ANAHEIM, California — Mondelez's new innovation team met the founder of Uplift Food, a startup developing prebiotic foods, at an accelerator last year.
After a year of building a relationship, Mondelez's new SnackFutures innovation and venture hub announced Thursday that Uplift Food is its first minority investment. Brigette Wolf, global head of SnackFutures Innovation, told Food Dive at Natural Products Expo West that they were drawn to Uplift because it's working to disrupt the industry.
"People think of gut health as just digestive, but she is actually taking the next progression of understanding where consumers needs are really going," Wolf said. "So we saw a world of possibility of helping her build snacks in that area."
SnackFutures is a relatively new business unit, announced by the snacking titan at the end of last year. Its aim is to cultivate and develop the future of snacking. Wolf said the program goal is to raise $100 million in revenue by 2022.
Dietitian and founder of Uplift Food Kara Landau told Food Dive in an email she felt a connection with the SnackFutures team when they met, and the team has been supportive of her vision for the company.
"At its core, the goal of this partnership is to align the strengths that we both bring to the table in order to successfully achieve our aligned goals of creating gut healthy snack foods that have a positive impact on consumer health, and that are incorporated daily by all," Landau said.
"People think of gut health as just digestive, but she is actually taking the next progression of understanding where consumers needs are really going. So we saw a world of possibility of helping her build snacks in that area."
Global head of SnackFutures, Mondelez
Landau said the SnackFutures team's industry knowledge will help her company grow. Together they will work to create well-aligned healthy brands to "educate and help shape a healthier food supply that will be to the benefit of consumers across the globe," she said.
The investment in this company gives Mondelez a foot in the door for a growing trend in the industry. Consumers are increasingly seeking out additional benefits in their food — especially for digestive health.
When SnackFutures was created last year, Wolf said Mondelez put a big stake in the ground, showcasing its intent to create snacks that will disrupt the industry and develop unique brands. She said the program has three tenets of growth: to innovate, reinvent and venture.
"It is going to be a hybrid of creating new businesses, partnering, and having those minority investments," Wolf said.
With its innovation goal, the team plans to create new brands and businesses. As far as reinvention, SnackFutures will reimagine what Wolf called some of Mondelez's "sleepier brands."
"Where can we push the boundary that just historically we haven't done, that is where we will take them," she said. "It's not just figuring out what is going on today, it's figuring out what is going on tomorrow and then some."
For the last tenet of growth, the group plans to use venture capital to make direct minority investments in entrepreneurs and startups. The VC team is small, so Wolf said they will start in the U.S., but the "expectation is that we will go where we find outstanding snack-breakers and really those at the forefront who can go against the areas that we are looking."
The program is also focusing on big trends in food like well-being and premium. As far as well-being, the group is looking into functional health, and Uplift fit right into that mission, Wolf said.
"At its core, the goal of this partnership is to align the strengths that we both bring to the table in order to successfully achieve our aligned goals of creating gut healthy snack foods that have a positive impact on consumer health, and that are incorporated daily by all."
Dietitian and founder of Uplift Food
As the snack industry has expanded, more companies have launched venture arms and accelerators to keep up with the category and invest in the startups are shaping the future of the industry. Wolf said that Expo West is a great starting point for them to connect with people and meet disruptive startups.
"For SnackFutures, it really is kind of the world is your playground. Natural Expo West is nothing better than to see and explore and see that level of range," she said.