B2B Manufacturers Find Bigger Table Fits Their Purpose

Ingredient makers in Chicago show the middle of the supply chain can band together for the greater good.

Consumer-facing companies have led the way among U.S. manufacturers in creating corporate purpose narratives that attract Americans to their brands and products. But a group of food-ingredient CEOs in Chicago are demonstrating that B2B manufacturers can play the purpose card as well, and in ways that make an actual difference to the people they work and live with.

Seven companies and the Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network combined to establish a partnership called Bigger Table that was aimed at eliminating middlemen and getting better-for-you products directly to the “food-insecure” urban consumers who need them most but often can’t find nor afford them.

As its first project, Bigger Table worked to deliver 560,000 servings of better-for-you hot cocoa to local food banks, food pantries and feeding agencies in the midst of the pandemic. This year, the outfit plans to deliver 1.5 million servings of cocoa, and Bigger Table and its partners are developing other products.

Grain giant ADM, for example, supplied the soy protein and fiber for a no-added-sugar formula that boasted a nutritious seven grams of protein and two grams of fiber per serving. CoreFX donated sugar-free coconut oil powder. Ingredion, a major supplier of sweeteners based locally, may be joining. And so on.

“We really wanted to be a part of it,” Laurette Rondenet, president and CEO of Edlong, a family-owned global flavor manufacturer in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, told Chief Executive. “We contributed a milk flavor into the formulation to provide the richness, mouthfeel and milky notes expected in a cocoa beverage. . Others contributed line time to produce the finished blend. The fact that the product was both nutritious and tasty, and that it could almost be a meal replacer, was a real bonus.”

Inspired by the saying, “When you have more than you need, build a bigger table, not a higher fence,” Chicagoland launched the not-for-profit Bigger Table last year to bring the metro area’s most important industry together to collaborate and deliver on a series of charitable and economic-growth initiatives.

“The middle of the supply chain very much wanted to help during the pandemic with food insecurity, and beyond the pandemic,” Alan Reed, executive director of Bigger Table and the Chicagoland network, told Chief Executive. “There wasn’t a great way to do that. [Consumer packaged-goods companies] have ways, but ingredient or mid-supply-chain companies—because they’re invisible to the consumer—are way behind in terms of giving back to the communities around them.

“But food banks don’t want a bag of soy-protein isolate landing on their doorstep. So with Bigger Table, we figured out that we could begin to combine ingredients together and make them into a healthy end product that we could deliver directly to food banks.

Rondenet, among other CEOs, was attracted to Bigger Table “because it reflects our mission—“to enrich the lives of those we touch”. We believe in giving back and  we do that by donating one percent of our profits, to charitable organizations. We also started a foundation called Edlong Enriches a couple of years ago, and we worked with the Culinary Institute of America to start a scholarship in their culinary science program” in 2016 in the name of Eugene Rondenet, her father, who joined the company in the 1960s and eventually became its sole owner.

Rondenet is looking for Bigger Table to do more as well. “I think it has got really long legs,” she said. “We’re working now on a mac-and-cheese product, trying to make it high in fiber and healthier than the typical mac-and-cheese. I think this could go on and on, so we’re working on funding now.”