Special focus: Mondelēz International’s HQ stars of the candy capital

Regarded as the ‘candy capital of the world,’ Chicago remains home to some of the biggest businesses in the sweets and snacks sector. Neill Barston explores the area’s confectionery heritage, and exclusively goes behind the scenes of Mondelēz International’s global HQ

If you take time to walk Chicago’s bustling streets, it’s easy to imagine how this forward-thinking city continues to be considered as the candy capital of the world. Its strong spirit of enterprise is in-built into its very core, with the area’s fortunes forged upon a powerful combination as a financial services powerhouse, transport hub and global steel producer, which remains reflected in its historically significant architecture.

For good measure, it also possesses a dynamic array of cultural heritage, from its culinary connections, through to its striking skyline serving as a backdrop to a slew of Hollywood hits. Among them, Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise, Batman versus Superman, the seminal Blues Brothers celebrating its pivotal musical heritage, through to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, showcasing the city’s unbridled love of colourful parades, fine art, as well as a passion for major league baseball. Moreover, while the area may well be synonymous with its bleaker 1920s era of prohibition, as immortalised in the street-savvy Chicago musical, behind the tougher exterior the show portrays, there’s a dynamic, fun side to this lakeside location – which is precisely where confectionery firms such as Mondelēz come into its diverse and rich story. For many, the story begins in the wake of the area’s great fire of 1871, which in turn open up opportunities for ambitious emerging businesses, as part of its major rebuilding process.

 

As University of Chicago archives reveal, among early pioneers was a certain Charles F. Gunther, gaining credit for introducing the US to caramel sweets from his Clark Street store – with its demise in the major city blaze leading to the establishment of a new manufacturing site. A further regional milestone emerges with the Columbian Exposition in 1893 (marking the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s venture to the New World), in which a diverse spread of culinary delights were on display, including offerings from one of the city’s founding candy wholesalers, Ruckheim and Eckstein, unveiling its Cracker Jack popcorn and peanut snack. Crucially, the show also proves decisive for a young Milton Hershey, who catches sight of confectionery machinery from J.M.Lehmann, starting his own eventual manufacturing empire.

According to the city’s records, by the turn of the 20th century, there were more than 1000 candy stores within the city, leading to the creation of the National Confectioners Association (NCA). From its original base of some 69 manufacturers, the pivotal organisation now represents an industry that reportedly employs around 58,000 people across the country, supporting 700,000 jobs.

As far as Chicago goes, a host of industry names were to spring up through the decades, including Wrigley Gum, later becoming part of the Mars group, in addition to other household favourites such as Fannie May candies, recently clocking up its centenary of trading in the area. Other significant players in the city include Frango Mints, and Tootsie Roll, and latterly, Ferrara, which has Ferrero as its parent company for its many major confectionery brand ranges, ensuring the region retains its place as the world’s largest single candy market.

Intriguingly, after 26 successful years hosting the key Sweets & Snacks Expo, Chicago is now calling time on staging the show, with the organising NCA team thanking the area’s stars of the sector as it sets out on the next chapter from 2024 where it will travel to Indianapolis.

A new 21st century era

As for its own part in the city’s illustrious confectionery and snacking history, Mondelēz International formed just over a decade ago from the Kraft group. Formerly, it held its global HQ nearby in Deerfield, Illinois. But just prior to the pandemic, plans for a new international base at the vibrant Fulton Market area of Chicago gained traction, with the move coming to fruition by 2020.

It seems far from an accident that such a hip location is successfully attracting other major businesses seeking stylish office space including Google, McDonald’s, Kimberley Clark, and Dyson. “We sought a location that reflects our new, dynamic, and more consumer-centric growth culture,” notes CEO, Dirk Van de Put on the rationale behind the relocation of several hundred staff, occurring just as the brutal Covid-19 pandemic shocked the world, resulting in paradigm shifts within many global corporate operations.

While the unprecedented lockdowns of the past couple of years were to impact on the business just as much as any other, it seems they’re emerging out of the other side with considerable confidence.

So, as I gain an invite to explore the company’s smartly appointed five storey 80,000 square metre HQ, it’s clear the shiny new surroundings are proving an inspiring base for the firm’s US workforce. Within the ground floor reception, there’s a particularly strong acknowledgement of one of its most famous brands in the form of a large-scale mural depicting the Bournville site of British-founded confectionery group, Cadbury, joining its ranks in 2009 after a major acquisition bid succeeded. The key strategic move enables the business greater share of the global snacking sector, which it continues to forge forward with through its master brands including Oreo, Milka, Ritz, Belvita and Toblerone among many others.

As Desiree Battaglia, global media relations manager, offers a tour of the site, she explains her own experiences over the past year are more than meeting her own expectations. “It’s been really exciting to be part of an internationally connected business. There’s always lots of things going on with teams around the world to liaise with,” she remarks of her role, which spans elements including briefing senior management for interviews and conferences, proactive public relations, as well as responding to media requests from around the world.

Making our away around the slicklydesigned site, there’s a spaciousness to its layout that captures an almost New York loft apartment vibe, with my host explaining there are some key architecture touches around the building, reflecting the area’s heritage within the industrial food production sector. While the firm’s core manufacturing takes place at several US locations including Portland, Oregon and Richmond, Virginia, and its Chicago bakery site, its HQ is very much the strategic hub of its operations.

This includes space for core teams serving its HR, finances, human resources and media teams. “I would say that no one day is the same for me, so that’s what makes it fun. I love the variety of it. Prior to this, I’d been working in media relations within healthcare, and another role within cake decorating, so when the opportunity came about, I felt like I had a connection to the company, growing up with brands like Oreo and Chips Ahoy!, and am a big fan of the Sour Patch candy, as well as Cadbury in the UK, which I know has a big emotional connection for many, and it’s about to turn 200, which is a huge milestone.

“So, joining the company just seemed a really good chance to blend my professional experiences so far in marrying products and storytelling,” she says, as we head towards the fifth floor of the building, which provides some visual wow factor. This free-flowing space is known as the ‘connect zone’ offering a communal kitchen, gaming area and rooftop terrace, plus its well-stocked staff store enabling employees to access their ample fix of their favourite company treats. According to Desiree, it’s perhaps not unsurprising that the latter feature is a real hit with staff, who appear to be a pretty close-knit unit, despite the comparatively huge broader size of the business – employing a global total of around 91,000 associates.

As the media manager notes, despite the pandemic delaying its opening, there’s a real buzz about the site as its divisions make full use of its potential for supporting its group-wide activity. “The Fulton Market area was chosen for a reason – we are in the heart of food trends location, with a lot of well reputed restaurants in the area, and also great dessert places here. “So, you feel the energy of the neighbourhood, where a lot of people are venturing out to try new things and so we are tapping into those taste trends, and getting excited about food,” she adds of the momentous move to Chicago.

Significantly, she says that its on-site teams feature a broad base of employees across its spread of operations. This ranges from experienced veterans who remain proud of being part of the business since its former days under Kraft branding, through to those who are newer recruits offering fresh perspective. In her view, there’s a progressive approach from the business as regards championing policies such as flexible working for its staff, as well as placing a core value on diversity within its employee base, including supporting women in management roles.

“Our motto is snacking made right, through providing the right snacks for consumers in the right way and moment. Sustainability was added as a fourth pillar last year as part of our objectives and that arm of the business is focused on reducing plastic waste and how to improve recyclability, and improving things in the cocoa sector. That’s something that our Cocoa Life team has done a tremendous amount of work on over the past ten years. “There’s also our Harmony Wheat programme, which talks about how we can produce more sustainably, and assure that farmers are compensated fairly, and deliver sustainability from end-to-end in the market. There are still challenges out there with supply chains and pricing,” she notes of its activities.

 

Ongoing supply chain challenges

As previously reported, the company underlines that it remains entirely committed to supporting communities through its Cocoa Life programme in West Africa. This is underpinned by its overarching goal of ensuring all of its sourced beans are traceable under its flagship scheme by 2025, as it seeks to scale-up engagement with farmers by 2030.

At the heart of this strategy, lies a series of investments totalling $1 billion into the project since 2012, targeting enhancements across its sourcing strategies. As one of the ‘big six’, Mondelēz acknowledges that systemic change requires increasing community empowerment, and direct action from stakeholders within the industry working with governments and major civil society organisations.

Such actions are vital for the long-term viability of the cocoa supply system’s survival. Indeed, according to figures from the US Department of Labour, the sector is still grappling with the issue of at least 1.5 million minors still exposed to the working within cocoa farming operations across Ghana and Ivory Coast – which remain dominated by family-run smallholder operations. It’s a situation that clearly has further major work as a sector to be done, as we recently reported on a Channel 4 television documentary highlighting allegations of ongoing child labour within Cadbury’s Ghana supply chains.

In response, the company says it is making significant investments to improve conditions on the ground. Speaking on the broader topic of sustainability, Barbara Blohberger, Mondelēz’s senior director of corporate affairs for central Europe, is offering a keynote presentation at our World Confectionery Conference this autumn, on 5 October at the Harrogate Convention Centre in Yorkshire, and believes its flagship supply chain scheme is making well-defined headway. She says: “Today, Cocoa Life is the world’s largest holistic cocoa sustainability program that has been verified by third parties to have a demonstrable positive impact on the challenges in the cocoa supply chain.

“We have just announced an additional $600 million invested until 2030. “As the European market leader in chocolate, our popular chocolate brands Cadbury, Milka and Toblerone already source 100 per cent of the cocoa they need from this programme. By 2025, our goal is to have included the required volume for all our chocolate brands globally.

Product development

While supply chain issues still remain a factor, the business at least acknowledges that building upon its existing programmes is the best route forward for making positive progress. As such, the company is among those core businesses advocating in favour of adopting soon-to-be introduced EU due diligence legislation offering greater protections for farming communities in supply chains, as well as for tackling deforestation. On developing its vital next generation of products, the company’s media manager explains its US teams, including R&D specialists, are continuing to push boundaries of innovation.

“One of things that is talked a lot about here is an approach of ‘local first, but not only local’ when looking at what peoples’ tastes are, and we take a lot of pride in what are considered ‘local jewels’,” she says of its strategies, which she adds requires a balancing act in serving consumers in around 160 countries.

 

Moreover, its own recent State of Snacking report reveals shoppers place a high value on innovative new flavour creations that are also perceived as responsibly sourced. As Desiree concludes, there’s an encouragingly strong sense of collaboration across the business on a local level, as well as in terms of interactions with its global teams. So, in aiming to offer an upbeat, positive working environment, and enjoying resilient fortunes despite the previous tests of the pandemic, there’s a can-do spirit that drives the business forward, fulfilling its ambitious growth projections.

 

 

 

 

Factfile: Mondelez International • The business was founded in 2012, spun-off from the Kraft Group, focusing on its snacking portfolio • It had acquired Cadbury in 2009 for £11.5 billion, including its key Dairy Milk bar range, with the brand set to mark its 200th anniversary next year • The business has grown to deliver revenues of $31.5 billion in 2022 • Core brands include Oreo, Belvita, Ritz, Milka, Chips Ahoy! • The company employs 91,000 people around the world • In 2020, work is completed on its global headquarters in Fulton Market, Chicago, US

 

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One response to “Special focus: Mondelēz International’s HQ stars of the candy capital”

  1. Tarhib says:

    Overall, the article provides a positive and informative overview of Mondelez International’s new global headquarters. It is clear that the company has invested a great deal of thought and effort into creating a workplace that is both sustainable and employee-friendly.

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