6The Mars Bar has been a fixture in the UK confectionery market since the 1930s, yet its eponymous parent company has only started in earnest to develop it as a master brand over the past four years.
The UK confectionery arm of the secretive, family-owned company is quietly having a good year. It is the only one of the three major chocolate manufacturers to increase its market share during the first six months of this year, with strong sales of Mars Planets, the bitesize variant it launched in January.
As Cadbury battles ongoing issues from last year’s salmonella scare to several product recalls, and Nestlé struggles to gets its portfolio in order, Mars has been extending its iconic brand into new segments. It has seen its market share increase 1.4% to 28% for the six months to June 28 (IRI). This growth has occurred despite a wave of negative publicity surrounding its decision to replace the vegetarian rennet in Mars with a meat derivative that led to a high profile U-turn.
The launch of Mars Planets came three years after the £15m launch of Mars Delight, which was aimed at attracting female consumers to the brand. Insiders say it is gearing up for another major launch during the middle of next year and expect it to be under the Mars brand.
Mars has denied that it is bringing the Mars Fling brand, a two-stick bar similar to Mars Delight and available in Australia, to the UK (MW last week) although it refuses to deny or comment further on plans to extend Mars to the “two finger” chocolate bar segment.
Industry observers describe the strategy for the Mars brand as “steady” and “careful and considered”. They say that although it may appear to be slower than its rivals to invest in variants it was the first company to understand the benefits of a master brand.
Rob Rees, an interim marketing director who has worked across the food industry, says: “It cottoned on a long time ago that it was better to have a few brands and support them. It concentrates on finding the right product, rather than just launching something that dilutes the brand.”
Ice cream bar
However, he says the company “lost a little pace” in extending the brand following the 1989 launch of the Mars ice cream bar.
Paul Cousins, founder of Catalyst Marketing Services, says the decision to focus on developing Mars is due to it “finding the right new targets” but also suggests that retail issues can be a big factor, adding: “For every new product that comes in, something else has to come off shelves.” Retail sources agree that while the new launches are “variations on a theme”, they are “doing really well” because Mars is willing to support them. According to Mintel, manufacturers spent £60m supporting chocolate brands in 2005 and Mars accounted for almost half of that at £28m.
Behind the scenes, Mars has also been concentrating on tidying up its sugar confectionery range and has relaunched them in “sharing friendly” pouches to tap into current trends. It has also launched smaller versions of key brands, including Mars, in response to demand for “responsible” snacks.
Cadbury may be the market leader with a 34% share, but in terms of structure and profitability Mars enjoys a better position than its rival and seems well placed for future growth.