Summary List PlacementThe company behind Oreos has bought or invested in its share of up-and-coming brands, such as Hu chocolate. Mondelez's newest venture, though, will target even smaller snack brands. CoLab, the latest addition to the snack maker's SnackFutures venture arm, will pick up to 10 startups for its initial run of the program, slated to begin in June and run for 12 weeks. In addition to a $20,000 grant, founders will get mentorship and networking opportunities within Mondelez. SnackFutures has spearheaded investments in more mature brands, such as Hu, as well as grown its own, such as Ruckus & Co. smoothies for children. With CoLab, the goal is to work with brands in between those two stages, said Brigette Wolf, Global Head of SnackFutures. Startups that participate have to have at least $500,000 in revenue — far less than the $5 million to $10 million range that SnackFutures has used to find more mature brands in the past. Ultimately, Mondelez's goal with the CoLab program is to get in with potential acquisition targets at an earlier stage. "You're building the relationship with the companies so that by the time they go to sell, they want to be bought by us," she said. While startups will enter the program with no commitments beyond 12 weeks, Wolf said Mondelez will consider doing more down the road, including investments. "It's a pre-stage to our venture activity," she said in an interview. "It's building that pipeline and those relationships so that when they're ready, we'll be able to help them." Connecting with startups has gotten harder during the pandemic, she added. Key industry conferences and networking opportunities have been canceled or moved online thanks to pandemics. In their place, SnackFutures is relying especially hard on existing contacts in the private equity and venture world to find applicants. While the CoLab program was in the works before COVID-19 started shutting down public life, Wolf said Mondelez made adjustments as a result of the pandemic. Most of the program will take place virtually, for instance, but SnackFutures is tentatively planning on three in-person events for the founders it works with, depending on how the pandemic develops. Brands looking to get their foot in the door have faced another set of challenges. The pandemic has made sampling products in-store and at events nearly impossible. Manufacturers, including Mondelez, have focused on meeting demand for their existing brands. Many retailers that would normally give upstart brands a meeting or a distribution deal aren't doing so as they try to address COVID-prompted issues like out-of-stocks and shopper safety. "Anyone with new products would tell you that the buyers and retailers were really focused on 'How do I just keep merchandise on the shelf?" she said. "'I don't have the mental bandwidth to start looking at new products,'" she added, summarizing a sentiment common among retailers. That's forced many startups to put off key growth plans to later this year or 2022. But Wolf said that CoLab's new program is meant to keep emerging brands chugging along despite those challenges. "There's a whole backlog of things to show for those that could keep the payroll and the lights on," she said. SEE ALSO: Oatly raised eyebrows ahead of its reported IPO with its quirky Super Bowl ad. Here are 8 other food companies that experts say could go public Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
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