NEW YORK — Mondelez International’s updated consumer research methodology is driving innovation throughout the snack manufacturer’s portfolio. Dirk Van de Put, chairman and chief executive officer, highlighted the methodology this past September during the company’s investor day. During a May 30 presentation at the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference, he outlined how new learnings are affecting the company’s approach to innovation.

The core of the consumer research is a “snacking database” based on interviews with approximately 170,000 consumers. The database allows product developers to evaluate how consumers snack across different emotional or functional needs and occasions.

“There’s a number of discoveries,” he said during the May 30 presentation. “First of all, it makes a hell of a difference for them (consumers) around the world if they’re alone or they’re in a group. It makes a hell of a difference what time of the day it is. And the third big factor is how they feel. So, some of the learnings we have is that the same consumer might eat very healthy in the morning but very indulgent at night depending on how they’re feeling.”

The research also has reframed how the company views who is its competition. With regards to the company’s Oreo brand, Mr. Van de Put said it is not another biscuit brand that the company is competing with in the after-school snack occasion.

“The competition is gummy bears here in the U.S.,” he said. “So, that would not have been immediately our thinking. It helps us fine-tune our communications; it helps (us) understand our innovations; and it helps us understand what our competition is.”

The fruits of these efforts may be seen in the results for Mondelez’s Oreo and Cadbury brands, which are now growing at or close to double-digit rates. Mr. Van de Put said he believes such momentum is sustainable.

Oreo wasabi and spicy chicken flavors in China, Mondelez

“We found a way to better understand how to position the brands toward (the) consumer at the right moment and then accompany that with good communication,” he said. “On top of that, I think we’ve discovered that we can adapt the local range or the local flavors much better than we’ve done in the past.”

In China, for example, the company has introduced Oreos featuring wasabi and spicy chicken flavors.

“The Chinese consumer doesn't like anything that's very sweet,” Mr. Van de Put said. “So, Oreo in China is less sweet than the rest of the world, and that has given it a big boom.”

While Mondelez sees a runway for additional growth of many of its brands, chewing gum remains a challenge due to changing social norms.

“The social acceptance of chewing gum has gone down,” Mr. Van de Put said. “Smoking has gone down, and gum is heavily linked to smoking. The weirdest of the reasons, but it's a real reason, is the use of cell phones.

“However, I think that the original consumer need of oral refreshment is still there, but they are more hesitant to use gum. So, what we’ve seen is that mints are starting to play a bigger and bigger role, and I think we need to look at the category. We shouldn’t look at this as sort of gum and mints. We should look at a whole because the consumer benefit is the same. We’ve started to launch our gum brands in mints to have an extension of those brands.”