Product Innovation: Mars Chocolate North America

Product Innovation: Mars Chocolate North America

Research from Mars Chocolate North America indicates that Americans stick with their favorite chocolates 75% of the time, and make the balance of purchases for variety. A steady stream of inventive treats marketed under the M&M'S and Dove Brands is moving even improbable shoppers to the latter bucket.

• M&M'S Pretzel Chocolate Candies and Dove Promises are on SymphonyIRI Group's Rising Star list of 10 new consumables on their way to becoming top sellers.
• Better-for-you snacking trends have inspired extensions into new categories like salty snacks.
• Innovative flavor profiles, giftable items and seasonal displays boost incremental sales.

New and different foods stand out in any category, but even more so in chocolate where consumers are inclined to experiment.

Research from Mars Chocolate North America indicates that Americans stick with their favorite chocolates 75% of the time, and make the balance of purchases for variety. A steady stream of inventive treats marketed under the M&M'S and Dove Brands is moving even improbable shoppers to the latter bucket.

“Confectionery is all about excitement,” said Timothy LeBel, vice president of sales for grocery/value/military at Mars Chocolate North America. “Bringing new innovations to the category really helps drive growth.”

Take, for instance, the wildly successful M&M'S Pretzel Chocolate Candies, which juxtapose the sweetness of M&M'S with savory pretzel. Revenues have been so significant that the snack is one of 10 consumables flagged as a “Rising Star” by SymphonyIRI Group, which reserves the term for items on their way to achieving the highest year-one sales. (Dove Promises is also on the list).

The dual-flavored treat's unique taste and texture has made such an impression on consumers that it earned the No. 3 spot amongst gadgets such as Apple's iPad and an Android device on Forbes' list of the most memorable product launches of 2010.

Mars gets ideas for fresh takes on its iconic brands by closely monitoring trends and gauging consumer preference. New Snickers Peanut Butter Squared, for instance, plays to the popularity of chocolate with peanut butter. Since January, candies that combine the two have grown at three times the rate of overall chocolate.

Mars Chocolate's purview is not limited to candy. Better-for-you snacking trends have inspired extensions into other categories. It recently introduced a line of M&M'S Brand Snack Mixes that combines cookies and candies with fruits and nuts. Dark Chocolate M&M'S, raisins, almonds and mini pretzels comprise one variety.

Other popular flavors are playing a starring role with chocolate. “We're doing a lot with coconut, one example being M&M'S Coconut, and mint and raspberry profiles within the Dove portfolio,” LeBel said.

3 Musketeers Brand Coconut Bar will be available this December. Mars also just extended the availability of M&M'S Brand Mint Dark Chocolate Candies from seasonal to year-round. The decision was based on data showing a 7.9% lift in mint chocolate candy sales, with 80% of purchases tied to “non-seasons.”

Purchase data also indicate that chocolate's household penetration is highest during the holidays. In fact, two-thirds of Americans purchase chocolate during seasonal times, with 69% doing so during Christmas, 67% around Halloween, 66% for Valentine's Day and 61% in preparation for Easter, according to LeBel.

“It's a great time to build the overall repertoire of confectionery and be part of family occasions,” he said.

A wide selection is key to accommodating the holiday rush, noted Jodi Rivera, a buyer with the H.E. Butt Grocery Co.

“Over the last four seasonal presentations, Mars has delivered innovative and exciting new seasonal items,” she said. “These new items were across usage occasion, price points and packs, ensuring we met our customer needs.”

New this Halloween is M&M'S Brand Peanut Butter Chocolate Candies in red, gold and brown. For the winter holidays, giftable concepts such as stocking stuffers featuring M&M'S characters and boxed Dove Chocolates wrapped with a bow are the focus.

“Innovative items will assist us in engaging the shopper in seasons in ways that can drive excitement and basket ring,” added Rivera.

A festive store environment gets shoppers in the buying mood. Mars provides seasonal racks and displays to accommodate additional SKUs. Themed presentations also help build excitement and drive candy purchases in high-traffic areas like the lobby. Currently making itself at home in retail locations is a giant inflatable Yellow Peanut M&M'S character “dressed” in a Frankenstein costume for Halloween.