Mattson Chicago: Silicon Valley meets the culinary hub of the heartland

When Mattson acquired Chicago’s Hyde Park Group, no one knew whether the combination would work, but early signs indicate the collaboration will benefit both parties — and their clients.

Kimberly Decker, Contributing writer

May 24, 2024

5 Min Read
Photo by Mattson.

At a Glance

  • Earlier this year, food innovation firm Mattson acquired Chicago’s Hyde Park Group.
  • Both groups are widely known for working with clients to develop groundbreaking food and beverage products.
  • The collaborative nature of this acquisition may bolster innovation and improve knowledge transfer to clients.

When Mary Haderlein founded Hyde Park Group (HPG) in Chicago’s boho Hyde Park neighborhood in 2002, marquee restaurants like Blackbird, Charlie Trotter’s and TRU were making the city a dining destination — and making it thrum with the kind of creative energy that Haderlein hoped her new chef-driven culinary-innovation firm would channel.

Meanwhile, two time zones away, the product-development pioneers at Mattson had already logged a quarter century in the business, leveraging the energy of Silicon Valley to build an ironclad reputation as the tech-fueled test lab where the industry’s smartest scientists were inventing the future of food.

So, when news broke earlier this year that the latter was acquiring the former — from HPG’s new West Town location to its network of culinary professionals — some wondered whether the two cultures might collide more than collaborate.

Judging from what’s already cooking at newly minted Mattson Chicago, however, this strategic acquisition has produced not a culture clash but a bona-fide creative crucible.

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Expanded reach

The strategy behind the acquisition was elementary. “We wanted to be closer to our clients,” Justin Shimek, Mattson CEO, said.

You can’t get closer to the heart of the North American food and beverage industry than the storied City of Big Shoulders.

“When we thought about geographic extension, we always gravitated toward Chicago,” Shimek explained. “It’s got this incredible community of industry and, more recently, startups. It’s a major conference hub, a culinary hotbed — all of that piqued our interest.”

Kindred spirits

But this was more than a marriage of geographic convenience. Per Shimek, “When I connected with Mary, we found that our two organizations were ‘kindred spirits’ in innovation.”

After all, Mattson isn’t just any “strategic consultancy that can come up with consumer insights or new concepts for product development and commercialization,” he said. The company’s made a name for itself by embracing the novel — whether in tech, method or even mindset — with a prescience that stands out in the industry. Shimek recognized a similar “standout quality” at HPG.

“Mary’s built an incredible culinary-driven capability in her network of chefs, her design team and her unique way of activating ideas that we haven’t yet pursued at Mattson,” he explained.

Lifting wings

Haderlein returned the praise: “Mattson is the superpower in the industry, and we’re honored that they’re bringing us into the family. It’s like we have this supersonic jet lifting our wings, letting us take on everything from front- to back-end innovation and around again. That’s a capability we’re all excited about.”

As for what HPG brings to the bargain, “We’re topping that off with our Michelin-starred, James Beard chefs,” she said. Even better, those chefs are “very interested in working in the food industry. They all have this curiosity to peek inside and learn how ‘Big Food’ works.”

Shimek welcomes their curiosity and open-mindedness. “It’s not that there aren’t differences,” he explained. “And we celebrate those differences. But there’s still a strong sense of similarity.”

Already in flight

So strong, in fact, that in the few weeks since Mattson Chicago launched, it’s taken flight sans “any real hiccups,” Haderlein said.

“Even in the short time we’ve been together, we’re seeing the magic that happens when an active restaurateur or credentialed chef combines talent with the people at Mattson — many of whom also have culinary degrees but are activating more in the food-science area,” she explained. “When we put those together, we’re seeing exponential results. And I’m excited to see where that goes.”

Already, one of HPG’s staff chefs jetted to Wisconsin for prototyping and presenting with a new client. Shimek added that an HPG network chef is also knee-deep in a client ideation session using Mattson’s ProtoThink AI platform “run by a relationship leader here in San Francisco.”

“Another area we’re exploring is brand activation,” Haderlein continued. “Whether that’s through co-collaborating with chefs on the front end as a branding mechanism, exploring licensing, doing physical collabs that cross the restaurant side with CPGs — basically, whatever we can to help clients break through.”

Breaking through

This is especially important for clients in mature categories, she added, which constitute no small proportion of Mattson’s — and now Mattson Chicago’s — stable. But their clients aren’t all startups.

“They’re bread-and-butter companies that’ve been in business for a century, and their categories may be flat, stagnating — even a little down,” Haderlein said. “So how do you break through there? We think those are the clients who’ll benefit from the combined tools we bring.”

Ready for service

And a happy client is what everyone wants, whatever the route. As Shimek explained, “We’re both service businesses, so it all starts with our clients.”

Those clients have their own unique cultures; with some launching line extensions and others revamping multi-unit foodservice menus, the team at Mattson Chicago needs every tool at hand to be “a catalyst for their objectives,” Shimek said. “At the end of the day, you have to make great-tasting food, and that takes leveraging all those tools.”

Haderlein also sees their combined forces as “an expanded toolbox for helping clients move the ball forward,” regardless of the goal. “Some want something more farm-to-table with a simpler label, while products in the more highly processed world are necessary for a lot of clients, too,” she said.

Mattson Chicago has the chops to dream up both.

Creative disruption

Given that the two teams are now one, it’s no surprise that they’re already operating that way.

“What does it mean to have a ‘director of disruption,’ and who’s the service provider best prepared to deliver disruptive innovation?” Haderlein asked, then put her money on Mattson Chicago. “There’ve been many times when I’ve sat with clients wishing I had more knowledge about where to go with technology or novel ingredients to help them disrupt a category. Now I do.”

About the Author(s)

Kimberly Decker

Contributing writer

Kimberly J. Decker is a Bay Area food writer who has worked in product development for the frozen sector and written about food, nutrition and the culinary arts. Reach her at [email protected].

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