Recently, Food Tank, Seeds & Chips, and Mondelēz International co-hosted a panel in Milan, Italy, featuring Danielle Gould, Founder and CEO of Food+Tech Connect; Pashon Murray, Founder of Detroit Dirt; and Brigette Wolf, Global Head of SnackFutures Innovation at Mondelēz. Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg moderated the discussion on ways to create sustainability in the food system, consumer habits around snacking, and if businesses can be kind to the planet while still producing delicious foods.
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According to Wolf, consumers are now actively seeking out healthier snacking options—foods that are higher in fiber and lower in sugar, for example. She says that Mondelēz’s mission is to listen and deliver on what consumers want: “I think an example for us is the move toward whole grains. In the past three years, whole grain consumption increased in our product portfolio by over 20 percent…The standard way of eating three meals a day has changed, and we have to figure out how to eat healthily with those changes.”
She also discussed the virtues of mindful eating and that snacking should not replace balanced meals. “Mindfulness is not about defining snacks and foods as good or bad. It’s thinking about snacking in the context of the daily diet, fitting snacking into the overall diet and maintaining a good balance of nutrients.” According to the company, SnackFutures’ mission is aligned with Mondelēz International’s purpose of empowering people to snack right by offering the right snack, at the right time, in the right way.
Through its innovation and venture hub SnackFutures, Mondelēz is pairing startups with experts to help cultivate innovation in this space. “It’s critical that Mondelēz and other big companies interact with entrepreneurs to keep learning and get stronger together.”
SnackFutures is identifying delicious, nutritious, and environmentally sustainable ingredients that would otherwise be passed off as waste and are creating new brands with them. As part of this mission, Mondelēz hosted a Seeds & Chips startup competition, collecting hundreds of submissions from across the globe. One winner, Denmark-based Kaffe Bueno, upcycles spent coffee grounds into nutritious ingredients used in foods and wellness products. The other winner, IN-Code Technologies, is developing edible, in-product traceability markers designed to improve food safety and increase consumer trust in the food supply.
“Startups are pushing big companies to think outside the box. It’s going to be interesting how big companies step up and make investments in areas I am passionate about by shifting their supply chain,” says Gould. As the founder of Food+Tech Connect and co-CEO of Alpha Food Labs, Gould’s mission is to re-engineer the food system. Food+Tech Connect is the world’s largest community for tech and innovation while Alpha Food Labs is a community-driven platform for building and launching sustainable food companies.
Recently, Gould has focused on the issue of biodiversity and how it can be good for business: “Biodiversity tastes like the rainbow. Seventy-five percent of our food comes from twelve plants and five animals. That is insane. As a food industry whose job it is to give innovative and delicious food experiences, we are leaving so much opportunity on the table, not to mention we are putting our environment and food supply at tremendous risk.” Part of that effort is working with farmers who use crop rotations, critical to building soil health, to find out what crops need a market, then developing new snacks based on those crops.
When it comes to changing the food system and promoting sustainability, Gould believes established companies and startups must work together. “Startups can only have so much impact. When you think about larger companies who have the knowledge, supply chains, buying power, and sheer amount of land under agricultural development, we need to get big companies and small companies to work together.”
Murray is leveraging partnerships with large companies through biomass collection and composting company Detroit Dirt, which is working to reduce the carbon footprint of Detroit by revitalizing neighborhoods and reducing waste. Murray also founded International Dirt, which is creating programs and tools for a zero-waste economy.
Murray wanted to create a food waste model that was socially, economically, and environmentally friendly. She started by asking, “How do you look at waste in a way that it is not waste? If there are large companies that make food, how do we get that food to shelters? If you are an automotive company employing hundreds of thousands of people, how do you manage those systems?”
As a startup, Detroit Dirt had a small team and limited resources, but developed a good plan after pilot testing and collecting data. They saw partnering with larger businesses as an opportunity to access more resources and grow. “When you have the opportunity as a small company to collaborate with different partners in the community, that can help you accelerate your progress. You learn to work with like minds and how to do things collectively.”
The key to working with big companies like General Motors, according to Murray, is to be creative with your language. “Companies have so many things they need to think about, so what they throw in the trash is not a top priority. I open with saying they are wasting money, then showing what that could accomplish if they re-direct those funds, investing in a small company.”
Murray is hopeful about the future. “It’s a great time in history, perhaps even bigger than the industrial movement. Now that technology is meeting the environment, we are going to be able to make real shifts in humanity.”