Increasingly busy lifestyles and an evolving global demographic are influencing consumer eating habits like never before. Demand for products which consumers can eat on the go, that are easy, healthy and accessible from a cost perspective, are all important factors which are reshaping the development of new products across the food and beverage industry.
Amassing a net revenue of $9.7bn in 2016, and with 30,000 employees worldwide, confectionary juggernaut Mondelēz International houses a number of renowned snack brands. From Cadbury, Côte d'Or, Oreo and BelVita, to Babbaloo and Philadelphia, the company remains committed to driving business growth and fulfilling its ambition to ‘create delicious moments of joy’ for consumers.
“When you receive a snack, the feeling you get is a sense of happiness- a moment of joy. We put a lot of that passion into the way we work, and the way we make and market our products,” Director of Information Technology Henson Sy explains.
“We have gone through a number of transformations, but at the end of the day we remain focused on wanting to be the best snacking company in the world, by delivering moments of joy.”
Responsible for managing global innovation at Mondelēz and furthering its technological capabilities, Sy has streamlined the company’s sales and marketing operations and partnered with manufacturers, global leaders, and in some cases, region and sub-region presidents to look at new ways to drive business growth by utilising new digital tools.
“We are telling them, ‘if you want to increase, for example, salesman productivity and improve in-store executions, there are certain technologies that you should be investing in,’ he says.
“For example, with sales force automation (SFA), we show what it will look like in the next few years. If I'm bringing in this thinking, it can then be built into their roadmap. When I first joined in 2014, Mondelēz’s sales force were selling via pen and paper. In some rare instances, they may have had Netbooks,” he continues.
“We made a big bet for our sales force to use mobile devices. The full deployment of mobile devices is more cost effective and ubiquitous. It makes data available to us almost instantaneously. We use app stores which are freely available to mass deliver the app. Looking at what’s next, I asked instead of giving sales reps the app, why don't we give the retail stores the app, where they can have this service on their mobile devices in the store.”
“Beyond this, we looked at chatbots via Facebook Messenger and so on. We have different technologies, bringing intelligence behind it as well. Machines can figure out what to sell best in that store based on history and location trends, and let the sales staff just monitor or manage relationships,” he adds.
Upon implementing SFA for sales reps, Sy also worked to implement cloud technology to support its mobile app platform to strengthen its security mechanisms, minimising potential risks or delays in service.
“Last year, we were hit by a malware which took down most of our systems. The only thing that did not go down was the sales apps because they were all on the cloud,” comments Sy.
“Using this as an important lesson, cloud technology is now being extended to other functions. We are now bringing technological innovation into our operations, not just in sales and marketing, e-orders, digital marketing or ecommerce, but we're putting it into supply chains as well, finance and HR.”
With the introduction of the Hub for Innovation team, which Sy is a part of, Mondelez is seriously investing in innovations. The team’s focus is to think big, innovate fast and disrupt at scale. It has rolled out proof of concepts around the world that have positively impacted business as well as drive a culture of innovation.
Additionally, the launch of Mondelez University will encourage employees to look at new ways of working and learning.
“We partner with Accenture amongst others, in the innovations space, where they have provided a framework to how we set up an innovation culture, how we set up innovation immersion sessions so that we drive the whole culture, from top to bottom,” says Sy.
“We also harness best of breed technologies from SAP and distributor management system by Infosys Edgeverve. We have a product, which is scalable and just works. When we implemented it in the Philippines, we just replaced all of our legacy client-server tools with this cloud-based solution.”
The food and beverage industry across Asia has amounted to $42.393mn, and is expected to steadily rise, with China being the main country responsible for this rise, according to Statista.
Consequently, the company is striving to expand its renowned wellbeing brands, improve the nutrition and ingredients of its snacks, and develop further products which each market will savour.
“We know consumers are looking for healthier snacks and meals, paying particular attention to the ingredients used,” observes Sy.
“In the US and Europe, we have BelVita, which is an early breakfast snack. When we launched it in China, it was a surprise that consumers didn't like it. We heavily marketed it as a healthy alternative, but the take-up was not where we want it to be.
“Chinese people and Asians in general do not like to bite into hard stuff in the morning. They eat buns, breads, porridge, something which is easy to bite and digest. Giving them a hard snack such as BelVita wasn’t going to work,” he says.“Another product was Oreo. Although it is quite popular in the US, when we took this to China or elsewhere in Asia, like India, we’ve had to either reduce sugar content or increase it. The twist, lick and dunk ritual is also an American concept that required being accustomed to it first.”
“To them, you just eat the biscuit. To make it more exciting, we introduced different flavors that used different ingredients. Take for example, Oreo Green Tea Ice Cream and Oreo Strawberry.”
“With the health food segment in China growing substantially in the recent years, we introduced Oreo Thins as a snack with lesser calories. This is an innovation coming out of China. Because it's thinner, psychologically people think that it’s an acceptable indulgence, and rightfully so because of the lower calories. So, we've now exported that thinking to the rest of the world,” he adds.
With a number of renowned, powerful brands, Mondelēz is also looking to remain competitive by catering to the growing trend of gifting and the personalisation of its snack products.
“It used to be that if you bought a bar of Cadbury, it would be the same anywhere. Nowadays, if you tried a Cadbury’s bar in Australia, versus one in India and Malaysia, Malaysia's version is much sweeter whereas in India it is milkier. It’s almost personalised to the market. We're undergoing mass customisation,” explains Sy.
“Technology grows from mass customisation to mass personalisation. If I want give you a bar of chocolate for your birthday, for example, I would like the ability, as a consumer, to personalise this for you.
“Being a healthier choice is another consideration for us. We’re cutting down on sugar, as most markets are introducing sugar taxes.”
Such decisions will create further appeal for consumers to engage in purchasing snacks long-term, yet the company will continue to face challenges, ironically as a result of digital innovation. Evolving consumer buying behaviours and the rise in online shopping will continue to impact the company, as Sy acknowledges that snacks are something of an impulse purchase for many.
“This is where our challenge is in Asia. A lot more consumers are going online, so we are working hard to be part of that basket size. We have set ourselves up for a $1bn target by 2020 in ecommerce,” he adds.
The establishment of nine technical centres at Mondelēz will consequently work to ensure the company remains ahead of the competition. Its most recent launch of its facility in Jurong, Singapore, will be responsible for its work across research, development and quality management (RDQ) and strengthen the company’s position on the global stage.
“We will look at innovations in terms of manufacturing and packaging at our technical centres. Take for example how we create the next generation of chewing gum. Sale of chewing gum is banned in Singapore, but the RDQ of our gums is based here,” chuckles Sy.
“We test how much can you chew on a gum, the force and pressure, how long the taste will last, all at our RDQ centre in Singapore. We also look at how certain packaging compares to other types of packaging and utilise 3D printing.”
The facilities will also feed into Mondelēz’s sustainability goals, where it looks into using sustainable ingredients like palm oil and cocoa (in conjunction with its Cocoa Life Program).
Mondelēz’s strong brands, its creativity and focus on developing wellbeing snacks in alignment with consumer preferences will secure its position within such a competitive space. Utilising digital tools to promote innovation ensure speed to market and provide increased transparency will see it remain a leader and a source of inspiration across the industry.