The prospect of a former gum and candy boss from Italy taking the hot seat at Cadbury would have caused opponents of Kraft’s takeover three years ago to choke on their breakfast biscuits - had the category existed then. But since replacing Nick Bunker in August last year, Maurizio Brusadelli, UK and Ireland president of Mondelez International, reckons the doubters have been forced to eat their words.

Certainly, few companies could match the company’s prolific NPD output since the acquisition completed. Belvita biscuits, Philadelphia cheese spread with Cadbury and Cadbury Dairy Milk containing Kraft stable-mate Oreo cookies - are just a few of the new products to have hit UK shelves in the past two years. This month, they’ll be joined by Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations. And, says Brusadelli on the brink of the third anniversary of the takeover, there’s plenty more NPD in the pipeline, much of it British.

Although the split from US parent Kraft Foods last year hasn’t been without pain, with the group’s net profits down 2.2% in its 2012 full-year results, the transition has repositioned the UK - its second-biggest market - at the core of its strategy, claims Brusadelli. “You only have to look at what we’ve brought to the market since the takeover,” he says. “There is a new buzz and a new DNA. We don’t want to have lazy marketeers. We want to think as entrepreneurs.”

To underscore its commitment to the UK, the company has already thrown £27m at making Cadbury’s historic Bournville HQ its global chocolate research centre and opened a new lab in Reading. The reason for the big investment in chocolate? It accounts for more than half the UK business by value. Cadbury sales grew 5.1% last year [Nielsen 52 w/e 29 December], with Creme Egg sales soaring 12.6% in the year to 23 February 2013 and the new Cadbury Egg ‘n’ Spoon building £3.79m in sales since its launch in January [Nielsen]. Last year’s launch of Cadbury Dairy Milk Bubbly “revolutionized the tablet market”, adds Brusadelli.

Name: Maurizio Brusadelli
Age: 44
Status: Married with two young children
Education: Graduated from Bocconi University, Milan, with a degree in business and economics.
CV: Joined Kraft Foods Italy in 1993 as a marketer. Held various senior roles in marketing, sales and general management. Promoted to general manager of Kraft Foods Iberia and then president for gum & candy, Kraft Foods Europe. Became UK&I president, Mondelez International, last August.
Hobbies: Watching and playing sport, including sailing. Also collects vintage wrist watches.
Pet hates: Business discussions without clear outcomes… and when his football team Juventus FC is losing.

The numbers are even more impressive for coffee. Sales leapt 12.3% last year [Nielsen 52 w/e 29 December]. Carte Noire grew by 37% and Tassimo, the out of home partnership with Costa and Bosch, grew by more than 27%. Brusadelli says there is “significant headroom” for more growth and predicts that within five years one in five homes in the UK will have a Tassimo.

Meanwhile, Belvita has proved so successful in the UK - with value sales up 72% [Nielsen 52 w/e 29 December] - that Mondelez is opening a new production line in Sheffield. “We persuaded the British to have biscuits at breakfast,” smiles Brusadelli. “At the beginning, everyone was laughing at us, but it’s now a £50m brand. The new production line in Sheffield is very exciting because normally new plants are happening in eastern Europe and the developing markets. I think it’s symbolic.”

So too was Mondelez’s sponsorship of the Olympics, he argues. “The Olympics were magic. They were magic for London, magic for the UK and for our company.”

With a massive marketing spend and in-store activation, Mondelez also brought an army of 1,300 purple-shirted volunteers to the Games - including Brusadelli and Kraft boss Irene Rosenfeld who infamously failed to turn up for MPs’ inquiry into the merger, but did manage to make it to London 2012. “Her message was that the UK business is vital for this company,” he says. “The Olympics were a big bet and were a catalyst to create new opportunities with retailers with all the activity around the events. We now want to turn that into long term partnerships.”

To that end, Mondelez is working with retailers to innovate the snacking category and make fixtures look less “old fashioned”, he reveals. “There is a real opportunity to make stores more attractive and we are looking to work with them,” he says, adding that as part of Joyville marketing campaign, the company is planning a ‘Day of Joy’ event later this year that will involve in-store theatre around a range of products.

None of this is likely to detract from concerns over the healthiness - or unhealthiness - of many of Mondelez’s biggest selling lines, however. As well as having to contend with its Belvita’s slow release energy claims being disputed, the company has missed around half of its salt reduction targets this year, despite last year’s launch of a 25% reduced salt Dairylea.

Brusadelli claims product innovation, including smaller packs, will go part of the way to addressing these concerns, but says health lobby calls for taxes of on HFSS foods miss the need for a longer term education. “In Italy we eat of a lot of pasta, kilos and kilos of cheese but it’s our lifestyle that enables us to keep in shape,” he says.

Mondelez is not about to follow Coke down the anti-obesity campaigning road. Where it would like to emulate the soft drinks giant, however, is in making its brands feel national rather than international. It obviously has a headstart with Cadbury and Brusadelli is adamant that its American ownership will not dilute its Britishness. “It doesn’t matter whether the owner is British or American or whether the MD is an Italian, the result is the same,” he says. “We are investing in this country.” Time will tell what the return on that investment is in terms of continued consumer loyalty.

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