Thinking and behaving like a startup is not easy to do as a multinational company, which was the whole impetus to launching SnackFutures in 2018, said Brigette Wolf, Global Head of SnackFutures, Innovation & Venture, Mondelēz International.
The innovation and venture arm has launched several in-house brands since then including CaPao, Dirt Kitchen Snacks, Ruckus and Co., and MillieGram, as well as taking a share of equity in emerging wellness brands already on the market (Hu Products and Uplift Foods).
The company's intention with its CoLab startup engagement program is to go "broader and deeper" into the startup community and address their specific pain points, especially the unforeseen roadblocks that may have arisen coming from the pandemic, said Wolf.
"We had been dabbling in this area, and we really felt now was a good time to create something that is consistent with how we operate in SnackFutures," Wolf told FoodNavigator-USA.
In its 2020 State of Snacking report, developed in partnership with The Harris Poll, Mondelēz uncovered that snacking behavior across the board has accelerated during the pandemic. In terms of the snacks consumers are reaching for most, Wolf says both ends of spectrum (i.e. indulgent vs. wellness products) are in play.
"It’s rocketed in different areas and ways," she said. "Some of it was stress eating – we saw a lot of migration to comfort, nostalgia, and trustworthiness [demand for legacy brands such as Chips Ahoy and Oreos shot up, according to Mondelēz full-year earnings]. We’ve also seen a very high swing with consumers in their interest in wellbeing snacks [specifically in the areas of immunity and gut health]."
The report also revealed that consumers are turning to snacks to satisfy hunger and cravings but also as an important source of comfort, connection and community, especially after a difficult year.
These trends will likely stick around, according to the report, as two-thirds of consumers believe the current pandemic will have a long-term impact on how we consume snacks as a society.
Any brand with a strong wellness snacking story and ideally at least $500,000 in net revenue is fair game to be considered for the program (which is now accepting entries), said Wolf.
And compared to other accelerators, the experience of being part of CoLab's 12-week program will be very collaborative and "quite intimate," notes Wolf, as the program will connect the selected startups with not only Mondelēz International's internal resources but introduce entrepreneurs to a network of other partners outside the company.
"We have this huge internal network of global capabilities and expertise, but now we even have this set of external partners (e.g. graphic designers, branding agencies, and PR firms)," she said.
CoLab is customized based on each participant’s business challenges and growth priorities, with a key emphasis on providing dedicated attention, 1:1 mentorship, workshops, and access to Mondelēz International’s leadership, expertise, resources, and networks. The curriculum will be a combination of virtual sessions and three in-person activities (where and when travel is permitted).
Up to 10 start-ups will be chosen to participate in the program and receive a $20,000 grant.
End goal, acquisition targets?
Asked what Mondelēz SnackFutures hopes startups and the snacking giant hopes to gain at the end of the 12-week program, Wolf said, the company would be looking for brands that would be potential "strategic fits."
"However many we bring as a cohort, we hope we actually have really wonderful relationships coming out and continue to mentor them. If they get to the point where they start fundraising -- if they haven't already done it -- maybe we participate in a future round," Wolf added.
"It really is trying to build a long-term relationship."