Commentary

Mondelez Acquires Enjoy Life Foods And Its 'Free-From' Cachet

Mondelez International — the multinational food company forged from enterprises founded by the likes of James L. Kraft, John Cadbury, Theodor Tobler, Jean-Romain Lefèvre and Pauline-Isabelle Utile (LU biscuits) — has acquired Enjoy Life Foods, which markets 41 “allergy-friendly” products, including cookies, cereal, snack bars, seed and fruit mixes, baking chocolate, chocolate bars and snack chips. Terms were not disclosed.

It didn’t have too far to go physically. Mondelez is based in Deerfield, Ill.; Enjoy Life is less than 30 minutes south off the I-294in Schiller Park, Ill.  Mondelez intends to travel Enjoy Life’s direction philosophically in the coming years.  

“The Enjoy Life brand expands our portfolio into faster-growing, on-trend, ‘better-for-you’ areas and provides an excellent platform to make these delicious offerings available to consumers with ‘free-from’ needs or simply looking for healthy-lifestyle options, both in the United States and beyond,” Mark Clouse, chief growth officer at Mondelez, said in a press release announcing the deal. 

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Enjoy Life's products are free from the eight most common allergens — wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish and shellfish —which together account for about 90% of all food allergies, it says. 

Mondelez pegs the “free-from” market in the U.S. at $12 billion and says it is “growing at strong double-digit rates,” citing Euromonitor data. Mondelez, with a presence in 165 countries, had revenue of $34 billion last year with familiar billion-dollar brands such as Oreo, Cadbury, Trident and Tang, not to mentionJacobs coffee.

“We're thrilled! As we combine our great brand, market leadership and passion for our consumers with the global resources, scale and marketing expertise of Mondelez International, I'm confident this relationship will enable us to reach even greater heights,” Scott Mandell, CEO and founder of Enjoy Life, said in the statement. 

“This isn't a trend, but a seismic shift in the way people are eating and thinking about food,” Mandell tellsUSA Today’s Bruce Horovitz. “People care more about what they're putting in their bodies” — and are therefore willing to pay the dollar or so more that his products cost because of the higher cost of ingredients.

Mandell started the company after developing the concept for a class in the Northwestern University MBA program. “He got an A on the project and subsequently decided there was a real business opportunity here,” chief sales and marketing officer Joel Warady tells Ellen Jean Hirst of the Chicago Tribune.

Warady, who has been with Enjoy Life from the beginning, tells Food Navigator’s Elaine Watson that the company’s focus will continue to be snacks but that it will be “introducing a brand new category of products that it has not been in before” at the Natural Products Expo West exhibition in Anaheim that kicks off March 4.

Media attention for the company last year ranged from Progressive Grocer and GlutenFree Retailer to Warady discussing on local TV what the FDA’s new standards on “gluten-free” actually mean for consumers. 

Mondelez “plans to boost its ‘Better Choices’ products to 25% of its revenue; increase the availability of portion-control products by 25%; reduce sodium and saturated fats in its products by 10%; and increase use of whole grains in products by 25%,” by 2020, USA Today’s Horovitz reports.

Mondelez said Enjoy Life would be operated as a wholly owned subsidiary and that management would remain in place.

“Other big food companies have encountered problems integrating such acquisitions, such as Kellogg Co., which acquired Kashi in 2000 and in recent years has said the brand is struggling to grow,” points out Annie Gasparro in the Wall Street Journal.

But at least one prominent blogger about natural foods is cautiously optimistic about the acquisition and what it means for people with food allergies.

“Enjoy Life Foods runs their own dedicated facility with some of the strictest protocols in the industry for keeping products free of nuts, dairy, gluten, soy and other top allergens,” writes Alisa Fleming, founder of GoDairyFree.org. “Should consumers be concerned about safety? It’s too soon to say, but if the recent history of natural food acquisitions repeats, Enjoy Life will likely benefit from the economies of scale that Mondelez can offer rather than interference in their production processes.”

In responding to “moments made possible by Enjoy Life” that all of the company’s executives ponder in the “About Us” section of the corporate website, marketing chief Warady says: “The greatest experience I’ve had and continue to have is the opportunity to meet thousands of families to whom our products make a difference, allowing them to eat freely and enjoy life to its fullest.”

Mondelez will snack to that.

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