At Mars Wrigley, the fundamental belief is that by growing the confectionery category, everyone wins. Shaf Lalani, VP of customer experience, said the company did an extensive survey over the last year and a half, looking at consumers’ behaviors, usage and attitude toward the category as well as their shopping behaviors.
“It’s been a rich experience not just for us, but more importantly for our customers on how to drive growth in our category,” he said.
The study showed shoppers spend an average of two minutes and 40 seconds in convenience stores, and only 14 seconds shopping confectionery. With fewer than 1 in 3 shoppers walking down the aisle and just 14.5 percent of them purchasing, the aisle is the biggest opportunity. The first four feet of the aisle is critical to driving attention and navigation. Leading with chocolate and gum is proven to increase shopability and drive conversion at shelf, according to the study.
“That research actually helped us partner with a number of our key retail partners to help them unlock growth in the category,” Lalani said.
He said the company just released its shelving guidelines for the convenience channel.
“Vertically blocking and making sure you’re leading with power brands was the key insight, and wherever we’ve implemented that, we’ve been growing,” he said. “We’ve helped our retailers outgrow the category vs. their competition. It’s definitely what we’re continuing to focus on. It’s much more shopper based, and it’s leveraging what I call category growth principles.”
On the innovation side, Lalani led off with the new M&M Hazelnut Spread Chocolate Candies. The center is a soft hazelnut spread.
“Hazelnut is growing as a segment,” Lalani said. “It’s growing at a rate of 4.3 percent overall, which excites us. Chocolate and hazelnut in general are growing at a faster rate.”
He said it is a No. 2 flavor variant within the nut partition and is bigger than caramel from a taste profile standpoint.
Snickers also is getting some attention from the nut butter trend, with the introduction of Creamy Snickers in almond butter, peanut butter and maple almond butter.
“What’s interesting about it is if you look at the ingredient deck, in the first core ingredient is the actual nut—no artificial flavors, no sweeteners; the lead ingredient is the nut,” Lalani said, adding that the very indulgent product delivers on taste.
“It’s probably the largest launch that we have had in Snickers’ history in many, many years,” he said.
Following a summer promotion for Snickers in extreme flavors, the favorite with consumers is coming back: sweet and salty.
“Sweet and salty is on trend. It’s done really, really well, and we were able to bring this additional Snickers flavor to the market,” Lalani said.
Mars Wrigley’s Twix brand has been growing anywhere between 9-12 percent overall in consumption, Lalani said, with consumers saying they love the texture and the delivery of both the caramel and chocolate. Last year’s launch of Twix White did very well, and this year the company is bringing out a triple chocolate offering.
“The cookie format in general is driving a lot of growth in the category, and we’re behind it and driving a big part of it,” Lalani said. “We’re super excited with this one. It has broad appeal across all age groups and it’s definitely driving incremental share and volume more than any other brand in the category.”
The 3 Musketeers brand hasn’t seen any innovation in six years, he said, with the last being 3 Musketeers Dark Mint. The new flavor to be introduced is birthday cake.
“One of the fastest growing flavors is birthday cake,” Lalani said. “So, we, being relevant and on trend, we were able to combine the two (chocolate and birthday cake) in 3 Musketeers.”
With the Combos brand, Lalani said the company is following up on the release of a honey siracha flavor a couple of years ago with a new jalapeño cheddar flavor.
“These spicy flavors tend to do extremely well with consumers and are picking up steam,” he said. “We have a jalapeño cheddar, again on trend, growing very, very quickly. This particular product delivers heavy on the jalapeño taste, so we’re excited by this as well.”
Lalani said with the combination of Mars and Wrigley, nearly every part of the category is open to innovation. Next year will see the launch of Starburst Duos, which combines two flavors into one piece of candy.
“It delivers lots of flavor and huge impact,” he said.
With Skittles, consumers have requested a favorite be brought back—Skittles Dark Side, which first launched in 2013.
“The beauty of social media is consumers are highly engaged and have been asking us to bring it back for a number of years,” Lalani said. “If you’re a Skittles fan, there’s definitely a host of different flavor profiles that we’re bringing to market.”
Skittles is the No. 1 brand in the fruity confection category, and the company will “continue to build on it.”
For Starburst, Lalani said several years ago consumers shared their love for all the different variants of red. So Starburst FaveReds is coming out, he said.
On the chewing gum side, Orbitz will launch a new flavor.
“What’s really interesting is consumers love these polarizing flavors,” Lalani said. “This one in particular is ‘Intense Arctic.’ It’s definitely intense and delivers on that really strong, intense flavor, if you like that.”
And M&Ms is offering a chocolate bar in different varieties.
“We’ve got a lot of exciting news next year,” he said.
Lalani said one thing Mars Wrigley does is try to create mini-occasions or mini-moments.
“Everyone’s very familiar with the traditional holidays—Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter—but there’s a lot of micro-moments or micro-occasions that exist that we as consumers or shoppers are participating in,” he said. “This allows consumers, as they walk into our customers’ stores, to participate in the category and gives them reason to connect.”
He said this is one of the reasons the company has partnered with the NFL for many years and has its huge Super Bowl program coming up. The Super Bowl is “the No. 1 snacking day of the year,” Lalani said.