Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S. LLC is on track to streamline customer interaction, drive category growth and engage consumers, company executives tell CST in this exclusive interview.
A combined sales team and access to insights across both chocolate and non-chocolate platforms from a single point are two of the changes retail customers will see with the debut of Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S. LLC, fully blending the resources of what was Mars Chocolate North America and Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.
The merging of the Mars and Wrigley brands began in 2008, when Mars, with the help of financier Warren Buffet, purchased Wrigley for $23 billion. In October 2016, Mars bought Buffet’s remaining stake in Wrigley.
Tim LeBel, president of sales for Mars Wrigley Confectionery, says the company immediately began building a sales infrastructure, which is now fully operational and functional. “There are a lot of benefits for customers because we are now showing up as one customer/category solution,” he points out.
The company has invested to increase the number of account managers in the field and educate them on the company’s full range of chocolate, non-chocolate, gum and mint products, he says.
The result, LeBel tells CST, is an integrated category vision with strong go-to-market and retail execution. “We are bringing a unified vision to drive growth for customers and delight consumers,” he says.
This also allows for more integrated promotional opportunities, says LeBel, calling out NASCAR and NFL sponsorships, which are already crossing between chocolate and non-chocolate brands.
“It’s not unusual to see a M&M’s car one week and then a Skittles car,” he says of the company’s NASCAR program.
“We are also gaining advantages with pre-made merchandising vehicles,” he points out, explaining this makes it easier to activate chocolate and non-chocolate opportunities at the store level.
Focused on category and core growth from three key areas — innovation, production and packaging — LeBel says M&M’s Caramel, launched earlier this year, pushed core M&M’s growth, while Skittles and Starburst Sweet Heat are helping drive what he calls the “fruity chewy” sector.
He also points to the company’s summer season initiative, noting its range of red, white and blue products has resonated with consumers. In its third year, LeBel says sales doubled from year one to year two.
“In year three we are experiencing double digit growth,” he says, adding: “We are seeing others jump on the red, white and blue bandwagon.”
LeBel says the company’s health and wellness platform focuses on choices, formats, calories and pricing options. Mars Wrigley Confectionery is part of the industry’s Always A Treat initiative, at the forefront in providing consumers with information, options and support as they enjoy their favorite treats.
“We want to lead in that space with reduced portion sizes and products that offer a lower entry price point and lower calories,” he says. “Half of our individually wrapped products will be less than 200 calories by 2022.”
Looking to “lead the category in a meaningful way,” LeBel notes the two companies have partnered for the past 10 years to bring insights to meet the needs of customers and consumers in the chocolate, non-chocolate, gum and mint sectors.
Insights Add Value, Unlock Growth
“This gives us the ability to add more value for our customers,” he explains, noting the company’s strategy of being customer-value focused.
Tiffany Menyhart, vice-president of category leadership at Mars Wrigley Confectionery, heads up the company’s category insights and says the ability to gain information worldwide across chocolate, non-chocolate, gum and mints sectors is a bonus for retailers looking to accelerate growth in the category.
“Understanding the way people are shopping in a rapidly changing market is critical, and we are able to draw on experience from a global perspective, and there is now one point of contact for the entire Mars Wrigley Confectionery portfolio,” she says.
Explaining that all of the company’s associates are able to talk knowledgeably on the findings, Menyhart says key pieces of research are seeding now through partnerships with retailers. “What can we do to increase conversion and be more disruptive?” she asks, adding: “What part of that translates to online versus brick and mortar?”
Understanding adjacencies and basket affinities is another focus of the findings. She says this type of data is useful in determining the best in-store placement for products.
Menyhart is not sugar coating the perception the category has with consumers. In talking to 7,500 category shoppers, she says the company discovered a universal truth — candy is fun but shoppers report it is the worst category to shop. “One shopper described the candy aisle as ‘a chaotic mess,’” she admits.
Mars Wrigley Confectionery is using this information to develop ways to help with in-aisle navigation, positioning of power brands to draw in shoppers and creative signage that calls out segment and sub-segments.
LeBel adds that improving the in-store experience for consumers and retailers led to transitioning key brands into standup pouches, which he says makes shopping the candy aisle easier and affords the opportunity to merchandise the product in new places.
“Shoppers spend less than 30 seconds in the aisle and standup formats improve their ability to quickly find the products they are looking for,” he says.
Wanting to develop an experiential store within a store, Menyhart says the company is reaching out to retailers to test these findings. She says customers need to “go the extra mile and dedicate resources in areas including marketing and operations to successfully implement the findings.”
Explaining that consumers today are looking for a seamless omnichannel shopping experience, Menyhart says it is important to evolve thinking around where and how confectionery is purchased. “We need to understand how we get shoppers to the location and get them in the aisle,” she says.
Using best-in-class insights to leverage best-in-class practices from global resources in a rapidly changing market is key to accomplishing this, says LeBel.
“We are poised to grow the category faster today than in the past and we are uniquely positioned to drive growth we can be proud of in the U.S.,” says LeBel. CST