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Can Mondelēz make a mint with ‘mindful snacking’?

With today’s consumers more health-conscious than ever, how does a global snacking giant, combat the issue of ‘guilt’ sometimes associated with its products?

Mondelēz, the brand behind some of the world’s best known confectionery brands including Cadbury and Oreos, introduced the concept of ‘mindful’ and ‘sustainable’ snacking in 2014, but has begun exploring the idea on a deeper level in recent months.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that about two dozen
Mondelēz International ’s headquarters gathered in Deerfield Illinois to learn how to eat their world-famous snacks in a new way.

A local meditation instructor talked the group through consumption of the snacks through breathing and meditation exercises, encouraging participants to be ‘present in the moment’, ‘eat with attention’ and ‘recognize how it feels to swallow’.

The snacking giant has been working with clinical psychologist and New York Times best selling author Dr Susan Albers on the ‘mindful eating’ strategy. Albers is a mindful eating expert and through her partnership with Mondelēz she proposes snacking tactics aimed at minimising the guilt associated with the confectionery giant’s treats.

A guide devised in collaboration with Mondelēz advises consumers to think carefully about why they want a snack and what type of flavour and texture they desire. It goes on to advise consumers to smell and taste each bite carefully, ‘minimise distractions’ and chew slowly, ‘notice the texture’ and finish one bite before taking the next.

Chris McGrath, Mondelēz’s chief of global impact, sustainability and well-being, told employees at the class that “it’s about learning how to enjoy and get more pleasure and satisfaction from how you eat our snacks and even why you eat our snacks.”

“This is us leading the future for our consumers to continue to build and have a healthy relationship with their snacking behavior and for us to help them love our brands.”

Sharon Natoli, director of Food & Nutrition Australia, says practising mindfulness has been shown to boost working memory, lower stress, enhance focus, reduce emotional reactivity, contribute to greater flexibility in adapting to change and to be associated with better relationships. 

“Given that we eat everyday, and for most people at least three times a day, practising mindful eating is one way to introduce the practise of mindfulness regularly into our day and to therefore experience these types of benefits,” Natoli told Inside FMCG.

“We hear a lot about what we ‘should’ eat and most people know that sweets or high fat/sugary snack foods are not the best choices for their health so often will set a rule not to eat them. However, black and white rules aren’t that helpful when it comes to food enjoyment so when we do eat these types of foods we can often feel guilty.  This simply adds to the cycle of trying to avoid these foods even further, increasing the cravings for them and so the cycle goes on.”

In her experience, it’s not uncommon for people to eat mindlessly to pass the time or to lift their mood when they are feeling down.

“Many people report eating out of boredom, because there are biscuits in the kitchen when they go to make their morning coffee, or because they feel down and think eating will make them feel better,” she said.

Troy McKinna, brand building specialist and author of Brand Hustle, is a little more cynical about Mondelēz’s approach.

“Lots of snack products are purposefully designed for mindless eating,” he told Inside FMCG.

“When we eat snacks like popcorn, chips and bitesize chocolate products we get into this rhythm. Just as we’re about to finish eating one piece we’ve managed to grab the next piece and put it in our mouth, so we have this continual eating motion. These products are designed to be moorish, they give us a good flavour hit at the start then the crunchy texture of the product clears our mouth and leaves us wanting more.”

He believes everything about the treats, even down to the packaging, is designed to facilitate mindless eating.

“It’s easy to grab another, then another. Who can stop at one piece of popcorn or one Tim Tam or one M&Ms?”

McKinna was once part of a team sharing a bitesize (M&Ms, Maltesers and Pods) chocolate innovation pipeline with John Mars, who he said is a
“master at identifying global product ideas”.

“He tried one product and simply said, “that won’t work”. His reasoning was that the product wasn’t balanced throughout the chewing experience. A prominent texture and flavour stayed too long, while other parts disappeared quickly.”

McKinna said it’s a smart move from Mondelēz and sees mindful eating as a “rich territory” for companies to explore in developing the next generation of snacking products.

“Engaging multiple senses will deliver a better snacking experience. It represents a good business opportunity because it solves a real consumer tension of wanting a more indulgent experience while not over doing it and being left with feelings of guilt.

McKinna said that by cracking this tension companies will have the opportunity to charge a higher price per kilo and ultimately create a more profitable product.

“The challenge for companies is doing it in a way that doesn’t just become a new type of greenwashing. Mindful eating needs to be much more than just a nice PR or communication idea. It needs to be a complete redesign of the offer, from product to packaging.”

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