- SnackFutures, Mondelez International's innovation and venture hub, announced the first nine startups participating in its recently launched CoLab, a program for early-stage well-being snack brands, the CPG giant said. Each brand will participate in a 12-week curriculum and receive a $20,000 grant.
- The companies participating in the inaugural class include: Elite Sweets, a Keto doughnut brand run by founders who each lost more than 100 pounds; NuSkool low-sugar snacking platform; 12 Tides, a nutrient-dense snack made from kelp sourced from regenerative ocean farms; and the Better Bites Bakery allergen-free line, created by a founder whose son had life-threatening food allergies.
- Big food companies, including PepsiCo, Danone, Chobani and General Mills, have started their own incubators to expedite their entrance into fast-growing trends in the food space such as better-for-you, natural, clean label, plant-based and functional.
Mondelez has benefited from the growth in snacking with its portfolio of brands including Oreo, Ritz and Triscuit. But consumers increasingly are looking for more choices when they snack, and it's increasingly incumbent among CPGs of all sizes to have a bigger presence in brands that speak to a whole host of trends.
Mondelez has little to lose in starting CoLab under its SnackFutures umbrella. The 12-week CoLab program is customized to each participant’s business challenges and growth priorities. Mondelez provides the businesses with tools, technologies and access to networks and industry expertise, while the large CPG gains insights, capabilities and prospective investment opportunities.
Brigette Wolf, global head of SnackFutures at Mondelez, said CoLab will allow her company to get a deeper understanding into how snacking trends are evolving that oftentimes go beyond the expertise that CPG has amassed.
"This allows us to scan the universe of what is going on," Wolf said. It "allows us to step outside the Mondelez core and see where that next incremental wave of snacking is possible and see new opportunities arising for us. CoLab gives us that wonderful vantage point."
Since SnackFutures was launched by Mondelez in 2018, the innovation and venture hub has been using startup strategies to test new products such as Dirt Kitchen Snacks, which are made from unique vegetables, and cacao fruit snack brand CaPao. It also has made investments in Uplift Food, Torr and Hu, the latter which was purchased by the snacking giant in January.
Mondelez and SnackFutures are taking the snacking prowess a step further with CoLab by focusing on established companies that fit into its growth strategy. Businesses must generate at least $500,000 in revenue, have high growth potential and align with Mondelez's innovation priorities. Nearly 200 companies applied for the program, Wolf said.
SnackFutures’ inaugural CoLab class includes entrepreneurs making healthier doughnuts, allergy-friendly foods, low-sugar offerings, gluten-free snacks, plant-based crisps that are a vegan take on pork rinds and vitamin-infused candy. Several of the businesses also are led by women and individuals of color, a reflection of the importance consumers and corporations are placing on diversity.
The wide range of products, while heavily skewed toward plants and gluten-free offerings, allows SnackFutures and Mondelez to track a host of trends that are unfolding and developing in real time.
"We wanted to have a broader aperture of what does well-being mean to both the entrepreneur community as well as to the consumer," Wolf said. "It's a reflection of what's going on in the marketplace. There isn't an only one and done category. We look at snacking as ... giving people a lot of choices."
Mondelez aims to cultivate a long-term relationship with each participant that potentially could lead to an equity investment once it becomes more familiar with the business and the startup is more established, Wolf said. Mondelez has three years working with smaller brands in SnackFutures that no doubt have come in handy identifying CoLab entrepreneurs that would not only benefit from its tutelage but could also help the Oreo maker in the future.