FRANKFURT, GERMANY — Functional ingredients, sustainability and digitization all should influence the future of snacking, said Gil Horsky, global innovations director for SnackFutures, the innovation and venture hub for Mondelez International.

The lines between functional foods, over-the-counter drugs and supplements are blurring, he said Nov. 29 in a virtual fireside chat at Fi Europe, which also is going on in person in Frankfurt.

“You are starting to see ingredients that were maybe more common in the functional space moving into snacks and into food,” he said. “You are starting to see entrepreneurs from the bio tech and pharma space coming into food.”

Functional mushrooms, adaptogens and nootropics are beginning to appear in the snacks category.

“There is so much science coming now into the efficacy of the different mushrooms: lion’s mane, cordyceps, shiitake, miatake,” Mr. Horsky said. “Each one of them has a different benefit, but they are also very interesting from a flavor perspective, a taste perspective, etc.”

SnackFutures has explored the mushroom ingredient category with Millie Gram, a brand of nut-based spreads infused with mushroom blends and other ingredients.

"You are starting to see entrepreneurs from the bio tech and pharma space coming into food."
— Gil Horsky, Mondelez International

How ingredients are grown and sourced is one element of sustainability, Mr. Horsky said. A transparent supply chain is another. Regenerative agriculture has become more popular as has technology around indoor farming and aqua farming.

The agriculture and food industry remains one of the least-digitized industries, Mr. Horsky said. The entire value chain could become digitized. Big data and artificial intelligence (AI) could become more prevalent.

“I think we’re seeing more and more companies and startups trying to tackle some of those spaces,” Mr. Horsky said.

Developing new products within Chicago-based Mondelez is one part of SnackFutures, which also runs the startup engagement platform CoLab and invests in startups. The relationship between a corporation and a startup must include corporate investment, Mr. Horsky said.

“If there is not a bit of money and resources, for me that means corporate has not committed, and the poor startup has huge expectations and hopes,” he said.

Corporations need to know when to say no, too.

“On the corporate side, we see these passionate entrepreneurs, and we feel uncomfortable telling them no,” Mr. Horsky said. “So we give them kind of a half-baked answer: ‘That’s really interesting. We’ll be in touch.’ I always tell my colleagues that is the worst answer we can give the startup because the startup still is hoping that means (the answer) is positive.

“It’s always better, in a nice, polite way, to say, ‘Listen, we really love what you’re doing, but actually this is not relevant for us. It’s not our priority.’”

Startups then may move on to another corporation and not waste any more time, he said.