The director of ventures at Mondelēz International says the company pushes boundaries in the snacks space by capitalising on consumer trends and emerging growth opportunities

By Murielle Gonzalez

Portrait photo of Mel Gaceta

Mel Gaceta is director of ventures at Mondelēz International, and he oversees and executes early-stage investments at SnackFutures, the company’s innovation hub. His career in the investment space started in 2000 when he joined the founding team at Motorola Ventures. Gaceta then took on several board observer roles and helped establish Synchrony Ventures, the venture arm of GE Capital’s former retail finance business, which went public in 2014.

Gaceta’s two decades in corporate venture capital has seen him investing across tech and fintech. For the past 23 months, however, he has focused on fast-moving consumer packed foods.

“SnackFutures is deliberately designed to push boundaries in snacking by capitalising on consumer trends and emerging growth opportunities in well-being snacks around the world,” he explains.

According to Gaceta, the group’s priorities support incremental growth against two key strategic areas: inventing new brands and businesses and investing in early-stage entrepreneurs.

Since its inception in late 2018, SnackFutures has brought to market four new wellbeing brands: NoCOé, Dirt Kitchen Snacks, CaPao, and Ruckus and Co. The venture firm also made minority investments in Hu, the vegan and paleo-friendly chocolate brand, and Uplift Food, the prebiotic fibre breakfast cookies snacks.

In the past year, SnackFutures launched two global market hubs in Australia and Germany.

SnackFutures portfolio brands

NoCOé is a zero-carbon cracker brand launched in France in collaboration with business incubator Fooding Company.

Aerial shot of NoCOé's product range
Photo as seen on NoCOé’s Facebook page

Manufactured near La Rochelle, NoCOé sources ingredients locally, and thus offsets the carbon footprint of its products with minimal impact on the environment.

Dirt Kitchen is a brand of dried vegetable and nut snacks that hit shelves in the US early this year.

CaPao was launched in partnership with Barry Callebaut. The plant-based snack brand was developed in line with the upcycled food trend – it was created to rescue parts of the cacao fruit that often goes to waste.

Products are made using the juice from cacao fruit pulp with the addition of nuts, seeds, spices and herbs.

CaPao’s product portfolio includes smoothie balls and fruit jerky strips that are vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO.

SnackFutures CaPao chocolate snacks
Photo as seen on CaPao’s Facebook page

The Ruckus and Co brand produces lunchbox frozen smoothie shakeups.

Products are made from fruit puree, organic whole milk, and veggies such as sweet potato or purple carrot, flax or chia, depending on the flavour, and water.

The brand also created a non-dairy version made with coconut milk.

SnackFutures unveiled Ruckus and Co and CaPao in 2019.

Taste and sustainability

Headquartered in Illinois, Mondelēz is a global manufacturer of confectionery, food and drink products. Oreo, Cadbury, Belvita, Ritz and Social Club are some of the most well-known brands in its portfolio. There are 37 brands in total, some of which have been in the market for many decades.

With such a foothold in the confectionery space, it’s only natural that SnackFutures is all about bringing to market the next generation of snacks.

However, the venture arm of Mondelēz is not only interested in on-the-go food. SnackFutures is laser-focused on snacks with a nutritional profile that is good for people’s health and whose production processes are kind to the planet.

“Within the invest focus area, SnackFutures invests in early-stage, high-growth food companies in functional snacking as well as in the premium snacking segment,” says Gaceta.

Gaceta notes that the companies in which SnackFutures invests are emerging brands enjoying some traction in the market.

“Ideally, companies have a minimum of $5 million in net revenue with a strong growth profile and could bring additional capabilities to the Mondelēz International portfolio,” he explains.

Gaceta says that SnackFutures works as a minority equity investor and supports portfolio companies that provide strategic value to Mondelēz International. “The investment opportunities we see are typically under $10 million.”

To the point

When you’re weighing an investment into a food and drink start-up, what qualities do you look for?
When we’re looking into an investment opportunity, we evaluate qualities such as brand authenticity, product, consumer sentiment, market opportunity, as well as the founder/people as they are all important considerations.

How much attention do you pay to its sustainability and clean-label credentials?
“Good for people, kind to the planet, deliciously fun” is the SnackFutures mantra. These are important aspects when assessing emerging brands and we do pay attention to their sustainability efforts.

What do you consider to be the key risks of your investments?
The financial risk and the strategic value both parties bring are the most important considerations.

Margins and profitability are strong indicators of success and as we look longer-term, the strategic alignment with Mondelēz International is key.

When investing in a company, how do you mitigate these risks? Understanding consumer sentiment, distribution strategy, product innovation, and the long-term vision of the founder are important aspects of assessing risk.

Investing alongside like-minded co-investors is also key to mitigating risk.

What’s your view of the emerging trends in cell cultivation and microalgae-based alternative to animal products?
It’s not currently an area of focus for SnackFutures, but that could always change.

Many start-ups are developing alternatives to animal products, which will only serve to benefit people and the planet in the long term.

There is seemingly consensus that challenger brands target younger generations; millennials and Gen-Z, for example. Is this interpretation accurate?
We do see many challenger brands targeting younger generations. However, you do see some of these brands also thinking about their value to other demographics, even if it’s still early in the journey to have a product developed specifically for that market.

What food and drink trends are on your radar?
Better-for-you and well-being snacks are our key areas of interest, and where we really focus our efforts.

Trends pushing into these categories include clean label, plant-based, allergen-free, and mission-led brands.

What was your latest investment?
We recently invested in a better-for-you snack start-up that brings capabilities to Mondelēz International. It hasn’t yet been announced, so I can’t share any additional detail at this time.

How does SnackFutures fit in the future of Mondelēz’s food and drink portfolio?
The SnackFutures model is deliberately designed to be fluid, flexible and agile in creating and working with brands without the typical guardrails standing in the way of bringing trend-forward products to market faster and smarter.

It is a truly cross-functional team, reflecting the world of modern marketing.

Gaceta insists that SnackFutures’ mission is to create wellbeing snacks that are good for people, kind to the planet, and deliciously fun. “We will continue to do so under the Mondelēz International umbrella,” he concludes.

Date published: 19 August 2020

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