"Even more important than looking at the snacking industry is looking outside the box to see what is changing in consumer behavior, but also to see how certain trends complete the bigger picture."
In this episode, we welcome Barbara Schandl from Mondelēz International. With more than 25 years of experience in consumer research and marketing at a global level, Barbara has become a true expert in consumer research. In her current role as Insights & Strategy Lead SnackFuture Ventures, Barbara shares with us her insights into the ever-changing landscape of the snack industry, revealing how Mondelez is navigating market trends and forming strategic partnerships with startups. Her unique perspective and 'different animal' approach make this a must-listen for FMCG enthusiasts and innovation seekers.
Tune in and get actionable insights from this conversation about trends in the snack industry and startup partnerships, and join us on a delicious journey of innovation in the snack world!
Below you will find the full transcript for the episode.
Crunching numbers and trends in the snack industry
Chris: Hi, and welcome back to another episode of the Innovation Rockstars podcast. My name is, as always, Chris Mühlroth, and today I am very happy to welcome Barbara Schandl from Mondelēz. She is an Insights & Strategy Lead SnackFuture Ventures @ Mondelēz International. If I'm informed correctly, it's really hard to count Barbara, but I guess you have more than 25 years already of experience in all things related to consumer research, marketing, innovation, capability building, country, regional, and globally. And you also have extensive experience in emerging markets. So I'm really looking forward to the conversation. And you introduced yourself to me as being a different animal. So let's see how we can talk about that. I love that spirit. Thanks for joining us. It's a pleasure to have you on the show.
Barbara: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Whenever I hear 25 years, I'm like, oh my God, you know, I'm more than half of my time in the industry. It makes me look old, but yeah, it's still a lot of fun. So it's good.
Chris: It is. And as always, we start straight away with a 60-second introduction sprint, you know, 60 seconds all for you. It's about your career and your current role. So, we have a timer in the background. So for the next 60 seconds, the stage is all yours. Let's go.
Barbara: So actually, yeah, a different animal. I would call myself a curiosity champion, a consumer insight and innovation professional for more than 25 years. I started my career at Nielsen before joining Kraft Foods in 1997 in Vienna. The journey started with local, regional, and global roles across various categories in consumer insights. I developed deep expertise in emerging markets, working for over 10 years for EMEA before moving to Switzerland 13 years ago. Prior to my current position, my experience stretched across consumer, shopper, marketing, strategy, and innovation. Currently, I'm the insights and strategy leader at SnackFutures. We refer to it as the strategic CVC. I'll talk about it later. Milka is my favorite brand. A bit about myself – I love chocolate, I'm a big sports fan, particularly skiing. I adore the mountains and enjoy the beach as well. My core values include being a lifelong learner, finding inspiration, and valuing freedom. Thank you for having me.
Chris: Thanks, and we do have this little routine where I ask you to know three sentence starters. I give you three sentence starters and would like to ask you to complete the sentences. So I start and then you complete. Number one goes like this. One thing that most people do not know about my work in the snacking industry is...
“Look outside the snacking industry to see what's changing in consumer behaviors, but also to see how certain trends complete the bigger picture.”
Barbara: How important it is not to look inside the snacking industry, but I would say look outside the snacking industry to see what's changing in consumer behaviors, but also to see how certain trends and complete the bigger picture.
Chris: So get out of the typical bubble.
Barbara: Yeah, exactly.
Chris: Yeah. Understood. Okay, great. Number two, a personal mantra or philosophy that guides my approach to innovation is what?
Barbara: Is actually curiosity. I'm not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions. As you might have noticed, to get to know me a bit better and also intuition, I would say.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Curiosity and intuition. Okay. And number three, outside my professional life, something I'm passionate about is.
Barbara: I'm passionate about traveling to new places with my family, with my beloved ones, and in particular, also making new experiences.
Barbara's journey at Mondelēz and SnackFutures
Chris: All right, so let's talk about Mondelēz and your experiences. And maybe start with a general overview. Could you maybe share a bit about your journey at Mondelēz and how you ended up at Insights and now at SnackFutures? And maybe you can add what your team is also doing there and how you typically work.
Barbara: Yeah, absolutely. So I would say, overall, how I landed in insights probably also describes a little bit of who I am. So I would say it's probably, again, coming back to curiosity. So I think I have a natural curiosity in people and the world and that led me to also be very, yeah, actually curious and also in my studies, I mean, if I go back also to my school career, but also listening and talking to people has been something I have been probably cultivating for decades. So I think, you know, it's almost like a natural fit with what I'm doing, probably that's answering the question of how I landed. And currently, I'm doing a really interesting role. And I really love to talk about it. So I'm actually leading insights and strategy at Snack Futures. So it's a strategic, we call it a strategic CVC. So corporate venture capital, but it's strategic. So I come to that also in a second. So it's really not that we are only investing the money into smaller companies. So making minority investments. We are also advising them and working with them a lot. And we have also defined our hunting grounds. So we call them basically being very specific how we look, because you could say, okay, you're going among any startup or among any new company, but it's not the case. So we have really defined three hunting grounds, you know, it's like from going to disruption in our core business. So actually anything that is a bit different from where we already operate, but also well-being and sustainability is the second hunting ground. And then it's also about new technologies and it's in particular personalization and new experiences. We really hope to make a meaningful contribution to Mondelēz's 2030 growth vision, and our strategy is really to focus on high-potential brands and businesses, they should have a proven concept. So that's also very important for us. Yeah. And we should also be able, together, to scale those companies. And up to date, we have made a handful of investments. So that's basically it. And the team is like five. Also, you're talking about my team. You know, we are five people. It's a very tiny team. We have a leader, actually, Richie Gray. And then we also have three colleagues based in the US, you know, having been very experienced in the venture part, but also doing financial analysis. On top, we're also leading a program called CoLab. So that's a food acceleration program as well.
Chris: And it's very clear in how you connect this to the strategy and the growth ambition of Mondelēz 2030. Because then, you know, to everybody, it's kind of clear where it has room, what the hunting grounds are, and to which specific part of the growth ambition you actually contribute. So that is pretty, pretty clear, and I guess powerful in terms of communicating, you know, the “why do you exist”? How do you help the business to actually grow and reach its growth ambitions? Can you describe a little bit of how your team is working? Do you reach out proactively? Do you wait for somebody else to, you know, kind of inbound and then contact you directly? Is it a mix? How do you get to these ventures?
“I still believe you need to be very clear about what you're looking for. Because of the scouting efforts, they almost evolved from scouting to attracting those companies.”
Barbara: So I would say it's as we are a very small team, it's very important to build a really good ecosystem. And I would say this is in general, you know since we started SnackFutures in 2019 to build a really great ecosystem of external partners. And I would say it's a combination of, when we talk in particular about the scouting, you know, to put obviously ourselves out there, right? So it's bringing also the outside world in, but being a lot out, which means we're going a lot to trade shows, you know. We are, but of course, we cannot be everywhere, you know, the world is a big world. So it's like it's almost impossible. But we were also starting to work, with partners, on really trying to get to the scouting in a more systematic way as well. And obviously, that's a hot topic. And probably also a topic of today using artificial intelligence is helping here a lot is advancing here a lot. But again, I still believe you need to be very clear about what you're looking for. Because of the scouting efforts, they almost evolved from scouting to attracting those companies.
Changes and trends in the last 10 years
Chris: Yeah, yeah, they do. And you know, just last week, I went to one of these conferences, not at the type of conferences you typically go to, at least not what the intended attendee list is. I visited a conference that was particularly held for software companies, software startups, for example, and the like. And I've talked to a few investors that actually invest in these startup companies and software companies. And they're already making jokes that they count the number that the word AI appears in pitch decks of young companies these days. And they have a hit list of how often is the word AI actually inside the pitch deck. And the more often, the less likely they actually contact them. Because they just have a gut feeling that they just put AI on top of everything, but it's not really an AI solution. So yes, that's hype, but I'm pretty sure there are good cases for any type of artificial intelligence and data analytics to support scouting processes, for example. That's also something we look into quite heavily. And if you take a look back, slightly back at the history, As an insights professional, how have you seen the market change in the last five to 10 years? What kind of trends did you see overall?
Barbara: Yeah, it's an interesting question. I would say 10 years ago for me, you know, it was still more around an evolution, you know, maybe 10–15 years ago. I would say now the research industry is probably the last couple of years and I would also maybe say during COVID but also post-COVID is going through more of a transformation. And I see three areas around, I would call them technological advancements. There is also kind of an evolution in consumer behavior, a better understanding there. And I think there is a stronger need than ever for actionable insights. I will now not come back to the technology part of AI because I think, yeah, everybody talks about it, and it's accelerating, right? And you can do analysis much faster. I think I will touch base on maybe a couple of other points I've been seeing, and I think for me, what's very important is really this area around behavior, especially in connection with innovation. So, you know, really making an effort to understand really the consumer behavior, also observation. And I think it's also what is not said by a consumer as well. I think that's very important. I know there are a lot of platforms out there, you can ask a lot of questions, but it's still claimed, and it gives you a certain direction. But I would not say that gives you necessarily a deep insight, again, you need to know how you use it, obviously. But I think there is something for me about, maybe you can also link it with a bit of eye tracking, right, semiotics. I think that will come much more in the future because, you know, if you want to also be an innovator and you also want to innovate maybe within, I would also call it the base business, in a large corporation. I think it's all about behavioral understanding there is obviously also then we can see a trend around mobile phone research, right? People are having their mobile phones, you know, there's a lot out there as well, you know, you can almost take service now on the go. There's for sure something around also what I see around less my area of expertise, but advanced analytics. Yeah. So everything around this machine learning, but also predictive modeling. Yeah. I would also put here in what you see, especially in the food industry, and I really like to see that Foresight, for example, is something technology companies, but also automotive industries, and even the military have been using for a long time, you know, on Foresight. I think some of those industries were the pioneers. Yeah. But also, I'm also happy to see that more and more are coming up in the food industry. Foresight is not obviously predicting the future, but really identifying good opportunities for the company, where you can play in. And I think this is so essential for me because it's all about, I think, the homework, you know, when you start developing something new. The technology part now, again, coming back to the AI and this kind of also call it, I used to talk a lot about real, in real life learning, right? So you get insights in real-time, which again, is not only AI, we saw it already a couple of years ago, you know, that technology helped us a lot. I like that in particular when you talk about, and I think we had a chat, you know, one of the first time we met, you know, around democratizing research. Yeah. So I like that because now consumer insights are getting some learnings. It's not only exclusively for a big company, but nowadays, you know, you can really also use, again, platform research. You can make a minimum investment, but you can learn a lot. And it's not just for Mondelēz, our peer companies, but also for smaller companies like startups.
Chris: And what does democratization mean in this context? Because it's really interesting. Who's the target audience you're democratizing for? Is it for the individual employees? Is it maybe even for the startups that they can be found better? Who's benefiting from this democratization of research and insight?
Barbara: I think the target group who is really benefiting is first, you know, we had the tendency to say, yeah, it's actually for smaller companies, because maybe they cannot afford, you know, doing a big study, right? Because I mean, it costs, I mean, the investment costs a lot of money. Not everybody can do a usage and attitude study, you know, not everybody. But with the democratization, you can basically, you are able, also to be a smaller company, more consumer-centric, right? So you can, I mean, you can always ask, have you consulted a consumer? But then sometimes you don't maybe have some insights or data. So in this case, you know, with the democratization and all the tools that are out there, and they are really in real life, almost learning, right? So you sometimes get results within 24 hours is something I would say, you know, smaller. But I would then also at the same time say we also notice bigger companies as well, right? Because now a bigger company can also, like us, we can say, listen, we can test and learn with smaller research vendors as well, which I think is a big advantage. I think we can mix and match. We can do something with technology, but at the same time, we can also do something around more behavioral research. Because I also believe that there is still something around human insight for the future. I think it's all about the balance that I always tend to say, go where your target group is, right? Go where the consumer is. And I think there will still be something to put people out somewhere, right? Of course, you can say, yeah, I bring everything with technology inside, I go on the web, you know, I put on maybe even, you know, a camera, I see people in a store, I can do that. But there might be still something around, you know, a balance around the human connection with the consumer, the observation, but then also, you know, using, of course, the technology, you know. I don't think it will be either or I think it will be a smart combination.
Chris: Yeah. That could lead us down the path of a discussion, for example, between data versus human intuition. But this would lead you probably somewhere completely else. I would be very interested to understand your perspective on how to translate these insights and the research into business outcomes. So sure, you are in the CVC space, so corporate venture capital. So at the end of the journey, in an ideal case, you found a good fit. So you might invest, take a minority stake, for example, as you mentioned, in the companies or the startup, and, for example, solve a technology gap or fill a technology gap or capacity gap or whatever and help Mondelēz grow. Are you also helping other units at Mondelēz and sharing your research and insights that you, for example, produce with them so that they can take action except for, for example, corporate venturing and investing into those companies? Or is that not your secondary target audience in Mondelēz?
“So I think we learned a lot, we tested a lot, we basically also made probably a couple of mistakes, you know, some things didn't go that well. But I think otherwise, you probably won't learn, right?”
Barbara: So I would say it's very important, you know, like me, and I think I want to also act as a role model to bring back the learnings, you know, from the last couple of years, you know, because also SnackFutures, the journey started also slightly different, right, I think I told you. So I think we learned a lot, we tested a lot, we basically also made probably a couple of mistakes, you know, some things didn't go that well. But I think otherwise, you probably don't learn, right? So we had the flexibility and ability. And I think it's super important, you know, I always try to stay connected to, you know, I'm based here in Switzerland, Zurich, you know, I'm very close also with the European team, but also with the innovation excellence team to bring back those learnings, right. So to stay connected, and share you know, also what we learn from, I would say, yeah, CVC, a small CVC as well. Yeah. So how do we learn? You know, what partners do we take on board? You know, what are the things we are seeing? What is maybe worth to solve for? Because I think this team is so different also because we operate a lot in the outside world. Right. And I'm so long in the company. And until, you know, I joined SnackFutures, it was all about this micro. It was almost like a little microcosmos, you know. I was almost around, okay, you're researching that, right? You're very much close in. Yeah. And I think it's very important, you know, to basically share, you know, the things we are doing because I think it can also help the wider Mondelēz organization on their innovation journey.
Chris: Yeah, I think so. There are very good cases to be made about why human intuition and data-driven approaches could go hand-in-hand. I mean, sure, a purely data-driven approach, for example, just collecting the data and then sending this to other teams at Mondelēz for the innovation efforts is interesting and certainly has its place. But of course, if you are about to democratize research and insights into the industry, there might be a point where everybody just has the same data, and then everybody would operate on the same insights from that data ultimately. So where is the news? Where's the creativity? So of course you need human intuition and maybe even human intellect to help and then fuel innovation processes. That's of course understood.
Barbara: And I think that will also come a bit, you know, I think we have now seen a bit of a shift in the insights industry where a lot of technology companies have come in, right? And that's totally fine, you know, to be a technologist because I was asking some company, do you see yourself as a technology company or an insights company, and they said okay you know maybe more technology and I think that's fine until you know then you have also a team right they can help you to translate certain outputs into this actionable insights. I think you still need insights professionals, they're able, to join certain thoughts, right, to see the bigger picture, they say, okay, you know what, we found that here, you know, and not maybe only from that particular one study, but just, you know, because we need to also keep in mind that in large corporates, the teams are getting smaller, right? So it's almost, again, building an extended arm. You know, I need a sparring partner, I need a good partner, a good agency to work with me, but not just to execute, right, to launch something I could do basically myself. But really, I also have very good conversations. And I think that is something I see also in the last 12, 18 months coming back, that agencies are really investing in that.
Chris: Can you maybe share just an example of a story of where this, you know, the human skill connecting the dots, having people connecting the dots, actually was particularly valuable? Any story you can share? Obviously a non-confidential one.
Barbara: Yeah, I believe, you know, I'm thinking about that actually a lot. I did it a lot, and I'm always trying to do it, you know, not just taking, you know, when I do, for example, a work, right, and you're doing a study, or you're launching something. You're starting from a broader point of view, right? So you first see, okay, what has been done? What do we know? You know, again, coming back to the uncomfortable questions, asking part, you know, is there something else we can do? Is there something else actually we can learn? And I think trying to sort of then pinpoint that to a current study if that makes sense. I know it sounds maybe a bit strange, So, trying to do that every time, you know, it's almost like it's less of a what, but really cultivating a certain way of working and mindset. I think that is something I tried to establish for myself in the last couple of years. I'm not saying I did it all the time because of course, when I was a young researcher, you got a research request and you were executing it, it was always seen as more of you know, maybe in the first years of my career was more like seeing as a support function. But now, you know, moving to my current role and here I wanted to give an example. It's less than joining the dots, but I think more about joining the people. You know, and the more you join the people, you know, the more we can also be successful in the food ecosystem. So, for example, with big companies, startup companies, also, for example, universities as well. So for me, this collaboration part is almost the innovation we need, you know, to change the food ecosystem.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. No, that makes perfect sense. I would also like to tap into some of your lessons learned and maybe also understand how the process looks like just on a very high level to share with others who might be interested in learning how one of the leaders, Mondelēz clear leader in this, does that. But before, we move to the lessons learned. I would like to play a quick game. The game is called Rapid Fire Round. It's a super simple game. And it works basically like that. Again, I do have three questions. I will ask the questions and the idea is that you answer fast. So speed is key. The first thing that comes to your mind, is just shoot. Because this typically is quite interesting. Okay, are you up for the game? Super simple. Okay, cool. Number one. Okay, I have to ask that question. What is your go-to snack when you are working late?
Chris: Chocolate, yeah. Milka?
Barbara: Yes. You said that before. Milka, but yeah, yeah. I'm really a chocolate connoisseur, so I love chocolate.
Chris: You said that before.
Barbara: Milka, but yeah, yeah. I'm really a chocolate connoisseur, so I love chocolate.
Chris: Got it, okay. And now, if you could have dinner with any person, Be it dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Barbara: It's Michael Jordan.
Chris: Michael Jordan?
Barbara: Yeah. Michael Jordan. I mean, I used to, I'm not tall, but I used to play basketball for a long time and I trained kids. So, Michael Jordan was always a kind of a role model. And I read something about him that he played every game like it was his last game. Because he always thought there's maybe somebody in the audience who has not, has actually not seen him play. And I really like it. And I think there's so many quotes, like, when he says, you know, champions are not made in the gym. Champions are made basically from something they have deep inside, like a steamer, like some drive. And I really like that. I think I actually admire the sport, but also I admire him as a person.
Chris: Yeah, that's great. And that's also something we both would recommend our customers and companies and partners who work with, but also our own people is, and sorry for the word, get out of the fucking building. Particularly if you are now with all the post-COVID stuff, you also always do things online and virtually. By default, many companies have basically just canceled any travel budgets. So that's a very bad thing to do because you just decrease, you know, what's called your success surface area. You're exposing yourself to fewer opportunities, fewer people, and fewer opportunities in the network. So that's a very bad thing to do. But yeah, get out of the fucking building. So that's kind of the same thing. Leaders are not being made or champions are not being made in the gym. Nice. Michael Jordan is a legend. And then number three, if you were not working in the snack industry, what would you be doing instead?
Barbara: I will do something where I bring out the best in people. Yeah, actually, and really support people and also can act as a source of inspiration. And that leaves room for imagination, you know, you can say. I mean, I'm a coach myself also, but yeah, something where I can, can bring out, I think I have the ability to bring out the best in people. I heard that quite often, but also acting like a source, you know, bringing people on board, you know, like doing, doing something. People are really important to me.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Understood. Well, that's nice. I was just about to ask the coach, but yeah, you kind of mentioned it. So when it comes to business, back to Mondelēz when it comes to business... Let's talk about some of the nitty-gritty stuff. So, what makes Mondelēz a partner of choice for emerging brands and startups, for example? Because, I mean, you have a pretty strong brand. I guess you have a fantastic position globally. But there's competition, obviously. So, what do you do differently than others in working with or investing in startups and early-stage companies?
“Getting outside of the building, you know, and working with a company, yeah, which just started or started a couple of years ago, is super fascinating, because I mean, the questions they have, you know, the things they need to think of are so different.”
Barbara: I would say… It's probably, again, it's probably a human aspect. It's interesting, you know, that you mentioned that before. And again, coming back that we are really strategic, you know, and we want to call to be a strategic CVC. So it's for us not only about the investment, the minority investment we are doing, but also we want to listen, respond, and connect with those companies. So that's very important. And it's also not only what we put into it, but also what we get back. So it should be a two-way street, you know, and we've been trying to do that. I mean, starting doing that with our accelerator with CoLab a couple of years ago, you know, where, you know, companies in the US applied, you know, and really creating a little bit, creating a really true partnership, you know, with those companies going through the CoLab program. But now, you know, as we made a couple of investments, you know, and we call them our portfolio companies, we're really trying to build strong relationships. I'm in contact with some of those companies on a daily basis, you know. So it's like having a conversation. It's like asking, you know, about, okay, what is it actually what, from a consumer angle, you know, what is most urgent to solve, you know, it's about understanding maybe the target consumer. So it's, it's a really great, I would say, collaboration as well. So it's not just okay, yeah, here's the money, and then we go off, you know, and we say, we say goodbye, and we leave it and we hope, you know, then, in terms of, you know, the path also to scale something. But I think, you know, we are really trying to create an atmosphere where it's, yeah, where we can actually learn from the companies, but we give actually the company as well. Because in the end, you know, it's also, you know, I have to say in the last six months, I have learned a lot, I thought, okay I work here at Mondelēz, you know, for so many years, and I know so many things. But then, you know, again, to your point, getting outside of the building, you know, and working with a company, yeah, which just started or started a couple of years ago, is super fascinating, because I mean, the questions they have, you know, the things they need to think of is so different.
Chris: And if you had to break it down, super simple, what would be the one thing that you look for when considering investing in a startup or early-stage company? I mean, there are multiple things. Of course, technology fits the company, and so on. But if you had to break it down to one thing, maybe the most crucial one, what could that be possibly?
Barbara: I would say it's probably also around the investment thesis. If I can bring that in, you know, so it's not probably a company who's super, super small in terms of just started, right, not yet in a way profit, like, like in a very early stage, we're talking maybe half a million, like it has to be a couple of million. So again, you know, a bit of a proven kind of a little bit of a proven concept, you know, among a target audience. So we also feel there is a potential to scale up. And at the same time, you know, you can ask also yourself the question, again, it goes back, you know, a certain pain point to solve, you know, for the consumer, but also something we don't have maybe in Mondelēz to bring in as an expertise, you know. So there's a mutual benefit.
Chris: Yeah, and that's, I guess, maybe the best spot to look at. I'm asking because I had a similar conversation just a few weeks ago. with somebody who's into corporate venturing. This venture clienting discussion we've been having for quite some time now, is also an interesting methodology and way. Recently, in that conversation, he said to me that the willingness to cooperate was very important in the past, but they've actually switched. They said the most important thing to them when working with a small company is the commitment to cooperate. What does that mean, aside from the product and the like, is that if they would call them in the middle of the night and say, hey guys and girls, you need to be in tomorrow morning because we have an important meeting. Fly into whatever, London, Switzerland, US, we really need you on site. Would this or that person who's heading the startup, who's running the operations of the startup, say yes? Or say, you know, yeah yes, no. And find some excuses why this is not possible. So, a true commitment. And they actually do this, they do commitment tests. They literally call them at, I don't know, 5.45 or 6.30 in the evening, telling them some story, what they need the next day, or can we meet the next day or whatever, just to test commitment. If they're really into the partnership or not. And they'd say, this is often revealing a lot. So it's more on the human side or on the operation side of business, but I found this also very interesting. Obviously, if it doesn't solve any problem and there is no product market fit or customer product fit whatsoever, then it doesn't make any sense. I totally agree with you, but I found the commitment to cooperate quite interesting.
Barbara: Yeah, but I like the part about the commitment. I also hear more and more, it's also interesting and I'm not sure if that's a trend because I have not been in this, let's say venture, you know, environment that long, right? So I've just started to dive a little bit in and have meetings, you know, with external partners. But it's also interesting that, like, we hear founders sometimes saying, yes, you know, I'm raising maybe the money for my next round and maybe they also have somebody at hand who can do the financial investments. It's a financial investor, right? But there's nothing more, right? It's a financial investment. But a lot of founders, they look actually also a bit for strategic investment as well, exactly for also this kind of a bit of mentoring, working together. Because obviously, you know, we as a company, you know, we can also open, you know, up doors, you know, to our internal network and Mondelēz. So for example, if there is a supply chain topic, and if there is another topic, it's not it's not always, you know, obviously a marketing insights topic, but there are so many things about capacity, you know. And the founders are really interested in that because that actually taps into great resources. So a lot of founders, are now also talking about that as well. But I like it from the other way about the commitment part. I really like that. I will take that on board. That's a great one.
The future of the snack industry
Chris: I guess it's quite interesting because it tells so much about the to-be business partner you might have. And Barbara, what is maybe a controversial opinion that you hold about the future of the entire snack industry? I'm sure there is one.
Barbara: Yeah, there is actually one. And now when I say it, people will laugh because, oh God, she says it again, you know, because I said it already probably. I mean, when I talk, because, you know, I like speaking the truth to a certain extent. I also don't like, you know, sometimes people say they wish they see actually a picture of how consumers should behave. But in fact, they're not behaving like that. And I can give another example. Not everything we see will happen. Again, I'm only talking about the snacks industry, you know, I'm only talking about a very tiny, you know, something thing because you see certain things and it's like, oh, my God, this is going to be and then it never, you never see it again. You know what I mean? It's like, it's a little bit like that. So coming back to the controversial point. My controversial point is, yes, there is well-being and people around the globe. I think everywhere you go, they want to do better, right? They say, yes, of course, I want to go to the gym. I want to eat better. I want, of course, I will not, I will reduce my smoking. So consumers have this intent. They have a positive intent. Yeah. But sometimes the intent is actually not really the reality. So when you ask them again, it goes back to claim to like when you ask them to say, you know, I saw a study in the US where I think, you know, the top two boxes of US consumers said they think they live extremely healthy. Yeah, like a top box of 90%. Yeah. So again, claimed, you know, I want to do a better life. But it's not really, you know, matching the reality, you know, So the controversial, you know, the belief I hold is that yes, there is change. Absolutely. You know, the change is happening. It's very small but significant. Yeah, it's baby steps. And we see it over the last, let's say, 10, 15 years, right? I mean, the well-being trend has been around for a long, long, long time. Yeah. I still do believe that there is also a current consumer reality where people just want, if you talk about snacking, right, and snacking, let's say, like connecting it with food, that the snack has to taste good, right? Otherwise, there will not potentially be a repurchase rate until it's a niche target group. Because there needs to be a consumer cohort at the beginning to say, listen, I adopt that and I'm much better off with the product than without, you know? But there needs to be something in there. So I believe again, it's about food. A snack has to taste good. It doesn't say that they cannot be healthy at the same time. We are getting there. We see huge improvement in the last, I would say, one, two, three, four years. Also at the trade shows we went to, you know, you see a lot of great products out there. You can taste a lot of great things. But then you need to also be actually realistic to say, that if you live within a family, that some consumers can also not afford, they want to live healthier, but it's not always that they can maybe buy certain products because even though they would, they say, yeah, of course, I would buy those products, but then the reality is they cannot afford them. So I think there is sometimes a bit of a romance, some people will hate, hate me for that saying. It's a nice romance, you know, we're getting there and you see changes. We can also talk about sustainability. Yes, you see those changes. You also see those evolving consumer groups. But if you talk about a bigger angle again, we need to go and solve problems for consumers and people.
"My controversial point is, yes, there is well-being and people around the globe. I think everywhere you go, they want to do better, right? They say, yes, of course, I want to go to the gym. I want to eat better. I will reduce my smoking. So consumers have this intent. They have a positive intent. But sometimes the intent is actually not really the reality."
Chris: I think this conversation is super interesting because what I found interesting about this and also the human intellect is that snacking, especially sweets, the good tasting stuff, sometimes the unhealthy stuff, is there to reward oneself, right? They say, treat yourself, give yourself a treat. So it's positive. But actually, everybody knows that eating too much sugar is not healthy, right? Everybody just knows that. So it's interesting why we associate reward with unhealthy behavior. Because for health, for actual body health, it's not really a reward. It's the opposite. But the human intellect, the human mind says, hmm, I'm now rewarding myself with that. Why not reward yourself with something that's actually healthy? and find this rewarding. If you tell people, I don't know, go in the forest for a walk, many don't find this rewarding. And they say I want to have a good treat. I want to reward myself for the hard work. Let's eat, I don't know, chips or snacks or chocolate, whatever. So it's interesting that you combine reward with actually unhealthy behavior. And I agree with you that this is slowly but steadily changing. over time. You don't see this in consumer behavior. Not in the data, particularly. That's where you need sensing. You need to talk to the people, you need to understand what they want. Longer health, longer lifespan, longer healthy lifespan in this case. But at the same time, you see, for example, they're buying lots of snacks and chips and chocolate all the time. So where's the connection between their desire to have a longer health, but at the same time, you know, eating sugar? So that's quite an interesting thing about the human intellect.
Barbara: There is a bit of a paradox here, you know, and again, we're getting there and it's really changing and we should have a culture of saying yes because we never know what's going to blow up right at the end. You know, we as humans think we know so well, but we don't. So we always have to be anticipative. But I think that's a controversial belief I'm holding.
Chris: Wonderful, wonderful. I mean, we could probably go on for one or two hours, but I think we should take it to a close and maybe we do a follow-up on this because I really like the viewpoints that you bring to the table. But if you were to summarize the conversation and also give some recommendations, some actionable recommendations to the listeners, what would your advice be to the listeners out there that are also maybe tapping into CVC, or at least are in that space, in that realm of cooperating with smaller companies, startups, and the like?
“What I have noticed is take the consumer on board. It doesn't hurt.”
Barbara: There's something around for me asking questions. It’s always important. It doesn't matter which field you work, you know, it's like staying curious, but for me, some advice would be don't be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions. From the beginning, even though you might not be the most popular person, but, but it's, it's important, you know, somebody has to do it, you know? So I think that's one advice I have, usually, I always tended to do that, you know, coming more from the insights, the insights angle, but I think that's important, you know, for me, so asking questions, then for me, there's one around the, I would say mindset also, you know, it's less about what it's really for me about the mindset, keeping stubborn, but at the same time, flexible mindset. When you have a belief, you have to believe, but at the same time, keep always a certain flexibility. So to your point, get out of the building, you know, so it's like at the same time when you hold something and you're strongly convinced, but then again, it's a paradox, it's a contradiction in itself, but I think it's important. And then what I personally like is, you know, a culture of saying yes. Yeah. Also, if sometimes some ideas, from some people, especially when you get into, you know, the founder world or you get into new stuff, right, and you see things you haven't seen before, develop a culture of saying yes. Yeah. And so things like they wouldn't be done, they could get done. A culture of one-to-one, a culture of why not. Because again, as I said before, we think as human beings, we know but we don't know what's going to blow up here. So I think that's for me, again, more creating a positive environment rather than me being out more than 25 years in the industry and saying, oh, I've seen it all, you know, but why is it like this? No, but we have done it already. We have done it eight times. No, it will not work. You know what I mean? I think flip it. And you might get surprised, you know. And I think that's and when you come back to the question in particular around working at a CVC or a venture part, what I have noticed is take the consumer on board. It doesn't hurt. You know, you can ask the question, have you consulted the consumer? You know, and also when you work for private equity, a venture, you know, and I know that the product market fits a lot of financial analysis. But my feeling is there is a huge room for improvement in that area to get more down the consumer route, you know, get more down the consumer paths, because just using technology or AI doesn't make you consumer- centric, you know, because that's a whole new other story topic we can episode we can talk about because just using that is like is not necessarily connecting you if consumer centricity but so but I believe, now with my background getting into this area, I think it will be kind of refreshing for some people because I have no clue about certain things, but that's fine. I will learn. And sometimes it's also, you know, we can apply the importance of maybe being clueless as well. But at the same time, I have a lot of experience and insights, right? And I can sort of mix and match it and I can test and learn. And I think, let's see what comes out.
Chris: Yeah, no, absolutely. And thanks for that advice. Again, talking about artificial intelligence would probably leave us with a whole other series of episodes. So I fully agree. Personally, I can hardly remember any conversation I had or any company in the world that doesn't aspire to be customer-centric. But it's in the details, of course. We know that we all do this for customers or for the greater good. That's, of course, for sure. But as you say correctly, it's in the details. I mean, sure, everybody's customer-centric. But what does this mean for your business? How do you implement that? How do you take action? So I agree, it's easy to say, but how to actually do that? So thanks for this insight. We have a tradition at the Innovation Rockstars podcast of asking our guests for their innovation rockstar moments. So, Barbara, I need to hear from you also. If you look back on your professional career, tell me about your innovation rockstar moment.
Barbara: So if you talk about innovation, that basically adds a certain change. So if you define it like that, I would say my biggest moment was when I was in marketing a long, long time ago and they launched Tassimo, the coffee machine in Austria. And the reason why I see this as an innovation rockstar moment is that it's really building on an older, you know, coffee machine at this time that is building on new consumer behavior. and contributed to a change in how people drink coffee. And I really loved that. You know, I mentioned it quite often, you know, because for me that was a big moment because also it was internally we had a then later we had also a venture team around Tassimo, which I joined, you know when I moved to Switzerland. So that's actually the biggest probably innovation star moment.
Chris: Wonderful. That's a great rockstar moment. And with that rockstar moment, we are closing. We're coming to an end for this episode. Again, Barbara, thanks so much. It has been a real pleasure to have you on this episode. It was a pleasure. Thanks for being my guest.
Barbara: For me as well. Thank you so much. Yeah. Bye. Talk soon.
Chris: And to everybody listening or watching, say bye to Barbara. And if you enjoyed this episode, then simply leave us a comment or just drop an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. That's it. Thanks for listening. Take care, everybody. Bye bye.
About the authors
Dr. Christian Mühlroth is the host of the Innovation Rockstars podcast and CEO of ITONICS. Barbara Schandl is Insights & Strategy Lead Snack Future Ventures at Mondelēz International.
The Innovation Rockstars podcast is a production of ITONICS, provider of the world’s leading Operating System for Innovation. Do you also have an inspiring story to tell about innovation, foresight, strategy, or growth? Then shoot us a note!
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