. Ives, Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, and Ball Park.
She is the currently the Vice President of Innovation & Consumer Insights at Johnsonville where she built their new Innovation Center in downtown Chicago. Prior to Johnsonville, Andria was the Vice President of Innovation & Strategy at Sara Lee where she built their Center of Excellence during the transformation where she unleashed the potential of legacy brands through true innovation.
Andria has continued to synthesize her learnings and best practices over the last 20 years and developed her own proven approach that has success rates well above industry norms both in terms of revenue generated, and sustainability – staying power in market.
Co-Founder and CEO
The Chaat Company
Anshu Dua has over 15 years of start-up experience in the technology sector. He’s been on the management team of three start-ups playing a variety of roles including raising venture capital, scaling operations and positioning companies for successful exits. Chasing a passion to be reconnected with his ethnic background, Anshu switched his industry focus to food and launched The Chaat Company in 2015.
Senior Director, Transformative Innovation, Global Snacks Group
Ciara Dilley has 20 years global experience in world class leading FMCG organisations She began her career in brand marketing in Diageo , joined the Campbell Soup company in Europe where she held a number of senior commercial and marketing roles and then moved to head up the European Innovation agenda in Kellogg Europe . Ciara moved to the Global PepsiCo Snack team in 2015 where she led the Innovation agenda on Lay’s and has recently taken on the role of leading the Transformative Innovation agenda for Global Snacking.
Daniel D. Protz
Founder & CEO
Daniel Protz hails from the consumer internet and E-Commerce space. It was while running inventory planning at Groupon that he recognized the possibilities of individual consumer level taste data in retail planning, personalization and R&D. With the help of PhD food scientists, Daniel started applying agile methods of online consumer research, digital data collection and statistics to profiling food products in 2015. He launched FlavorWiki in 2017 with the goal of significantly decreasing the cost and increasing the volume of taste insights data available to the industry.
Daniel started his career at Goldman Sachs in algorithmic trading, where he developed his love of all things data driven. He holds a BA from Dartmouth College and MBA from Stanford University.
Daniel lives in Zurich, Switzerland with his wife and son. FlavorWiki has offices in Zurich and Hershey, PA USA.
Director of Product Development
La Terra Fina USA
Dan has been working in the food industry for over 25 years, starting in the trenches at Starbucks where he developed his deep love of good coffee and strong desire to work regular hours. He then managed to annoy his way into an internship at Mattson, the nation’s premier food product development firm, where they kept him and let him make things for over 11 years. In that time he worked on a vast array of products, literally from soup to nuts, including soups, beverages, sauces, entrees, baked goods, confections, and food service offerings. While at Mattson he was featured in the 2005 Malcom Gladwell New Yorker article “The Bakeoff”. He was lured away from Mattson by Windsor Foods in Hayward to lead part of the product development team for frozen Asian meals and appetizers. Since he always has felt that he should be in charge, he jumped at the chance to prove it at La Terra Fina, a fast growing, premium brand currently placed in the deli category with dips and quiche leading their portfolio. This is where he and his small team do product innovation and renovation. During his tenure at La Terra Fina sales have tripled and they have successfully launched over 20 new products that account for a significant percentage of that growth.
Dan takes a philosophical approach to product development looking to apply fundamental principles to projects. (This may be due to his deep thinking nature or perhaps his lack of specific knowledge, the debate is still open.) Some of the driving forces for him are, products need to meet expectations, it should be fun, and it should make sense.
Dan recently celebrated his 23rd wedding anniversary and is deeply committed to his wife and two children, who are happy to let him cook for them every night. When not working Dan likes to spend time with his family, coaching soccer and martial arts, and hosting dinner parties.
Vice President of Innovation
Dariush Ajami, Ph.D., is the Vice President of Innovation at Beyond Meat, a company that aims to create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein. Dariush leads creative research and development teams from ideation to scaleup processes in the creation of new plant-based meats.
At Beyond Meat, we believe there is a better way to feed the planet by replacing animal protein with plant protein. We are dedicated to improving human health, positively impacting climate change, conserving natural resources and respecting animal welfare. We want to make the world a better place and we’re starting one delicious plant-based meal at a time.
Prior to joining Beyond Meat, Dariush was Assistant Professor of Molecular Assembly at the Scripps Research Institute (La Jolla), where he worked on fundamentals of molecular assembly, natural products and their applications in drug discovery. Dr. Ajami has published over 150 scientific publications, several book chapters and has given lectures at universities and research institutes in the United States and internationally. He is a strong advocate that scientific and technical innovations can effect real changes in the food industry that can be accomplished using all natural and plant-based foods.
Director R&D Carvel Ice Cream
Focus Brands Inc.
David Fenner was named Director of R&D of Carvel Ice Cream in November 2011. Fenner has over 20 years of operations and training experience as well as, research and development experience. Most recently Fenner was the Director of Training/Culinary and Field Support for the Flying Biscuit where he was responsible for the development of test menu items and directing the launch of all new products through strategy, research and market testing. David’s food service career includes Director of Culinary Operations for Shorty’s Mexican Road House and an Executive Chef for the National Porter Inn. David is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University. David resides in the Atlanta area with his wife and daughter.
David Donnan is a Senior Partner with A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm based in Chicago. He is an experienced business leader and consultant with significant global experience in agriculture, food and retail industries. During his career David has managed operating companies, run food plants and consulted to leading global retail and consumer product companies in technology and supply chain strategies, brand growth and positioning. He works with major hunger relief organizations such as Feeding America and Top Box as well as food startups in the Chicago area as a mentor.
Dave is widely recognized as an industry leader with a diverse background who actively speaks and writes on topics of importance to the agriculture, food and beverage, retail, and restaurant industries. He has presented at a variety of industry conferences for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Food Marketing Institute, National Restaurant Association, International Grain Transportation Conference and the Retail Council of Canada. He has also appeared on Bloomberg TV and is quoted in various business journals including Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes.
Dave earned his Masters of Business Administration at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Business and his Bachelor of Applied Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Toronto. He lives in Chicago with his wife Karen.
Co Founder & CEO
David is the co-founder and CEO of Tovala - a company that has built a smart oven and tandem meal service that allow you to enjoy fresh, healthy and home-delivered meals at the touch of a button. As CEO, David has taken the company from a wild idea to reality – with Tovala ovens and meals now available in homes across the U.S. David launched Tovala while earning his MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. At Booth, David worked part-time for the venture firm, Foundation Capital, ran the entrepreneurship club on campus and spent his summer interning at Google.
Prior to Booth, David co-founded the mobile app Draftpedia - the first sports encyclopedia built exclusively for mobile.
David’s first taste for entrepreneurship came before that, when he was responsible for running a bi-coastal chain of frozen yogurt stores. He trained for that role by spending two years working directly under the CEO of the Veggie Grill – the largest chain of vegan restaurants in the country.
David graduated with high honors from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2009 with a B.A. in History. He's spent time living in China, and studying in London and Madrid. He speaks four languages and is an avid NY Jets and Los Angeles Lakers fan. He has been passionate about eating right since attending a health retreat at age 18.
Chief Product Officer
Since he joined Home Chef in 2015, Erik has been working to improve the meal kit customer experience. He leads menu development, ingredient sourcing, packaging design, focusing heavily on customer-driven innovation. Before joining the team at Home Chef, Erik worked at BCG, studied at the French Culinary Institute and worked in the kitchen at Michelin Starred restaurant Madera.
Vice President, Global Marketing and Innovation
Faith Son is Group Vice President, Global Marketing and Innovation at PureCircle, the leading global innovator of stevia ingredients. In this role, she leads the PureCircle Innovation and Technical Services team, driving the development and commercialization of the newest generation of stevia ingredients. She also leads the PureCircle Insights Group, which has conducted the most comprehensive, global consumer insights research of sweet ingredients, with research in several countries as well as the Global Stevia Institute which partners with scientific experts to advance the science of stevia.
Prior to PureCircle, Faith held leadership roles as a consumer F&B marketer and innovator at Mondelez and Kraft Foods, including businesses including global biscuit brands like Belvita and Oreo as well as Enhancer brands like Miracle Whip, Kraft Salad dressing and frozen brands such as DiGiorno and Tombstone Pizza.
Faith holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a B.A in Political Science from Stanford University. She lives in Chicago area with her husband and 2 daughters.
Vice President, Open Innovation Science
Ferrero USA, Inc.
Since January 2016 Giovanni has been Vice President of Ferrero’s Open Innovation Science, a global organization with the mission of driving the discovery, evaluation and integration of external science, technology and entrepreneurial innovations relevant to Ferrero.
Prior to joining Ferrero Giovanni was Global Vice President of Flavor Innovation Discovery at Firmenich, where he led the strategic discovery and commercialization of scientific innovations in the areas of taste modulation, health & nutrition, natural & sustainable, and breakthrough cost innovation.
Prior to joining Firmenich, Giovanni was the co-founder and CEO of Zonebee, a spin-off from the University of Arizona, where he led a multi-disciplinary R&D team to create visionary technology to support informal learning and knowledge management.
Giovanni has more than 25 years of experience in managing and taking to market innovative technology in several industries, both in Global 500 companies and early stage startups.
Jeff is nationally acclaimed marketing strategist and speaker, specializing in igniting food and beverage brands. He is best known for helping to create GOT MILK?, widely recognized as one of the best, most influential campaigns in advertising history.
Jeff is a powerful and highly entertaining speaker who uses witty, often hilarious Got Milk? creative to drive home serious, pivotal points about strategic innovation and disruptive ideation. Jeff speaks nationally and internationally on a range of subjects including innovation, ideation, brand potency and on how marketing might help end world hunger. He is currently leading the development of a Food Innovation Center for the state of Utah. An independent consultant, Jeff lives in Northern California, epicenter of food and menu innovation and spawning ground for numerous early stage food brands.
Prior to GOT MILK?, and his position as CEO of the California Milk Processor Board, Jeff had extensive ad agency experience with Grey, Ted Bates, JWT, McCann Erickson and Ketchum. His clients included a range of CPG companies, including P&G, Clorox, Con Agra, Pillsbury and Safeway Stores.
He is considered a leader in association and category marketing and has helped reposition commodities such as beef, eggs, potatoes, dairy, cereal, raisins, strawberries and tart cherries.
Jeff is a prolific writer. He authored GOT MILK? The Book, and continues to write numerous articles on subjects ranging from managing creative resources to marketing non-profits to getting the best service from the service sector.
Chef Josh worked in the culinary industry for years, learning the importance of using fresh, whole ingredients. It wasn’t until he was a personal chef for a woman recovering from cancer that he learned the true power of food as medicine. He leaned into anti-inflammatory ingredients, spices, and clean sources of meats and found he could still create truly delicious, satisfying meals. Kitchfix now delivers healthy, prepared meals and snacks throughout Chicagoland. Kitchfix also has a Grain-Free granola and Grain-Free frozen waffles available nationwide in grocery stores. Kitchfix believes that the healthy choice should always be delicious, convenient and transparent.
Julianne Kopf graduated with a Masters in Food Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Julianne's previous position was lab tech at the UNL Food Processing Center, mainly dealing with new ingredient development and capabilities. She has been formulating Bugeater Foods’ protein shake as well as working on the nutritional information. She has also taken on the tasks of researching suppliers and cost of production, defining a market growth strategy for the product, grant writing, edible insect research, and also exploring the science and sensory experience of our product.
Keith R. Cadwallader
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Professor Dr. Keith R. Cadwallader is a leading national and international researcher and scholar in the field of flavor science, where he has made both fundamental and applied contributions. He received his B.S. degree from the University of Georgia, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Florida. He worked as assistant professor at Louisiana State University, as assistant/associate professor at Mississippi State University and then joined the faculty of the University of Illinois, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) in 1999. He is currently a professor of food chemistry within the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.
Luis Carlos Chacón
Forbes Latin America
Luis is the Op-Ed Columnist for the Latin American edition of Forbes Magazine and also a Global Growth Consultant for BusinessCase.
He has over 18 years’ experience in journalism, public relations, marketing communications, futures and strategy consulting.
He also has experience with more than a hundred FMCG companies on local, regional and global operations, with 12 corporate and external marketing awards including 5 Effies.
Film Criticism and Storytelling (MoMA)
Futures Studies (University of Houston)
Scenarios (University of Oxford)
Corporate Foresights (University of Manchester)
Innovation & Design Thinking (Stanford University)
Master in Strategy and Innovation (University of Oxford)
Master Candidate in Global Business (University of Oxford)
Vice President of Sales, North America
Michael Frankel is Vice President of Sales, North America for Selerant Corporation, a leading supplier of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solutions for process manufacturers in the food and beverage, personal care and specialty chemical industries. Michael has been with Selerant since 2011 and has over 15 years of highly successful PLM sales experience working with leading global companies to both justify and automate their product development processes. The topic of his presentation on Accelerating Products to Market in a Safer and More Compliant Way a critical component of consideration in PLM initiatives.
The Hatchery Chicago
Natalie Shmulik is the go to resource for everything food business related. Along with an M.L.A. in Gastronomy from Boston University, she has a wide range of experience working with supermarkets, culinary publications, consumer packaged goods companies and food service establishments. After successfully operating her own restaurant, Natalie was hired as a specialty consultant for one of Ontario’s largest supermarket chains where she enhanced consumer experiences through educational initiatives. Discovering her passion for innovation, Natalie was brought on as a brand strategist for the first cold brew tea company and later moved to Chicago, IL to run a food business incubator. With over 5 years of food incubation experience, Natalie has gained a unique perspective on the industry and what it takes to launch and grow a successful business. She was recently featured in Forbes and continues to play a valuable role in branding and marketing for food businesses around the country, with her specialty in trend forecasting. She is now the CEO of The Hatchery- Chicago's premier food business incubator.
Associate Director, Purchase Intelligence
Patricia has an extensive background in food product marketing, new product development and food business ventures. Her 25-plus years of food marketing experience includes extensive market analysis, trend identification, strategy formulation, advertising, public relations, sales development and culinary education program design. Patricia’s product development experience includes market opportunity identification, product conception, ‘gold standard’ formulation, scale-up, co-pack development and sales and marketing strategy execution.
During her time at Mintel, Patricia has been instrumental in the development of the Mintel Food & Drink vertical platform through her contribution of extensive food manufacturing and industry knowledge. Patricia fully leverages her in-depth knowledge of consumer trends to bring keen, insightful and forward-thinking strategies and tactics to Mintel’s client base. She has built a strong reputation within the food industry by publishing articles in key publications and giving presentations at multiple food industry events and conferences.
Patricia’s food industry background also includes 12 years of multi-unit restaurant management and hands-on experience as a corporate chef and wine tour company owner.
R&D Innovation Director
Rajneesh is a highly dedicated and dynamic professional, working as R&D Innovation director at Chobani since Nov 2016. He has 15+ years of work experience in food and beverage industry across various categories, like dairy, beverages, culinary and nutrition etc., mainly in R&D and operations role. He joined Chobani from Nestlé R&D India where he was working as Head of Science & Technology focusing on scouting and developing new technologies to support innovation projects primarily in culinary products. Additionally, He was responsible for the portfolio management to ensure resource optimization vis-à-vis R&D output. Before Nestlé, Rajneesh has been associated with Danone, Parmalat and GlaxoSmithKline consumer healthcare primarily in R&D function.
On personal note, Rajneesh is married to Divya for 12 years and blessed with two girls, Ameya and Anaya. In his leisure time, he loves to run and listen to music. He is extremely easy to get along and fun to work with.
Rajneesh is very enthusiastic and super excited to be part of the most “innovative food company” as per fast company 2017.
Sanford Wolgel, PhD, CFS
Cannabis Science and Regulatory Expert
Sanford Wolgel, PhD, CFS, is a biochemist, regulatory expert, educator and successful business entrepreneur with more than 25 years experience in the food industry, consulting and academia. Since January 2014, Dr. Wolgel has focused his unique skill set on numerous technical, regulatory and intellectual property challenges in the legal cannabis industry. For nearly four years, he was the Chief Science Officer for Cannabistry Labs, a pioneering R&D company that successfully developed and licensed innovative, branded cannabis products in multiple states. He is also a qualified expert witness on FDA labeling regulations for foods, nutritional ingredients and dietary supplements.
The Worthy Company
Sarah Renahan is co-founder of The Worthy Company, which she launched in 2016 alongside her friend and business partner Nydia Shipman.
Their Worthy adventure began as a happy accident in Sarah’s kitchen. They needed convenient, nutritiously well-rounded snack/mini-meal options that were good on-the-go. No bars or shakes. They couldn't find anything, so they got to work in their kitchens. Worthy Super Blendies were born – spoonable, vegan blends of fruits, veggies, protein and fiber - all in one cup!
Worthy is now being sold across the county, on Amazon, and growing daily.
Prior to Launching Worthy, Sarah spent 15 years in Luxury Brand Management and Merchandising for NYC / Italy based luxury brands Gucci, Ferragamo and Frette.
Technical Sales Manager
Sensus America, Inc.
Scott Turowski has been with Sensus America for 12 years. In that time, he has supported companies throughout North America with technical expertise in developing new products with chicory root fiber. He also provides support related to regulatory matters. Scott earned a B.S. in Food Science from Purdue University and an MBA from Penn State University.
Chief Innovation Officer
Shane Durkee is Chief Innovation Officer at Swanson Health, overseeing product innovation and development, research and regulations, and product quality.
Previously, Shane was Senior Vice President, Research and Product Development, Maximum Human Performance; Director, Global Innovation and New Technology at Bayer Consumer Care AG in Basel, Switzerland; and held R&D leadership roles for Bayer’s U.S. nutritional business.
Shane has a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Weber State University, a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix. He’s served on the Senior Scientific Advisory Council for the Council for Responsible Nutrition and science advisory board of Virgo Publishing.
Sweet Street Desserts
Tom as thirteen years’ experience in R&D with Sweet Street a leading manufacturer of gourmet frozen desserts and fifteen years’ experience as an executive pastry chef. He worked with the Hyatt corporation in Chicago at the Park Hyatt and Hyatt Regency. He attended the Culinary art School at Schoolcraft college in Livonia MI and received his bachelors’ degree from Bellevue University. He is currently pursuing his masters’ degree in Food science at the University of Georgia.