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Grand Ballroom - 4th Floor

Chicago: The Food Industry Hub of America

A quartet of Chicago’s top food industry leaders and investors take a deep dive into why the region’s myriad F&B companies continue to attract investments, grow at lightning speed and feast on the competition.


Dustin S. Klein
Smart Business

Dustin is an award-winning business journalist, bestselling author, and the publisher of Smart Business. Over the past 30 years, he has interviewed thousands of business and civic leaders, and helped more than 50 CEOs and entrepreneurs transform their ideas into books. A trained investigative politics reporter and former digital media entrepreneur, Dustin joined Smart Business in 1997 after serving as an editor at several daily newspapers.


Diane Pearse
Hickory Farms

Diane is CEO and president of Hickory Farms LLC, a leading multichannel retailer of food gifts and specialty foods. She is leading a transformation of the company to reinvent the brand and become the best retailer in the food gifting space. Previously, she was COO and executive vice president of finance for Garrett Brands LLC, a privately held retailer of gourmet, handcrafted popcorn with over 40 locations globally.

Luke Saunders
Founder & CEO
Farmer's Fridge

Luke is founder and CEO of Farmer’s Fridge, a rapidly growing network of 250-plus automated smart fridges stocked with chef-curated, restaurant-quality salads, sandwiches, bowls and snacks. Regularly challenged by finding fresh food on the road, he arrived at the concept for Farmer’s Fridge: Good health starts with what we eat, and eating well shouldn’t be hard. Today, Farmer's Fridge operates in locations across Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

Mark Thomann
Managing Director
Spiral Sun Ventures

Mark is an entrepreneur dedicated to helping early stage companies and their management teams scale their businesses. The lack of seed capital available to early stage companies focused on better-for-you products inspired him to co-launch Spiral Sun Ventures. He also serves as CEO of Dormitus Brands, which acquires, redevelops and monetizes iconic dormant brands.

Steve Zaruba
CFO & Executive Vice President
ACH Food Companies, Inc.

Steve is CFO and executive vice president of ACH Food Cos. Inc. He brings 35-plus years of experience in the foods industry with a variety of large and mid-sized businesses, publicly listed, PE and privately owned. His background includes 23 years with Sara Lee in corporate and operating CFO roles at Compact Industries and Enesco.

Conference Location

17 East Monroe Street
Chicago, IL 60603
Tel: 312.726.7500