MRG: Transforming Mars Brand Licensing into Retail Success

MRG today operates additional M&M’S World stores in New York City, Orlando, Shanghai and London. MRG also manages Ethel M, a gourmet chocolate business.

The group took over Mars licensing in 2007, with the goal of expanding the company’s traditional retail license business by leveraging its knowledge of retail merchandise, says Capizzi, who joined the company the following year. “I came on board to help with that expansion plan, which included an enhanced licensing program offering a broader product mix, a higher caliber of licensees and a stronger product development program,” he adds. “We also began to collaborate more closely with our core product teams to ensure brand alignment and leverage synergies. That is not always easy to do in the license world, but our Mars marketing teams were extremely supportive.”

Since its founding over 100 years ago, MARS has evolved from its origins in chocolate to become a diverse, global institution. The company is not only a leading confectionery company, but one of the largest food manufacturers worldwide, encompassing six businesses:  pet care, gum, confections, food, drinks and symbioscience, with net sales exceeding $33 billion. Eleven of its brands alone net $1 billion each. Today, MARS is the sixth-largest privately owned company in the world, employing over 75,000 people in 74 countries at 394 sites. The company’s international headquarters is located in McLean, Va.

Bringing it Together

Mars’ licensing categories range from novelty candy and apparel to housewares, plush and jewelry. In addition to the M&M’S brand, Mars Inc. also licenses products featuring its other brands, which include Snickers, Starburst and Skittles brands. “We have fantastic brands that consumers of all ages have loved for decades, and we have a super group of licensees that produce quality merchandise,” Capizzi says. “We can bring them together in a meaningful way in-store to help retailers grow, differentiate and get the most out of their floor space.”

The company takes what it terms a “One Voice” strategy to its licensing and retail efforts. This strategy includes helping retailers combine chocolate products with licensed merchandise into eye-catching displays that can be customized to align with seasons, holidays or special events. For example, a back-to-college end cap could include apparel, earbuds, towels, calendars and dispensers, all featuring the M&M’S Characters. A baking-themed display could include  aprons, measuring cups and mixing bowls.

“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,” he adds. “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 products at various price points, and you have a great recipe for expansion.”

Long-term licensing partners include apparel, housewares and plush provider ERE; novelty and candy dispenser maker CandyRific; electronic accessory company Maxell; calendar maker Trends International LLC; travel accessory provider EB Brands and watchmaker MZ Berger. MRG in the past year added apparel maker Mad Engine Inc. and cycling jersey manufacturer Brainstorm Gear to its list of licensees.

MRG maintains long-term licensing partnerships by following its internal principle of mutuality, one of the Five Principles the company has embraced and promoted since its beginnings (see sidebar).

“We work very closely in mutual partnerships with our Mars brand teams, retail partners and licensees to create unique merchandise and in-store displays,” Capizzi says. “Everyone does their part, from gaining the proper approvals and setting expectations to executing contracts and creating quality product. Collaboration with mutual benefit is key, as it keeps everyone vested in the success of the program as it continues to evolve and grow.”

Customized Fun

MRG recently took the helm of Mars’ direct-to-consumer business, MY M&M’S. The business allows consumers to personalize their favorite colors of M&M’S Candies with pictures and words for special occasions including weddings, birth announcements, business meetings, graduations or birthdays. As a result, Capizzi’s team has expanded its retail efforts to include elements of MY M&M’S. His staff also recently changed its name to the Retail Brand Activation team, “which brings the best of M&M’S World and MY M&M’S alive at everyday retail,” he says.

The Retail Brand Activation team accomplishes its goal through three pillars: licensing and the company’s Colorworks and Mass Customization programs. Filled with 21 colors of M&M’S Candies, the Colorworks wall display takes up only seven square feet of floor space, making it ideal for the gift-wrap or greeting card aisles or a great addition to a customer’s bulk candy section. “Customization is a growing consumer trend, and our Colorworks Candy Wall enables consumers to create their own unique color blend,” Capizzi adds.

Mass Customization gives retailers the opportunity to offer their customers semi-customized M&M’S Candies as a promotion opportunity, such as pink and blue candies in the baby gift aisle or white and silver M&M’S during the spring wedding season. “These offerings, both collectively and independently, provide customers with a unique in-store excitement that is hard to beat,” Capizzi says. “We also have access to pro team activations from the NFL, MLB and NBA, which allows consumers to bring their favorite teams and favorite chocolate together for a great party experience.”

Capizzi credits the success of MRG’s licensing program and other efforts to not only the brand, but also the work of his staff. “I think if you surround yourself with really great people who are passionate about our business and give them the tools and freedom to manage, you have a recipe for success,” he says. “With the strength of our brands and the nature of our business, the opportunities tend to exceed our resources. My job is to help Mars associates and licensees stay focused on the best opportunities and let them execute.”