Interview with Gil Horsky, Global Chocolate Innovation Platform Lead, Mondelēz International

Gil Horsky will be joining us at the upcoming Future Food-Tech summit, October 18-19, 2017 in London. Horsky is the Global Chocolate Innovation Platform Lead at Mondelēz International, the largest Chocolate and Biscuits Company in the world with iconic brands: Milka, Cadbury, Oreo, Belvita and many others. We caught up with Horsky prior to the summit and this is what he had to share with us:

You’re speaking on the panel discussion “Opportunities at the Intersection of Food, Health & Medicine” at the Future Food-Tech summit in London. What role do nutrition and health & wellness play in the snacking category?

Horsky: One of the most significant changes that occurred in how people consume food is the way that snacks are encroaching upon the traditional meal-times. Consumers, and especially younger consumers, are swapping the more traditional three daily meals with five or six substantial snacks per day. Snacking accounts today for over 50% of eating occasions, with 91% of consumers snacking multiple times throughout the day. Given the increased role snacks play in people’s lives, and the challenges they face eating healthily while on-the-go, their expectations of these snacks to deliver nutritional benefits are on the rise. 

The rapid increase of health conditions such as obesity and diabetes are shifting the way consumers are thinking about snacking, they are expecting snacking companies to be part of the solution, and not the problem. They want their snacks to have a clear “job” that will solve a problem or enable them to better meet their wellbeing aspirations, by reducing the “negatives”, delivering on the “positives” or even providing a mood uplift.

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What steps is Mondelēz International currently taking to meet increased demand for healthier, more nutritious and sustainable food products? 

Horsky: Our future is rooted in helping people snack in a balanced way and enjoy life with products that are safely and sustainably sourced, produced and delivered. That’s why Mondelēz International is focusing its efforts on delivering positive change for people and the planet while driving business growth. These efforts have enabled the company to reach many of its well-being targets ahead of schedule: delivering its goals to grow portion control and Better Choice options, to increase whole grains and include calories on all front-of-pack labels globally.

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An exciting step in the company’s well-being journey has been the recent launch of a new wholesome savoury biscuit brand, Véa that was developed for the on-the-go, well-being-focused millennial consumers – open to discovery, adventure and authenticity. Véa biscuits are baked with authentic and visible ingredients and are made with no artificial ingredients, colors or flavours, no trans-fats and non-GMO.

Another signature program in our sustainability and well-being efforts is Cocoa Life: A program that aims to create empowered cocoagil horsky - mondelez - 3 farmers in thriving communities across the company’s supply chain. Launched in 2012, Cocoa Life will invest $400 million by 2022 to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and reach one million community members in our six key cocoa growing origins: Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Indonesia, India, the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

Nutrition is a very complex science. From which disciplines and geographic regions do you think the next breakthroughs in food nutrition will come from?

Horsky: Historically most of the innovation in the food category was around flavour, pack, form and branding. There was relatively little innovation that was based on multi-disciplinary breakthrough science. But in conjunction with the category shifting to play a much more active role in delivering nutritious products for consumers, we have also seen more and more scientists and researchers coming from other disciplines – such as genetics, biotech, chemistry, synthetic biology and pharma – and shifting their know-how and expertise into the food industry. That is mainly due to their realization that the food industry is at great need for breakthrough innovation and has relatively less regulation, requires less funding for NPD and has a quicker time to market compared to the disciplines they originally come from. This has been a key enabler for the accelerated development of the food-tech industry and for the growing interest among VCs and corporate venture arms to invest in this exciting space.

As is the case with any innovation – great ideas can come from anywhere and that is also true for the food-tech and nutrition industries. The major hubs that have played a key role in these industries were places like the US and Europe. But we are now also seeing an emergence of new food-tech frontiers in areas such as: Singapore, Australia and Israel. In Israel for example the government has made a strategic decision to become a leader in food-tech, as they have done in the past successfully with cyber security and agri-tech. They are doing that by funding VCs in this space, such as: The Kitchen and by allocating funds and resources for a food innovation center and lab in the northern Galilee region. Those efforts in Israel are already starting to pay off with the recent emergence of several local top-notch food-tech start-ups.

What is the role of technology in supporting people to make healthier choices? What is the scope for brands to deliver consumers a more personalised nutrition approach?

Horsky: Today’s younger consumers are demanding personalised products and experiences, especially as they relate to food and nutrition. This new paradigm of personalization is somewhat counterintuitive to big food manufacturers—as they’ve historically been all about scale and making the same product faster and cheaper. Yet the recent fast technological evolution of 3D printing of food, e-commerce, and digital printing of packaging opened up for food manufacturers new possibilities in terms of personalising food products in an agile and efficient way.

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But the thing I am most excited about are the advancements in DNA sequencing, big data and AI that enable us now to make personalised food and nutrition recommendations that are tailored to an individual’s unique DNA or gut microbiome. It is a relatively new space, with several startups, including Hint and DNAFit that are based on DNA testing, or Day Two and Viome that are based on microbiome, playing a leading role in developing it. I believe the industry is merely beginning to scratch the surface of the concept of personalised nutrition that will impact the entire food chain. In the coming years, we will see a significant jump in science-based solutions for personalised nutrition and an entire ecosystem developing around these solutions.

What lessons learned have food companies across the industry gained from their reformulation efforts?

Horsky: Reformulating products the right way can be challenging and requires time and resources. Companies should put the consumer at the heart of what they do and never compromise on quality and taste. It is critical that they have a clear objective and target defined prior to beginning any reformulation work. This upfront piece is critical as many companies figure out in hindsight that either their goals were just not realistic, or that they could have achieved them by utilizing different and easier strategies than focusing on reformulation, such as: meeting certain nutritional thresholds via smaller portion control formats.

Reformulation cannot and should not be done piece-meal. The interaction between ingredients and nutrients needs to be better understood and acknowledged. It often isn’t as simple as swapping one ingredient for another, as there are clear inter-dependencies between ingredients and their overall impact on taste and costs. Given the increase in many commodities pricing, some companies find themselves trying to achieve “everything” through their reformulation efforts – to deliver improved nutrition and cleaner labels while improving taste and costs. They usually find out the hard way that it is just not feasible, and some trade-offs are needed. Hence, it is critical to have clear and realistic reformulation objectives upfront.

We look forward to welcoming Gil to the Future Food-Tech London summit, October 18-19, 2017 in London.

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