Mondelez SnackFutures Startup Talks Benefits Of Incubation For Innovation

Mondelez is one of the many Big Food companies with a corporate venture group. Theirs is called SnackFutures.

Mondelez is one of the many Big Food companies with a corporate venture group. Theirs is called SnackFutures. Photo by Michael Gottschalk/Photothek via Getty Images)

Photothek via Getty Images


This is the third  in a series of interviews with corporate food and beverage venture groups and incubators, including General Mills 301INC, Coca-Cola VEB, and Nestlé’s internal Incubator.  

The existence of this type of organization has been one of the most important trends in how Big Food innovates these days.

Today’s discussion is from the perspective of a startup on the other side of the fence. In this case, Uplift Food, who has participated in two different programs: Food-X Accelerator and Mondelez SnackFutures. Next up are Banza and Austin Cocktails

Barb Stuckey: Tell us a little bit about the evolution of the company, a little about yourself.

Kara Landau:   I'm a registered dietician and I've been based in New York since 2012. I specialize in the connection between your gut health and how that can affect your mental health. 

I was acting as a consultant and I also was being interviewed more and more in the media about the connection between gut health and your brain. I realized that there was this big opportunity for a brand in the food space to own that. So I flew back to Australia to launch the brand in March 2018, with the first product which we called the Daily Uplifter,  an organic and plant based natural powder supplement. The top ingredients are things like green banana flour which contains a special prebiotic called resistant starch, Jerusalem artichoke which has a soluble prebiotic fiber and probiotics that are specific for mood that have been shown in science to support mental well being, and high vitamin D mushrooms which will provide you with at least 30% of your RDA of vitamin C and a range of other ingredients.

Two weeks after I launched I filled out an application for one of the top food accelerators in New York called Food-X.  So, I went to sleep, it was a Thursday evening in Australia. And woke up to these missed calls and emails from Food-X saying they want to do an interview and make sure that the business is legit and potentially offer me a spot in the program that started that coming Monday back in America. On that Saturday morning I flew back to New York and then by Monday morning I started with Food-X Accelerator.

Mondelez came in one day just to scope out what was going on in the accelerator and it was recommended that I pitch to them.  So I went into the room and I started sharing my vision for Uplift Food, which although it started in the natural supplements category I knew I really needed to make it into a functional, snacking brand. At the end of maybe 20 minutes, I made a bit of a joke and I said, "If you know anyone that is interested in that type of product, you should let me know." And basically they exchanged numbers with me then and there. A couple of them purchased the Daily Uplifter wanting to try it so I felt very supported.

At that time they didn't have SnackFutures set up yet, they weren't ready to start investing in startups but they clearly were interested. And so I actually pushed the relationship and I helped design the structure of the incubator with them. I pitched them with the proposal showing, this is what you'll do with me, I'm coming to your R&D lab to work with your product development teams and look at packaging and discuss how you can measure the moisture content. I'll also wear my dietitian hat and support you in regards to both helping you find healthier ingredients to help with your product development. And finally, I'll provide feedback on how Uplift Food would like to work with you as a startup founder so that you potentially produce a program for other startups in the future.

When they announced SnackFutures, I then put my hand up and said, "You need to let me go and pitch, I'd like to be in this business."

And two weeks later, I flew out to Chicago. It was a fabulous meeting, and after three or four months of very safe due diligence, we announced that Uplift Food was the first investment by the SnackFutures venture for Mondelez in March 2019. So that was basically 12 months.

Barb Stuckey: So your entrance into the Mondelez incubator was a bit unstructured because they didn't officially have an incubator but once you raised your hand and got into the SnackFutures program - can you talk a little bit about the structure of the program. How long it was? 

Kara Landau: Yeah, that’s correct.  It was really creating a partnership that was going to be long standing. It’s an investment that you would hope will lead to a future investment in the next round and so forth.

I presented a business plan as I would with any venture capital firm and presented the intention to use the funds and when I expected to have to raise more funds, in the next year or two. And showed them the timeline of the business plan so they were able to understand what I would be using the capital for.


Barb Stuckey: Did SnackFutures offer you any access to resources? And if so what?

Kara Landau: SnackFutures and the entire Mondelez International have been incredible. it's almost like an extension to the Uplift Food team. They certainly don't run the company. Uplift Food is still its own entity and they're a minority investor in the company at the moment.

They have been particularly helpful from and R&D perspective, when I've needed support with packaging supplies someone from their packaging team will come on the phone with me with the external supplier and ask the questions that I wouldn't know to ask.  When I needed to do testing on the shelf life of a new product, they do the nutrient testing. They even help with elements that are outside what was originally agreed.

Barb Stuckey: If SnackFutures made a warm introduction to a retailer, would they just introduce you over email, and let you take it from there, or would they go with you on the sales call? Would they help you with the sales presentation deck?

Kara Landau: No, Uplift Food is not one of their brands, so we're not going to be treated the way that Oreos is treated. They do, however, really look after us because it's in their best interest  to see Uplift Food succeed. 

Barb Stuckey: Can you contrast the Mondelez venture type of relationship to Food-X and what that meant in terms of program, resources?

Kara Landau: Food-X is much more focused on the early, early stage and getting us ready to pitch to investors as opposed to helping me operationally. They were teaching me how to raise capital, how to pitch, how to present your deck.

The Mondelez team is there as the expert in the category. So, together, they actually provide a wealth of knowledge and value.

Barb Stuckey: Food-X was more of a cohort style class?

Kara Landau: Yeah, that's right. There were eight other teams. Three CPG companies. In my particular cohort there was a beverage company as well as a plant based company.

Barb Stuckey: Interesting. They were not specifically competitive?

Kara Landau: While those three were in the food space, there was no chance of being in direct competition with one another. They keep you as part of the family even after you're finished. I work from an office space with other Food-X alumni. So it means that relationship is ongoing and you can bounce ideas off the management team that came from the venture capital fund and other founders. It’s a really nice ecosystem being developed.

Barb Stuckey: You rent your office space from Food-X?

Kara Landau: No, they actually provide it for us. They provide it for the alumni.

Barb Stuckey: What surprised you most about the Food-X program?

Kara Landau: The programs went really fast and maybe I should have known that but it did feel like it was just a blink of an eye and you’re working so much and it's so full on for three months. Then you're up there on stage pitching for 300 investors and you can't really believe how far your company has come in the face of three months. I found it to be a surprise, what you're capable of when you put your mind to it.

Barb Stuckey: With the Food-X program, what was the biggest impact to your business?

Kara Landau: 100% it was the introduction to Mondelez. And that really led my company to the next stage. And I don't believe that would have happened if I hadn't had been part of that first (Food-X) accelerator.

Barb Stuckey: So it's almost like you went to high school at Food-X and you went to university at Mondelez.

Kara Landau: That's right.

Barb Stuckey: You mentioned that the Mondelez relationship offers R&D resources. Were things as clear and cut and dry as, "you may use our R&D resources?"

Kara Landau: Yes, I really only have positive things to share. I've had experiences where I needed consumer research while working through the launch of a new product. I wanted to do a packaging claim and what would resonate with my consumer. I wanted to know which flavor to select and which addition to add into that flavor. And I was thinking about a couple different varieties and so they have access to consumer research tools that a small young startup just isn’t able to find.

Barb Stuckey: So it sounds like your ultimate goal might be to be wholly acquired by Mondelez. Do you see that as a long term goal?

Kara Landau: I would like Uplift Food products to be available globally. I'd like to walk into any airport and for people around the world to have access to prebiotic gut healthy snacks. If that can be as a part of Mondelez International, time will tell but in my mind the goal for Uplift Food is to grow into the company that I believe it can, and to have the influences that it can.

Barb Stuckey: So can you talk a little bit about what is next for Uplift?

Kara Landau: Yeah. Uplift Food is going to be launching a new range of gut health processed cookies at Expo East which will be rolling out in September, so we'll be launching to the retailers there. We'll be able to release them to consumers directly via our website shortly after and then I plan to roll out in retail in 2020. They're called Gut Happy Cookies. And each cookie has a smiley face on the front.

Barb Stuckey: Well what kind of advice would you give a startup looking at the two different programs you've been a part of, Food-X and the Mondelez SnackFutures program. What would your advice be for a company just getting off the ground?

Kara Landau: If a founder can take the time to really work out how they're going to differentiate themselves and live out their mission, then it's going to be a lot easier for them present that opportunity to a multinational or to an incubator.

Barb Stuckey: Your turn. Anything else that you want to use this feature on Forbes to tell the world?

Kara Landau: The entrepreneur in me wants to tell people if you have an idea, believe in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, you can't expect others to believe in you. So I really think that it starts within.

–––––––––

Many thanks to Mattson's Emily McCue for help coordinating and editing interviews with the authors of this series.

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This is the third  in a series of interviews with corporate food and beverage venture groups and incubators, including General Mills 301INC, Coca-Cola VEB, and Nestlé’s internal Incubator.  

The existence of this type of organization has been one of the most important trends in how Big Food innovates these days.

Today’s discussion is from the perspective of a startup on the other side of the fence. In this case, Uplift Food, who has participated in two different programs: Food-X Accelerator and Mondelez SnackFutures. Next up are Banza and Austin Cocktails

Barb Stuckey: Tell us a little bit about the evolution of the company, a little about yourself.

Kara Landau:   I'm a registered dietician and I've been based in New York since 2012. I specialize in the connection between your gut health and how that can affect your mental health. 

I was acting as a consultant and I also was being interviewed more and more in the media about the connection between gut health and your brain. I realized that there was this big opportunity for a brand in the food space to own that. So I flew back to Australia to launch the brand in March 2018, with the first product which we called the Daily Uplifter,  an organic and plant based natural powder supplement. The top ingredients are things like green banana flour which contains a special prebiotic called resistant starch, Jerusalem artichoke which has a soluble prebiotic fiber and probiotics that are specific for mood that have been shown in science to support mental well being, and high vitamin D mushrooms which will provide you with at least 30% of your RDA of vitamin C and a range of other ingredients.

Two weeks after I launched I filled out an application for one of the top food accelerators in New York called Food-X.  So, I went to sleep, it was a Thursday evening in Australia. And woke up to these missed calls and emails from Food-X saying they want to do an interview and make sure that the business is legit and potentially offer me a spot in the program that started that coming Monday back in America. On that Saturday morning I flew back to New York and then by Monday morning I started with Food-X Accelerator.

Mondelez came in one day just to scope out what was going on in the accelerator and it was recommended that I pitch to them.  So I went into the room and I started sharing my vision for Uplift Food, which although it started in the natural supplements category I knew I really needed to make it into a functional, snacking brand. At the end of maybe 20 minutes, I made a bit of a joke and I said, "If you know anyone that is interested in that type of product, you should let me know." And basically they exchanged numbers with me then and there. A couple of them purchased the Daily Uplifter wanting to try it so I felt very supported.

At that time they didn't have SnackFutures set up yet, they weren't ready to start investing in startups but they clearly were interested. And so I actually pushed the relationship and I helped design the structure of the incubator with them. I pitched them with the proposal showing, this is what you'll do with me, I'm coming to your R&D lab to work with your product development teams and look at packaging and discuss how you can measure the moisture content. I'll also wear my dietitian hat and support you in regards to both helping you find healthier ingredients to help with your product development. And finally, I'll provide feedback on how Uplift Food would like to work with you as a startup founder so that you potentially produce a program for other startups in the future.

When they announced SnackFutures, I then put my hand up and said, "You need to let me go and pitch, I'd like to be in this business."

And two weeks later, I flew out to Chicago. It was a fabulous meeting, and after three or four months of very safe due diligence, we announced that Uplift Food was the first investment by the SnackFutures venture for Mondelez in March 2019. So that was basically 12 months.

Barb Stuckey: So your entrance into the Mondelez incubator was a bit unstructured because they didn't officially have an incubator but once you raised your hand and got into the SnackFutures program - can you talk a little bit about the structure of the program. How long it was? 

Kara Landau: Yeah, that’s correct.  It was really creating a partnership that was going to be long standing. It’s an investment that you would hope will lead to a future investment in the next round and so forth.

I presented a business plan as I would with any venture capital firm and presented the intention to use the funds and when I expected to have to raise more funds, in the next year or two. And showed them the timeline of the business plan so they were able to understand what I would be using the capital for.


Barb Stuckey: Did SnackFutures offer you any access to resources? And if so what?

Kara Landau: SnackFutures and the entire Mondelez International have been incredible. it's almost like an extension to the Uplift Food team. They certainly don't run the company. Uplift Food is still its own entity and they're a minority investor in the company at the moment.

They have been particularly helpful from and R&D perspective, when I've needed support with packaging supplies someone from their packaging team will come on the phone with me with the external supplier and ask the questions that I wouldn't know to ask.  When I needed to do testing on the shelf life of a new product, they do the nutrient testing. They even help with elements that are outside what was originally agreed.

Barb Stuckey: If SnackFutures made a warm introduction to a retailer, would they just introduce you over email, and let you take it from there, or would they go with you on the sales call? Would they help you with the sales presentation deck?

Kara Landau: No, Uplift Food is not one of their brands, so we're not going to be treated the way that Oreos is treated. They do, however, really look after us because it's in their best interest  to see Uplift Food succeed. 

Barb Stuckey: Can you contrast the Mondelez venture type of relationship to Food-X and what that meant in terms of program, resources?

Kara Landau: Food-X is much more focused on the early, early stage and getting us ready to pitch to investors as opposed to helping me operationally. They were teaching me how to raise capital, how to pitch, how to present your deck.

The Mondelez team is there as the expert in the category. So, together, they actually provide a wealth of knowledge and value.

Barb Stuckey: Food-X was more of a cohort style class?

Kara Landau: Yeah, that's right. There were eight other teams. Three CPG companies. In my particular cohort there was a beverage company as well as a plant based company.

Barb Stuckey: Interesting. They were not specifically competitive?

Kara Landau: While those three were in the food space, there was no chance of being in direct competition with one another. They keep you as part of the family even after you're finished. I work from an office space with other Food-X alumni. So it means that relationship is ongoing and you can bounce ideas off the management team that came from the venture capital fund and other founders. It’s a really nice ecosystem being developed.

Barb Stuckey: You rent your office space from Food-X?

Kara Landau: No, they actually provide it for us. They provide it for the alumni.

Barb Stuckey: What surprised you most about the Food-X program?

Kara Landau: The programs went really fast and maybe I should have known that but it did feel like it was just a blink of an eye and you’re working so much and it's so full on for three months. Then you're up there on stage pitching for 300 investors and you can't really believe how far your company has come in the face of three months. I found it to be a surprise, what you're capable of when you put your mind to it.

Barb Stuckey: With the Food-X program, what was the biggest impact to your business?

Kara Landau: 100% it was the introduction to Mondelez. And that really led my company to the next stage. And I don't believe that would have happened if I hadn't had been part of that first (Food-X) accelerator.

Barb Stuckey: So it's almost like you went to high school at Food-X and you went to university at Mondelez.

Kara Landau: That's right.

Barb Stuckey: You mentioned that the Mondelez relationship offers R&D resources. Were things as clear and cut and dry as, "you may use our R&D resources?"

Kara Landau: Yes, I really only have positive things to share. I've had experiences where I needed consumer research while working through the launch of a new product. I wanted to do a packaging claim and what would resonate with my consumer. I wanted to know which flavor to select and which addition to add into that flavor. And I was thinking about a couple different varieties and so they have access to consumer research tools that a small young startup just isn’t able to find.

Barb Stuckey: So it sounds like your ultimate goal might be to be wholly acquired by Mondelez. Do you see that as a long term goal?

Kara Landau: I would like Uplift Food products to be available globally. I'd like to walk into any airport and for people around the world to have access to prebiotic gut healthy snacks. If that can be as a part of Mondelez International, time will tell but in my mind the goal for Uplift Food is to grow into the company that I believe it can, and to have the influences that it can.

Barb Stuckey: So can you talk a little bit about what is next for Uplift?

Kara Landau: Yeah. Uplift Food is going to be launching a new range of gut health processed cookies at Expo East which will be rolling out in September, so we'll be launching to the retailers there. We'll be able to release them to consumers directly via our website shortly after and then I plan to roll out in retail in 2020. They're called Gut Happy Cookies. And each cookie has a smiley face on the front.

Barb Stuckey: Well what kind of advice would you give a startup looking at the two different programs you've been a part of, Food-X and the Mondelez SnackFutures program. What would your advice be for a company just getting off the ground?

Kara Landau: If a founder can take the time to really work out how they're going to differentiate themselves and live out their mission, then it's going to be a lot easier for them present that opportunity to a multinational or to an incubator.

Barb Stuckey: Your turn. Anything else that you want to use this feature on Forbes to tell the world?

Kara Landau: The entrepreneur in me wants to tell people if you have an idea, believe in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, you can't expect others to believe in you. So I really think that it starts within.

–––––––––

Many thanks to Mattson's Emily McCue for help coordinating and editing interviews with the authors of this series.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I’m President and Chief Innovation Officer at Mattson, a Silicon Valley food innovation and development firm. We work with clients from start-ups to the world’s largest ...