Cleveland — The 2020 pandemic has undeniably changed the retail landscape for the foreseeable future, and manufacturers including Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S., LLC say the industry is ready for the challenge. Last night during a special digital preview called the Unboxing Hour, Mars Wrigley unveiled convenient store trade strategies for 2021, along with several products and line extensions for the channel.
Vice-President of Convenience Jim Dodge pointed out “acceleration of convenience” is at the heart of the change for the coming year.
“C-stores and manufacturers need to reinvent themselves,” he advised. “Consumers are demanding virtual checkout so curbside pick-up and delivery options are a must in the c-store channel.”
One way to appeal to consumers looking for safety and convenience is through retail and manufacturer apps, which Dodge said can promote brand loyalty while furthering convenience.
In response to Halloween during a pandemic, Mars Wrigley Vice-President of Trade Development & Sponsorship Mike Gilroy said the manufacturer re-imagined the holiday and launched Treat Town, an app-based digital experience and seasonal portfolio mix for families to virtually trick-or-treat. Gilroy said the launch was a greater success than the company even imagined.
“We finished number two in October of all food and beverage downloads,” he said.
C-Store Category Leadership Director Halle Barish agreed that since the start of the pandemic, the industry has witnessed a significant shift to online shopping with delivery and pickup options to stay safe.
“It’s here to stay. We saw a lot of retailers respond quickly. They were very agile, offering curbside pickup and online purchases,” she said.
Barish cautioned, however, that in the hustle to get a digital outlet up and running, some details may become muddled. She recommended c-stores keep to the basics when it comes to apps, with much of the focus on impulse.
For example, the app should be easy to navigate and have imagery that captures the consumer’s eye, she explained, adding there’s less than two seconds to grab their attention.
“The visual aspect is really important. Impulse items need to be located where the shopper is in-store and online,” Barish continued. “It’s really important to understand what the impulse items are. It’s no longer the size that matters but the price point.”
Despite consumers’ need to tighten the purse strings during the pandemic, Dodge said c-store sales for the category have grown two percent. Chocolate candy sales are up 5.3 percent, while fruity confectionery sales are up 10.1 percent in the channel, according to Nielsen data ending October 31.
“Consumers are migrating back to brands they trust. They’re looking for a treat in these uncertain times,” he pointed out. “We’re seeing explosive growth in peg bags.”
Tapping into the buying trends of brand loyalty and peg bags, Mars Wrigley announced the launch of Skittles Gummies. Available in the Original Five Fruity Flavors and Wild Berry varieties, the gummies will be offered in peg bags and sharing-size standup pouches in spring 2021.
“We know convenience shoppers can’t get enough of our gummies — from LifeSavers to Starburst — and we’re excited to bring them a new experience with Skittles,” said Dodge, adding the company will back the launch with $12 million in advertising.
Another Skittle brand extension, Skittles Smoothies, will hit shelves this winter. The candy makes its first appearance since 2005 and will be a limited edition item.
The new recipe contains a yogurt flavoring that gives an eating experience reminiscent of a real smoothie, according to the company. Available in strawberry banana, raspberry, blueberry, peach guava and mango, they pack in singles, share size and standup pouches.
One segment not experiencing growth during the pandemic, however, is gum and mints, Dodge admits. He explained gum and mints are used out of the home, for example, to freshen breath during meetings and carpools. While many of those occasions are paused, they will be back, he said.
“We are counseling retailers to stay with us,” he stressed of the gum and mint sector. “We are going all in with advertising for the fourth quarter.”
One example of Mars Wrigley’s commitment to the sector is the launch of gum extensions, the first of which is Extra Rockin’ Raspberry Lime sugarfree gum. A limited edition item, it will be available in 15-stick slim packs aimed at c-store shoppers, who purchase single packs of chewing gum 65 percent of the time.
For consumers interested in larger pack sizes, Mars Wrigley is rolling out Orbit Mega Packs in April 2021. Available in peppermint and spearmint flavors, the gum comes in 30-ct packs. The overlap wrapping has the Orbit branding and underneath is a decorative plastic container with a grandstand presentation.
Gilroy also unveiled the company’s Never Stop Summering program for 2021, through which Mars Wrigley is tapping into other at-home or on-the-go activities during the summer season.
“The summer season is Memorial Day through Labor Day and can be broken down into two waves: at home celebrations in the first half of summer; road tripping and all things on-the-go in the second half,” he pointed out.
Gilroy said research found consumers are continuing to use confectionery for celebrations but they’re also purchasing their favorite products on road trips, which are on the rise, and to treat themselves at home as a way of comfort and escapism.
This new program will offer retailers a cohesive portfolio summer program to drive consumer engagement and awareness with the category during the critical summer selling season, according to the company.
Included in the Never Stop Summering program, Mars Wrigley will offer c-stores an all-in-one display for its gum and mints, fruity candy and chocolate.
“Though the ways in which people interact with treats and snacks have fundamentally changed due to the pandemic, we know people are still looking to enjoy our products during moments that matter,” said Shaf Lalani, vice-president of strategic demand leadership at Mars Wrigley. “So, we’re doubling down providing data-driven consumer insights and concrete recommendations to help retailers reprioritize and redesign their in-store and online shopping experience to meet consumers on their shopping journey faster than ever before.”
Mars Wrigley also announced several M&M’s brand extensions during the preview. Exclusively for the 2020 holiday season, M&M’s Sugar Cookie features a white chocolate, sugar cookie-flavored shell with a crispy center. The company said both the flavor and texture are reminiscent of homemade holiday cookies. M&M’s Sugar Cookie hit shelves this month and will be available throughout the holiday season.
Released in July 2020, M&M’s Chocolate Popcorn is the new fall flavor featuring a milk chocolate popcorn-flavored shell with a crispy center.
M&M’s Mix contains multiple varieties of M&M’s in one pack and comes in Classic and Peanut versions. Classic includes three traditional flavors: milk chocolate, peanut and peanut butter. The peanut variety includes classic peanut, white chocolate and dark chocolate.
During the digital preview, Mars Wrigley also announced Snickers Peanut Brownie, which will hit shelves in January. The line extension features two individual squares, coated in chocolate, with a layer of caramel and a chewy peanut-brownie filling. They’re available in 1.2-ounce bars, 2.4-ounce sharable bars and 6.61-ounce standup pouches.
Combos Cheddar Cheese Bacon was launched nationally in June 2020 in 6.3-ounce peg bags and features baked pretzels with cheddar cheese bacon-flavored filling.