One of the world’s biggest food companies is struggling as the industry moves toward health and wellness

Mondelez moment.
Mondelez moment.
Image: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
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The maker of Oreo cookies is undergoing a changing-of-the-guard as it swaps out its longtime CEO, Irene Rosenfeld, for a man who’s spent the last seven years leading one of the world’s largest French fry companies.

Dirk Van de Put hails from the Toronto-based McCain Foods, where he grew the company’s massive frozen French fry business during a time when consumers began rebelling against unhealthy packaged foods. He’ll have his work cut out for him as he replaces Rosenfeld at the helm of Mondelez, the US-based multinational food giant.

At a conference in February, Rosenfeld described the current food industry climate as “one of the most volatile and uncertain that I’ve seen in my 35 years in the industry,” according to Forbes. As Rosenfeld put it, the volatility comes from the “unbelievably rapid” pace at which consumers are shifting to health and wellness products while also being starved for time. In other words, food manufacturers are challenged to make healthier products with fewer additives, preservatives, and unnatural ingredients. Often tinkering with product recipes changes how they taste, even their shelf-life. So evolving is no easy task when a large portion of the Mondelez portfolio includes a bevy of sweet snacks and treats such as Oreo cookies and Cadbury chocolates.

All the big food companies are working hard to recast their images. Nestlé is aggressively trying to position itself as a health-food company, which has included reworking the recipes of all its frozen foods. General Mills has worked to remove the artificial coloring from its breakfast cereals—dealing with persnickety marshmallows in Lucky Charms along the way. And PepsiCo had to do an about-face with its Diet Pepsi product after consumers expressed outrage when the company changed the recipe to replace the artificial sweetener aspartame with sucralose, which didn’t have the same controversial baggage as aspartame.