Tactic of engagement has ring of success

Engaging closely with consumers and the trade is Mars’s aim, and judging by recent results it is hitting the target. According to IRI for the year to November, the chocolate market has grown by 0.8% within the independent impulse sector and Mars outperformed the sector at +2%. Mars brands are also in a strong position with six out of the top 10: Mars, Snickers, Twix, Mars Duo, Snickers Duo and Maltesers.

Bep Sandhu, trade relations manager, Mars Chocolate UK, says: “The key to success is fitting with the target audience so well.” For instance, she says, Galaxy has done well with its links with Sex in the City because it is such a good fit with the brand. Sex in the City engages particularly with females aged 25-44 and this matches the profile for Galaxy’s target customers. Another example she cites is Mr T. She says his adverts for Snickers engage strongly with that brand’s target audience.

A further promotion was on pouches with a nationwide collectors promotion, which broke in September. The reward was cinema tickets, an occasion with which pouches are strongly associated, and she says that Mars Balls campaign this summer was bigger than the Believe campaign during the World Cup.

But she says it is not enough to engage with consumers. “We are also getting it right to make it come alive at store and depot level so we’re not just engaging with consumers but with wholesalers and retailers too. It’s about engaging all the way through the chain from the wholesaler to the retailer and the consumer.”

She adds: “The wholesale channel is critical in driving sales to our core customer base. It’s important that we have a strong presence in the wholesale sector and engage with them and help them engage with their customers about promoting best practice.

We are working with wholesalers to share best practice so they can share it with their customers. If their customers are getting good sales results then that will feed through as more sales for the wholesaler.”

Mars invests in advice on merchandising and on core ranges and has staff dedicated to working with the wholesale and independent retail sectors. Sandhu says: “We have a strong support system to give people what they need to drive category growth.” Mars team works with wholesalers both at head office level and depot level. In addition its field force visits retailers as part of its ‘feet on the street’ strategy to pull through stock from the depots.

In 2009 the trade’s focus will be on the poor economic climate, says Sandhu. “This will have a big impact but it will be high ticket items that will be hit hardest, whereas confectionery, which is less expensive and is seen as a treat should fare better.

“It is likely that independent local stores will see a higher footfall and with 70% of chocolate sold on impulse retailers need to make sure they have the right range to ensure they get the optimum return. This means wholesalers need to stock the right range. They should remember that if they are tempted to have a bigger range it can reduce the visibility of the biggest sellers.”

The categories that are in growth are bite size and sharing packs so next year will see

more activity around pouches and some forthcoming news on bigger format Galaxy.

Sandhu says: “Mars focus will be on what’s right for our customers and their customers so they are looking for the products when they come into the depot or the store. Our key message to wholesalers is that we have a lot of resource to help you maximise your return on investment. Let us help you.”

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