Mondelez Shares Approach to Pilot Testing With Startups

By Alicia Kelso |  September 14, 2015

How are smartphones and new technologies like Bluetooth beacons going to change the way we snack? Mondelez International, the $34 billion owner of brands like Chips Ahoy, Trident, and Sour Patch Kids, has been nibbling away at that question since 2012, when it kicked off a program called Mobile Futures.

That initiative paired Mondelez brand managers with startups to cultivate mobile marketing concepts and new partnerships. (Before it spun out in 2012, Mondelez International was part of Kraft Foods.)

The company announced its fourth iteration of the program, now called Shopper Futures, on Aug. 31st. Mondelez solicited startups from across the United States and Canada to join the program, and eventually whittled the list down from several hundred to eight. Those eight startups are now working with Mondelez brand marketers and retail partners to bring in-market pilots to fruition within ninety days. 

Kim Yansen, Director of Field Shopper Marketing for Mondelez International, has been involved in the Futures series since it began nearly four years ago. She’ll spend October in Toronto as part of the immersion phase of the project, working on the collaboration between Freckle IoT, 7-Eleven, and the Oreo and belVita cookie brands.

Yansen talked with InnoLead about the new Shoppers iteration; how it differs from the earlier Mobile Futures program; the risks involved in working with startups; and the ways that consumers’ changing habits are forcing companies to be more nimble and forward-looking.

InnoLead: What is the difference between the original Mobile Futures, which launched in 2012, and the new Shopper Futures?   

Kim Yansen: Mobile Futures basically paired our brands with startups to accelerate mobile innovations and incubate new ventures. Now we’re bringing in the retailers (see logos at right), plus the startups, plus our brands to transform the retail experience, or the ‘shopper journey.’ That’s a big differentiator – bringing our retail partners in to be an intricate part of this.

Also, this is the first time we’re bringing it back to the U.S., and we are making it a North American initiative, with Canada now involved. 


InnoLead: What are your main objectives with Shopper Futures? 

Yansen: This will allow us to continually learn about the technology that is changing the way consumers are shopping today — how technology is changing the path of purchase. We want to find out how to win at that critical moment in-store, and to do that we’re working with startups that are transforming the space. Our big objective is to figure out what is out there, how it’s going to solve a challenge we’re facing, and how we can turn it into an opportunity.  

InnoLead: Why did you purposefully go after startups to help you with these objectives?  

Yansen: Startup entrepreneurs are the brightest minds in the industry. They also help us look at new and different ways of thinking…

InnoLead: How have these collaborations helped your company internally?

Yansen: They have allowed all of our brand and shopper marketing employees to look at things differently. We call it intrapreneurship. It’s helping them understand and think about technology…and forcing them to move fast and be nimble.

We have a saying that we have the power to be big and small. We are a big company, but we want to be small enough to have speed and nimbleness. It’s a core value. Everything is changing so quickly now [that] you have to move fast, but with a big company, you have to strike a balance.

From WiFi to Wearables

InnoLead: What types of technology did you choose for your eight finalists and why?  

Yansen: There is such a wide array of technology, from beacons and WiFi to wearables to smart displays. We chose the eight finalists because the ideas needed to make sense with our brands and retail partners. But there are startups that came into our pitch day that didn’t make the final cut, [but] that we will probably work with in the future because what they had to offer is so new and different that we should be talking to them.  

InnoLead: Can you provide an example of a success story from the initial Mobile Futures iteration? 

Yansen: Personally and professionally, it was one of the best experiences of my life, to be able to think about [startup] culture and how they think about things, and share with them how we think about things and use the power of both to bring something to life. We worked with really great startups who we’ve continued to partner with to this day, including Waze, which is a geo-navigation app. It helps users get from A to B, but along the way we have our retail partners selling our brands and we can let the user know that, “While you’re on your way to your friend’s house, there’s a gas station that sells one of our brands.” We can send them an ad message while they’re stopped at a traffic light, or let them know something is on sale. There is a gamut of things we can do with this.

How the Pilots Play Out

InnoLead: Now that the eight finalists have been chosen, what is the process?  

Yansen: The clock started ticking when we announced this on August 31. Each of the teams have 90 days when they have to immerse themselves in each other’s culture and build what the pilot is going to look like and bring it in market. We’re now in the immersion phase.

After immersions – where we talk about the way everybody does business, who they are, their challenges, what we think the pilot will look like – we’ll have a better idea of what those examples will be, when they’ll go to market, and how to measure success. That’ll be the second week in October. Teams can decide what “in market” means in terms of size, and strategically put [the pilot] in the right places. Through the program, we want to test enough to know something is there that could be scalable in the future.

From the 90-day deadline, we’ll use the first quarter to go over what we’ve learned, decide what to tweak, and test again. The teams have the freedom to build the right test, based on their retailers and brands.  

InnoLead: What if the test doesn’t work?

Yansen: The program will still benefit everybody. We make sure that startups have the ability to get involved, get solutions to the market and get true results. We want the retailers to tell us their challenges so we can create opportunities for them. And the startups can learn about brands and retailers and get in-market case studies to help grow their businesses. For our brands, we get great partners and create a spirit of that intrapraneurship.   

InnoLead: What do you know about your team?  

Yansen: I will be in Toronto working with Freckle and 7-Eleven, Oreo, and belVita. Freckle hones in on beacon and WiFi capabilities, so we will be thinking about that and how they are paired with 7-Eleven. If you think about a convenience store, most of the movement is from out of the store to in-store, and that’s where Freckle and 7-Eleven will have to think about what that looks like – out to in – from an Oreo lens, or from a belVita lens, where we know there will be dayparting involved.   

If you look at the Strap, Kum & Go [convenience stores], and Trident collaboration, it will feature Strap’s wearable technology. How do you think about that and connect it with a retailer and a brand? Well, Strap offers the ability to talk to a shopper in a new way, knowing what their wearable device is telling them. We will try to deliver a shopper solution that can positively impact results for Trident. We know that wearables are very focused on health and wellness, and Trident is very focused on oral health. We believe there is a natural synergy there and we have to figure out how to connect the three.   

Learning From Prior Iterations

InnoLead: What are some challenges you learned from Mobile Futures, and how have you corrected those with this iteration?

Yansen: We can’t forget about the most important piece, our retailer. We have great brands, but we can’t do it without our great retailer partners that sell those great brands. Mobile Futures was such an amazing program that provided brands and startups [the chance] to learn a lot, but we really needed to bring in that critical part with our retailers, and we’re doing that this time around.

InnoLead: Do you anticipate more of these Futures programs?

Yansen: As a company we have upped our ante everywhere, and hopefully we’ll continue to iterate around our Futures series. We learned a great deal from Mobile Futures… We hope for similar results this time around. Not every program will be successful and that’s OK. This isn’t a once and done idea, it’s an evolution.