In with the Old, In with the New: Exploring Novelty While Enhancing Existing Value

Although all companies in the consumer goods sector have to ride the turbulent winds of customer tastes, established brands like MARS have the advantage of legacy products that have stood the test of time. In this episode of Mastering Innovation on SiriusXM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Tanya Berman, Vice President at MARS, describes innovation in this space as a balance between exciting consumers with new ideas and continuing to generate value from the familiar products that customers already know and love.

While it is important for firms to be lean and efficient in their resources, innovation ultimately stems from investment in capabilities to produce new products. Berman discussed how MARS primarily sources their new ideas from constant and direct communication with the customer, whether in the form of focus groups or specific write-in requests. She also emphasized the importance of giving consumers a choice when introducing these products in order to meet the growing demand for variety on the one hand, while inviting customers to re-engage with an existing product on the other.

An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.


Tanya Berman (Vice President, MARS)

Tanya Berman: One of the keys to staying relevant with our brands and our consumers is to be very reactive to what they are looking for. When you think about consumers today, they are looking for new innovations. They are looking for variety, particularly in candies like M&M’s and Snickers. They are looking for new taste and new texture. Innovation is a big piece. That’s how we drive our business forward.

When we bring innovation to market, it’s always also another opportunity for our consumers to re-engage and re-awaken their love for our biggest best sellers. We recently launched M&M’s chocolate bars – big tablet bars. We launched them with a new ad in the Super Bowl, but at the same time, when we promote these in the stores, customers also see our M&M’s milk chocolate and peanut, and our caramel that we launched last year. It’s a great way to bring consumers into the business. It also creates that excitement and engagement that they are looking for.

Harbir Singh: Very interesting. Part of what you’re saying is that we somehow have to always have some new versions of products or new products while keeping the existing brands – the dominant brands – fresh and available. It’s a balance between exploring new areas and enhancing value from existing areas.

“It’s a balance between exploring new areas and enhancing value from existing areas.” – Harbir Singh

Berman: Absolutely. When I look across almost every category that I’ve competed in and every brand that I’ve worked on, consumers always love their favorites. They don’t want you to change their favorites. If I ever were to say, “I’m not doing M&M’s peanut,” I’m sure I would get many angry letters. At the same time, they want something new, interesting, and exciting. They want variety, especially with their taste.

If you think about it, there are always new things in the marketplace. We tend to take things that are trends in other places, whether it’s in food or in other outlets. With Whole Foods, we saw that nut butter was exploding, and then we launched our Snickers creamy nut butter. So, it’s creating that interest and that engagement for the consumer – that, “Yes, I have my classic Snickers that I love. I always want that, but I also want to try something new and fun.”

Singh: Right. In fact, that leads me to a broader trend: this trend toward organic foods and how people think about processed foods. There’s an interesting tension where the existing brands could, of course, be reformulated. Do people have a perception issue with respect to new and organic brands, products, or others?

Berman: When you talk to any consumer, they are always balancing their lifestyle. They’re looking for their candy to be their candy. They’re looking for a treat, so we don’t want to reinvent our classic treat, but at the same time, they have a balance of what they’re looking for. They’re always interested in new ingredients: organic ingredients or other approaches. When we think about it, even as we launched our creamy Snickers this year, it’s much more in the trend of those nut butters in a pure peanut formulation. It’s really about providing consumers with a choice.

“[Consumers] don’t want you to change their favorites. At the same time, they want something new, interesting, and exciting.” – Tanya Berman

Singh: Can you walk us through the highlights of the innovation process around the nut butter product? What did it take to get there?

Berman: We have a huge number of experts in our R&D facilities. We also have consumer insights that we marry up, and we talk to different consumer groups. We also have consumers that write to us all the time through our social channels. One of the areas that Snickers has always been known for is being that pack full of nuts and having that purity in that ingredient. Yet, when you look at what’s going on in the marketplace, you can see that there are new ways to eat nuts. If you think about how it is in the peanut butter aisle, you have crunchy peanut butter, and you have smooth or creamy peanut butter. Now, it’s really allowing our consumer to have a classic Snickers and a creamy Snickers. We’re very excited about it, and it really comes from the marriage of that consumer journey, as well as our R&D development.

About Our Guest

Tanya Berman is the Vice President, Chocolate Category Business Unit at Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S. As Vice President, Tanya is responsible brand management and integrated marketing strategy for a multi-billion dollar chocolate portfolio of iconic global brands that include M&M’S®, SNICKERS®, MILKY WAY®, TWIX®, 3MUSKETEERS®, and DOVE®.

Prior to her current role, Tanya was the Senior Brand Director for M&M’S at Mars Chocolate North America, responsible for the brand’s strategy, organization and innovation. Previously, she was Group Brand Director for US Skin Care and Global Band-Aid at Johnson and Johnson, responsible for long-term strategy, innovation, and advertising. After, Tanya served as Senior Director of Marketing for Suncare at Merck. Tanya studied at Barnard College and received her masters from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business for Business Administration.

Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.