Food giant ConAgra recently announced that it is leaving its long-time home of Omaha and relocating the company’s international headquarters to Chicago. The maker of such popular brands like Bertolli pasta sauce, David seeds, Banquets microwaveable dinners, and Orville Redenbacher is looking to take advantage of the city’s international appeal, world class dining and entertainment, two of the busiest international airports in the country, and most importantly a deep and diverse talent pool. After being headquartered in Omaha since 1922, the company is relocating for good.
ConAgra products are a staple of the American diet. Almost every fridge and pantry in the country has Hunt’s tomato products, Wesson vegetable oil, or Hebrew National hotdogs. However, recently sales have been stagnant, as corporate misadventures like the acquisition of private label food maker Ralcorp and changing consumer tastes have taken their toll on the company’s bottom line.
Now, the company is looking for a deeper talent pool to revive its brands. Chief Executive Officer Sean Connolly, a former executive at another Chicago food company Sara Lee, recently stated “Chicago is an environment that offers us access to innovation and brand-building talent” to justify the move. The company will need to study consumer tastes and preferences, and that is easier in an environment with access to innovation and brand building talent. Chicago is home to the world’s leading food production companies like the newly merged KraftHeinz, Armour meats, Nabisco, Wrigley, Mars, and Quaker Oats. These companies see a constant flow of talent, ranging from careers veterans with industry insight, to millennials in tune with viral marketing and the latest food trends. Eric Thompson, economics professor at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln said “if you are in a city with multiple corporate headquarters, you have a deeper talent pool. We have very talented people here [in Nebraska], just not as many as Chicago.”
Human resources professionals often find it difficult to attract new talent in metropolitan areas the size of Omaha. Young, educated adults often leave their home towns for larger cities like New York and Chicago, or even the mid-sized Kansas City and Denver. As a result, recruiters frequently find themselves sorting through the same stack of potential candidates for every occupation.
Poaching professionals from other markets is not always easy. Few are drawn to Omaha’s famous low cost of living and still demand a premium to relocate. This often makes the candidates too pricey for companies with lean budgets like ConAgra. Furthermore, candidates frequently show interest in relocating, only to change their minds as the hiring process advances. “At least once every few weeks I interview a candidate that shows interest in moving, but changes his mind when it is time to schedule the second interview” said Vito Clark, a recruiter at an Omaha-area logistics company. “And we are offering pay well above Omaha’s normal range” said Clark. Chicago solves this problem for ConAgra. The city is bursting at the seams with newly minted college grads. Hopefully, ConAgra can tap this talent pool to revive its brands.