When a new kid comes to school, the rest of the students are quite curious about their new classmate. The new student, however, is typically shy and takes awhile to get comfortable in his or her new surroundings.

When Ms. Brown came on the scene in the M&M’S® universe, Red and Yellow were naturally curious about her, but the newest M&M’S® spokescandy is far from bashful. In fact, Ms. Brown has been around since the candy’s inception in 1941, and at this year’s Super Bowl, she stepped out from behind the scenes as the CCO – Chief Chocolate Officer – of Mars Incorporated.

“The fact is, it doesn’t get better than the original,” Ms. Brown stresses.

Mars Retail Group (MRG) is excited to bring Ms. Brown into the spotlight, and the company’s licensees are welcoming her with open arms. Retail Merchandiser recently spoke with John Capizzi, general manager of licensing for MRG, about Ms. Brown and the other spokescandies, how Mars is enhancing the M&M’S® World retail experience and why the company’s focus on five principles makes people smile.

Retail Merchandiser: Please explain MRG’s relationship with its licensees. Can you give any recent examples of ways in which they’ve helped to develop the brands?

John Capizzi: Mars Retail Group partners with more than 40 licensees to develop a wide range of high-quality products representing the iconic Mars brands. M&M’S® Brand offers the two key things that independently can drive any licensing program: iconic brands and recognizable characters. We are one of only a few companies that can bring both to the table in a meaningful way. The M&M’S® Brand appeals to all generations, both genders and all seasons, and it represents colorful family fun.

Our licensees include SRI (with) apparel, bags and housewares; CandyRific novelty (items) with candy; Brands Unlimited (for) electronics; NASCAR and Joe Gibbs Racing; and Incipio (with) mobile phone covers.

RM: Are you still using the One Voice approach when working with your licensees? If so, can you give any recent examples of how MRG has used One Voice to work with its licensees?

JC: Yes, our One Voice strategic approach is thriving. In late April, we rolled a colorful M&M’S® Brand pallet train into more than 2,700 Walmarts across the country. The four-pallet in-store display included apparel, plush, housewares, candy dispensers, novelty items and M&M’S® Brand Chocolate Candies. Ms. Brown rode in on the pallet train, as she joined her fellow M&M’S® Characters as a 9-inch dispenser, candy fan and flashlight key chain.

The program, which combines M&M’S® Brand Candy supplied by Mars Chocolate Division and M&M’S® Brand license merchandise coordinated through the Mars Retail Division by key licensees Summit Resource and CandyRific, is part of a “Mars One Voice” strategy bringing the M&M’S World experience alive at retail. We already know our consumers want to experience our brand in new and different ways, as proven by the success of our M&M’S World Stores in New York City, Las Vegas, Orlando and London. This program allows us to bring the concept alive within Walmart and other retail locations throughout the country. It has been a winning concept for all parties involved, especially our consumers.

The pallet train display effort really was born through great collaboration with Walmart, although our One Voice Mars displays can be executed in many forms including end-caps, pallets, seasonal shelves or even counter tops.

Last spring, we launched our first Walmart pallet train, which was a huge success. That led to the “Game Time” football-themed pallet train, which began shipping to 2,100 Walmart locations the week of Christmas and stayed in-store until the beginning of February.

While the “Game Time” theme is meant to capture all the football activity throughout season, the program itself can take on many forms as our license merchandise can be coordinated to match seasons, holidays, or specialty themes and events, such as family game night, family movie night, back to school and many others.

RM: Mars seems to put a lot of emphasis on its five principles – Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, Freedom – and basing its actions on these principles. Can you explain how MRG puts these principles into action, or give examples of how MRG has done so recently?

JC: All five of the Mars Principles are evident in our work every day. One principle that stands out for us is the Principle of Mutuality. We work very closely with our retail partners and our licensees to create effective in-store displays of varying price points to meet the needs of the consumer. Collaboration is key; we rely heavily on our licensees to create, produce and deliver the product on-time and at a quality that you would expect from Mars. 

For example, as we developed the pallet train, Walmart had some terrific ideas for product, which Summit Resources Inc. – who is our master licensee handling apparel, housewares and plush among other items – was able to take back to their creative folks and come up with new items that consumers love. We also included a line of novelty merchandise such as dispensers supplied by another great licensee partner, CandyRific. CandyRific has really captured the colorful chocolate fun of our brand in their products, and they have significant distribution throughout the country, so their items were a perfect fit for the display …they always sell.

It comes down to an enduring mutual partnership with all parties involved. Everyone does their part to contribute, and we end up with a colorful, fun display that makes people smile.

RM: How has the market responded to Ms. Brown? Are there any specific areas where MRG has seen growth as the result of her introduction?

JC: 2012 is a monumental year for the M&M’S® Brand, with the introduction of the first new M&M’S® Character since 1999.  Ms. Brown is the sixth character with a one-of-a-kind personality that complements the original crew.  For the last 13 years, the M&M’S® Characters have grown to become the “most-loved spokescandies” (See Forbes.com “America’s Most Loved Spokescreatures,” 03/18/10) and are loved almost as much as the delicious chocolate candies they represent.

Our licensees are very excited about Ms. Brown’s debut, as she rounds out the popular M&M’S® Character brand. Consumers will be thrilled to take home a memento of their new favorite M&M’S® Character. Initially, we are producing a select range of merchandise featuring Ms. Brown, including apparel, novelty, housewares and accessories.  Some items starring Ms. Brown include 9-inch and 12-inch dispensers, a candy fan and a flashlight key chain.  

RM: Does MRG have any new initiatives that it plans to launch soon?

JC: We’re excited about three new licensees we just signed this year:

    • Publications International Ltd. produces unique cookbooks, and we’ll work with them to create one featuring recipes made with Mars products, including M&M’S® Brand Candies.
    • Alchemy3 LLC will be launching M&M’S® Brand online gaming apps.
    • Richard Leeds is developing sleepwear, robes and loungewear for women’s and juniors.

In addition, SRI is an existing licensee that will offer baking items featuring the M&M’S® Characters, from measuring cups and aprons to spatulas and mixing bowls.

RM: Do you have anything to add?

JC: Retail buyers interested in offering Mars-brand merchandise can contact Kim Saggio at Mars Retail Group, 941-697-9458.