Talking Shop with… Timothy LeBel, Mars

TimLebelTimothy LeBel, vice president of sales—grocery/value/military for Mars Chocolate North America, discusses the overall state of the candy category.

What is the state of the candy category?
Timothy LeBel: Confections are an easy way for consumers to reconnect to a simpler time, and chocolate is an affordable treat. According to Infoscan Reviews, SymphonyIRI Group, for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 24, total chocolate category sales were up 3.7%.

Tell us about the current trends in the industry.
We are seeing an increased consumer demand for bite-size unwrapped chocolate. These bags offer convenience and portability, and they are easier to share. We are fortunate to have M&M’S Brand Candies—which is the ideal sharing product—and we are innovating additional items to meet this trend. This month we are adding Snickers Bites and Milky Way Bites. Last year we launched M&M’S Brand Candies in stand-up pouches and Dove Milk Chocolate Covered Raisins and Peanuts.

Another trend is combining sweet and savory flavors into one snack. We have found that consumers were mixing M&M’S Brand Candies into bags of salty snacks, like pretzels and trail mix, so we created M&M’S Brand Snack Mix.

White chocolate is the smallest chocolate segment, but it is growing—up 14% during 2012. That is one reason we introduced Dove Brand Silky Smooth Cookies and Crème last fall, and we have a few white chocolate items in our seasonal offerings.

Regarding package sizes, there has been a spike in sales of sharing size candy over the last few years. This includes our 2 to Go and 4 to Go multi-piece format bars. While we are happy about this growth, we counsel retailers to create a balanced portfolio that includes singles, sharing size and larger formats.

Is seasonal confectionery a growing trend? How so?
Yes, the seasonal segment is growing—4.5% during the latest 52 weeks, which is leading the growth area in the confectionery category. One of the primary growth drivers across all seasons is the expansion of items in variety bags. This pack type provides consumers with a mix of their favorite brands, typically in bigger bags with better value. Additionally, seasonal wrapped single bars is a growing segment, which allows shoppers a fun way to enjoy the category in a singles snack, with shapes like Valentine’s Day hearts and nutcrackers for Christmas. At Mars Chocolate, we expanded our 1.1-ounce singles shapes portfolio last year. This year, shoppers also can enjoy new Snickers Brand Peanut Butter Pumpkins for Halloween and Twix Brand Santas for Christmas.

How important are front-end and secondary displays to the category?
Well-designed and maintained candy racks at the front-end of the store provide retailers with a great way to take advantage of impulse sales, particularly in an expandable category that has high household penetration. Only two-thirds of confectionery purchases are pre-planned, so it is important to utilize secondary displays to inspire sales. Retailers with “clean aisle” policies should consider display alternatives. We are developing a power wing that attaches to a side-cap, which maximizes promotional space while keeping the floor clear.

How is Mars driving sales through consumer promotions?
In addition to endcaps, shoppers are drawn to in-store displays illustrating key moments—like sponsorships and promotions—that encourage consumers to nurture relationships with friends and family. For example, our new power wing for the 2013 M&M’S Brand integrated campaign “Better with M” will attract attention and inspire sales. This mega promotion will incorporate a variety of themes, from “Race Day is Better with M” to “Movies are Better with M” and “Holidays are Better with M.”

Tell us about your sustainability programs.
At Mars Chocolate North America, sustainability is a consideration in everything we do. We are actively working to responsibly source raw materials, including cocoa. Mars Chocolate was the first global chocolate company to commit to sourcing 100% of our cocoa from certified sustainable partners by 2020. Dove Brand Chocolate was the first mainstream chocolate brand in the U.S. to bear the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal, appearing on its dark chocolate packaging in January 2012.

We are also committed to make our sites and logistics completely sustainable in a generation. We aim to recycle 100% of our waste at all of our manufacturing sites by 2015. Plus, our new facility in Topeka, Kan., will be built to meet leading-edge environmental standards, and we will pursue a LEED Gold Certified designation upon completion.  

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