How Mars Wrigley Innovated Their Strategy, But Maintained Their Iconic Brand

How Mars Wrigley have struck the balance between appealing to modern consumers while remaining loyal to their traditional customer base


With more technology and greater expectations than ever before, the consumer landscape is changing radically, rapidly. In response, companies are springing up daily that cater to every niche audience you can imagine. So, in this fickle climate, how can an iconic brand ensure they are reaching out to a modern audience, whilst all the while remaining relevant and connected to their loyal customer base?

This is an issue that the confectionary conglomerate Mars Wrigley face in the modern era. Having begun over 100 years ago, they are now operating in over 78 countries worldwide and have established themselves as the largest confectionery manufacturer on the globe. And it's safe to say that they are a brand that's hard to miss. With their range including distinctive products such as Mars Bars, Extra chewing gum, and M&Ms, most people across the globe encounter their products daily. Confectionary is still a growing industry, and, despite public health concerns, it's an industry that has outgrown packaged food consistently over the last five years. In such a large industry, maintaining a competitive edge is of vital importance. This means Mars Wrigley have to find the right balance between addressing the ever-changing demands of new consumers, while still connecting with customers who have used their products all through their lives. Their brand needs to constantly innovate, while still tapping into nostalgia and routine.

At our Chief Strategy Officer Summit in November, Matt Lloyd, Vice President of Business Development for Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S, addressed this task. 'It just means constant change in our business. The consumer profile is changing in the US. With the rise of Generation Z, who we all know are the most diverse, most variety-seeking generation, innovation is critical to our business. We need that core group of favourites that people remember from their past, but we also need to innovate, our consumers expect that. It's times like these that can set up an identity crisis within a business. How do you stay true to the loyal consumers who have stuck with your business all these years while still leaning into a future that could look radically different from the past?'

His answer? 'Knowing your customer or consumer is absolutely critical. Knowing them better than you did last year, better than your competitors do.'

By understanding their audience, Mars Wrigley has been able to consistently address what concerns a modern consumer. And one of the biggest concerns for individuals using their brand is maintaining a healthy diet. According to NPR, 75% of Americans strive to keep to a diet they consider to be healthy. But Lloyd points out that 'at the same time they are indulging more, treating themselves more. So that sets up a fascinating opportunity and challenge for a business like ours.'

This is a challenge they faced head-on. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) established new sugar guidelines for consumers, recommending that adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. This was advice that had the potential to damage the revenue of confectionary companies, and yet Mars Wrigley were the first confectioner to openly support the advice. In a statement on their website, Mars wrote 'the chocolate and confectionery treats that we make contain sugar, an ingredient that contributes essential sweetness to the taste, but should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet and active lifestyle.' They openly acknowledged that their snacks were not something to be regularly consumed, an announcement that, on the face of it, seems counterproductive to their own profit.

'We did it because transparency matters,' said Lloyd, addressing their surprising decision. 'It matters to our consumers and it matters to us. Why were we the first company to put a 250 calorie limit on all our single serve offerings? Why were we the first company to put the calories on the front of all our packs in the US? Our consumers know about [health and calorie intake] and therefore it's important to our business.' In the current climate, consumers are hyper-aware of what goes into what they eat, and spend more time looking at labels and nutritional information than ever before. Mars Wrigley understood this and saw it as, not a threat to their business, but a way to change their strategy and appeal to the audience in a different way. By transparently letting the consumer know what the calorie intake of their product is, and how much they should be eating, they can market their food as a treat, for a special occasion. This is actually a golden branding opportunity, as consumers associate their product with treating themselves.

Additionally, a lot of their recent products have been developed with a lower calorie count to focus on that portion ability, specifically so those with dietary concerns can keep on top of their calorie consumption easily. Mars stated that 'supporting global public health efforts to limit society’s consumption of added sugars and labeling our products transparently are steps in the right direction for us and will benefit everyone who enjoys Mars products.'

Another thing that Mars Wrigley have consistently made part of their strategy is investing in communities and local economies, identifying this as something that really matters to their consumers. On March 30 2017, Mars Chocolate North America announced they would be making a $70 million reinvestment in its US supply chain. This reflected a long-standing dedication to the US manufacturing industry and economy. This investment will create around 250 new jobs and will mean more than 95% of Mars chocolate sold in the US is made in the country. Nielsen data shows that about 75% of millennials say buying American-made products is important to them, so this is a smart strategic choice to capture the attention of a new audience, while still producing an iconic brand. 'As a U.S. based, family-owned business, Mars has been investing in local manufacturing and the communities where we do business for over a century,' said Mark Johnson, President, Mars Petcare North America, in a statement. 'This commitment is fundamental to our DNA and how we operate. And you'll continue to see investments like this across our businesses.'

Lloyd acknowledges the tension always present when a company innovates their products while trying to stay 'loyal to the brand', stating 'we have our consumers saying we need new stuff but at the same time our consumers say 'don't change our M&Ms!', and we have to find a way to balance this. What this means is massive change, massive transformation.' Lloyd demonstrates this transformation with the example of the introduction of new caramel M&Ms in May 2017, which enjoyed a lot of attention, becoming the biggest global confectionary launch ever. By playing with the tried-and-tested formula, they caused the brand to grow by encompassing the old with the new. Another example of strategic innovation was their introduction into the snack bar category in 2016 when they launched Goodness Knows, a calorie-controlled bar. They are an organization constantly playing with expectations and diversifying their brand.

Nothing greater demonstrates their dedication to innovation more than the way they celebrated their quintessential product, M&Ms', 75th birthday in 2016. They honoured the milestone by releasing a musical ad campaign in which the classic 'The Candyman Can' brought to the modern day with musical elements from the Soul singer Aloe Blacc. This overlaid clips of their various different branding campaigns over the last seven decades. The result was a touching, funny and thoughtful ad that appealed to consumers new and old, actually bringing these elements together to great effect. 'It drove household purchasing of the brand overall,' confirmed Lloyd, 'and it did connect us with a new generation of consumers in a way we hadn't been able to connect previously. It drove the entire brand. It was a bit of a risk from our team to do something like that, and it proved to be successful.'

It's true that Mars Wrigley are a company who have taken risks with their iconic brand. But these have only been taken with a careful, measured understanding of their consumers old and new. With their customers always at the forefront of their mind, they have been able to innovate their strategy to speak to a diverse range of people and drive their brand ever-more successfully into the future. 

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