Interview with Maria Alvarado, Vice President Strategic Consumer Insights & Analytics
Maria Alvarado is Vice President Strategic Consumer Insight and Analytics at Mondelēz International. She has spent many years looking at snacking in different cultures and how snacking translates in other cultures, how it fits into the diet and the reasons people snack. Together with her team they help "to inspire growth for MDLZ by connecting with people."
Maria Alvarado (MA): My name is Maria; I am Spanish. At Mondelez, I am in charge of consumer insights and analytics. The way I would describe my role and that of my team is “to inspire growth for MDLZ by connecting with people”. We work to understand the external world and how our brands and products fit in it. We’re part of the Strategy function so that consumers – or people as I like to call them! – are at the heart of our business.
MA: Mindful snacking is about eating with intention and being more conscious about what and how much we are eating. When we observe consumer groups, it comes out very clearly that people feel better about the way they eat if they are not exclusively governed by the moment, the time, the motion. People can really feel really stressed over food. We find that they are at peace when they are aware of how and what they eat and they are making conscious decisions about it. It is that awareness and conscious decision-making process that makes the difference.
MA: We did some extensive research on people’s eating and snacking habits, all over the world, from Europe to China and from Canada to South Africa. To do this we defined snacking very simply but it’s always good to remind people because it’s a concept that does not translate well across languages. Snacking is anything you eat between meals or in replacement of a meal.
The way you approach food depends on many factors. The first one is where you come from. Your country’s culture affects greatly your relationship to food. For example, they may be neighbors but the French and the British have a completely different way of eating. On the other hand, while people in France and China eat very different foods, they actually have a very similar way of relating to food.
I’m Spanish so I was raised thinking that three square meals is a sacred rule. But in fact we also have ‘merienda’, an established afternoon snack time to hold you over until dinner. France has something very similar with ‘gouter’, and that moment also exists in Latin America, with the Argentinians taking ‘merienda’ nearly as the fourth meal. In most countries, you find similar small eating moments – in the mid-morning, mid-afternoon or after dinner – where snacking is part of the traditional way of eating.
But the way people eat and snack is also massively affected by some macro trends that we observe all around the world: a growing awareness of health, the scarcity of time driven by urbanization and changing family structures, and the fast rising living standards in emerging markets.
Take China, for example. Traditional Chinese eating behaviors didn’t give a strong role to between meal eating or meal replacement, but urbanization and new lifestyles result in more people replacing breakfast or having a short break at work with a snack.
MA: What Mondelez can bring to the conversation on mindfulness is our expertise in snacking. We understand it really well: how people feel about snacking and about eating. Because you can’t understand snacking without first understanding eating!
We understand what consumers are looking for when they snack, which varies widely based on who, when and where. We should provide snacking options for all occasions: for energy, for nutrition, for pleasure, for eating alone, for sharing… We should also offer snacking solutions for all kinds of people, from kids to people over 60. With those choices, people can make that conscious decision about what it is they want to eat and how they want to do so.
We can also do a lot with portion sizes. Packaging our products in portions that make sense for people really helps. For example, I’m a heavy user of our Belvita breakfast biscuits, and I love that they are in a pack of four. If it was a bigger pack, I would probably be tempted to go for another two. But since it’s a four-biscuit pack, I would have to open another one and this is when I make the conscious, mindful decision not to do so.
MA: Be conscious, be aware! Cutting out a category of food is not the answer. It’s all about balance. A little chocolate is okay. I know chocolate makes me happy! And happy people live longer!