There is no denying the power of the brands in the Mars Retail Group (MRG) portfolio. Having gone through a major transformation several years ago and becoming responsible for managing the licensing division of Mars Inc., MRG has continued to break new ground as it strives to build on already existing consumer demand for its products.
“We’ve been fortunate to have such highly recognizable brands and characters that consumers of all ages connect with,” says John Capizzi, general manager of licensing for MRG.
Generally speaking, MRG strives to create items that appeal to all ages. The M&M’S brand in particular appeals to all generations, both genders and all seasons as it represents colorful chocolate family fun. MRG works with retailers to create unique displays that align with seasons, holidays or special events. For example, a back-to-college endcap could include apparel, earbuds, towels, calendars and dispensers, all featuring the M&M’S characters. A baking-themed display could include the new M&M’S brand cookbook, apron, measuring cups and mixing bowls.
“Additionally, since we have had a very successful business model with our M&M’S World stores, we know there’s tremendous consumer demand for our products,” Capizzi says. “Given those factors, we’re confident that our programs in everyday retail will generate in-store excitement and drive incremental sales for our retail partners. Add to that the ability to offer a large variety of product at various price points, and you have a great recipe for expansion.”
As MRG goes about trying to tie the company’s candy division into its licensing program, it can take advantage of the strength of its brands. Indeed, the M&M’S brand offers the two key things that independently can drive any licensing program: an iconic brand and recognizable characters. In fact, MRG can honestly claim to be one of only a few companies that can bring both to the table in a meaningful way.
“We work closely with all the brand teams at Mars Chocolate to develop their unique licensing strategies, from M&M’S and Snickers. We do the same for Skittles and Starburst,” Capizzi says.
MRG recognizes that there are several important steps it must follow to properly manage existing licensees. At Mars Inc., the company follows what are called the five “Mars Principles” in all working relationships. The one that really shines in licensing is the principle of mutuality. Capizzi says MRG works very closely in mutual partnerships with Mars brand teams, retail partners and licensees to create unique merchandise and in-store displays to create an unforgettable experience for consumers.
“Everyone does their part, from gaining the proper approvals and setting expectations to executing contracts and creating quality product,” he says. “Collaboration with mutual benefit is key.”
When exploring the possibility of adding to its portfolio of licensees, MRG looks at several important factors. Most importantly, the category or product must be a good fit for the essence of the brand; for example, items representing the M&M’S brand should be consistent with what Capizzi calls “colorful, chocolate fun” and deliver a “fun, witty and entertaining” experience.
“A potential licensee should also have a strong track record, with a history of developing and managing brands and a successful sales and distribution organization in place,” Capizzi says. “The licensee also should fulfill a particular need or gap in our offerings.”
When looking at product categories, MRG has seen that novelty items such as dispensers have consistently been a top performer because of the collectible nature and correlation with the M&M’S and Skittles brand products. Capizzi says CandyRific, MRG’s licensee partner in this category, has been terrific, consistently delivering a unique, fun, quality collectible product at a great value for customers and consumers worldwide.
“Displays that have included our collectible novelty items have provided unique and fun experiences with our retail partners and have led to increased incremental sales,” Capizzi says.
Additionally, MRG also focuses on collections of merchandise that fit its one-voice strategy. With themes such as summer, holiday and game time, MRG combines multiple product categories into one impactful display, creating a mini M&M’S World inside a traditional retail store.
“For this execution, we turn to one of our biggest licensees, SRI-ERE, who develops several different categories for Mars,” Capizzi says. “SRI-ERE has worked with various retailers in different channels to find the right product assortment and display vehicle that fits each retailer’s needs.”
MRG puts a lot of emphasis on understanding the major trends impacting the retail space so it can respond in kind. Capizzi says consumers are looking for trendier washes and colors, as well as customization. MRG’s program enables retailers to customize their displays with trendy, relevant licensed products. In particular, 2013 has seen MRG pushing to offer amazing direct-to-consumer experiences through M&M’S World and MY M&M’S. Capizzi says there has been a big demand from its traditional retail customers to bring these experiences to their stores.
“As a result, our biggest undertaking this year has been bringing activation of these opportunities to life for our customers,” he says. “We have done this with licensing over the last several years, and now we are adding to our offering two exciting programs.”
These programs are Colorworks and Mass Customization. Colorworks is the company’s 21-color candy wall where consumers can create their own unique color blends. Mass Customization allows retailers to offer a semi-customized M&M’S experience as a promotion, such as pink and blue candies in the baby gift aisle. These offerings provide customers with a unique in-store excitement that Capizzi says is hard to beat.
“In 2014, we’ll see a more unified, expanded focus of Mars retail brand activations,” he says. “We will focus on offering our three key pillars of Licensing, Colorworks and Mass Customization in various formats that customers can easily access and activate to delight their consumers. We look forward to sharing successful examples of this next year.”