Mars adapts to healthy snacking

FEATURED SPEAKER Fi Europe 2017 Conference
Health and wellness has become an over-arching trend within the F&B industry as consumers are now looking to food to support a more holistic approach to wellbeing. We interviewed Rob Verhagen, Global Director for Health & Wellbeing at Mars Chocolate to discover how finished product manufacturers in the confectionary industry are going to adapt.

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What do you think is driving consumers’ growing demand for healthier products?
There are two main elements which drive consumers’ demand for healthier products. First of all, consumers are increasingly looking to improve their diet and lifestyle. Secondly, they want to consume qualitative, fresh and natural food ingredients and products.

How can finished product manufacturers, particularly in the confectionary sector, adapt to meet this trend?
The consumer is our boss, so we make sure to continuously adapt to the consumers’ demands and needs. To this end, we adopted responsible marketing practices, which means we do not advertise any of our products to children under 12 and we encourage people to consume our products in moderate quantities.
We are also committed to helping consumers find the necessary information about our products easily through clear labelling, including front of pack labelling. At MARS, we have a relentless drive for quality, which results in a continuous improvement of the quality of our products in line with the latest scientific insights. Finally, we truly understand consumers’ needs and deliver on the benefits they are looking for when buying our confectionery products, whether it is improving their oral health or treat themselves with some tasty products.

Is there still demand for ‘unhealthy’ foods and beverages? How does it compare to healthy food demand?
Consumers increasingly want to adopt a healthier lifestyle, but at the same time they still want to treat themselves. Our aim is to facilitate consumers’ choices in line with their lifestyle by offering smaller portions and clear information. That choice can be very different and depends on the situation – for example, if you are out hiking, or if you are having a small indulgent moment with a cup of coffee. We want to make sure our portfolio of products suits all those needs. In the end, it is about having a balanced diet; there are no bad or good food products when you consume them in moderation, but it depends on your overall diet.

Demand for snacking and convenience products is also increasing. Can you share some examples of innovative products that meet this trend?
To answer this upcoming trend, we have recently launched goodnessKnows® in the UK, after having launched it in the US. GoodnessKnows® are bite-size snacks of 200 kcal with real fruits, whole nuts and dark chocolate. It is definitely worth a try!
Next to that, we have also launched 200 kcal high protein bars in the UK, which in my opinion, are the best-tasting protein bars on the market.
Other innovations that inspire me personally are the emerging range of products that integrate legumes and pulses in our products - especially in savoury products this is a really interesting combination.
Lastly, we launched M&Ms Caramel Chocolate Candies in the USA, which was awarded NCA’s 2017 Most Innovative New Product Award in the chocolate category. And again, only 200 kcal per portion.

How do finished product manufacturers develop new products –is it consumer led, or R&D led?
This is consumer-led! At the same time, our R&D teams make sure our new products comply with the nutrition guidelines adopted by the public health authorities, such as the World Health Organisation. As a result, we are constantly reducing saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars, and integrating more vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes in our products.
We also adopted a comprehensive strategy to make our supply chain sustainable in a generation. This includes initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through efficiency and renewable electricity use, eliminate our waste which ends up as landfill and reduce the water use across our entire supply chain.

What are your predictions for the industry in general over the next 3-5 years?
We hope that the food industry – both the retailers and the food manufacturers – will consolidate their position on the marketplace and drive growth. Our proposed combined MARS WRIGLEY Confectionery segment is a good example of that, enabling more growth and more customer centricity.
Looking at other upcoming trends, a recent report (Mansholt Lecture September 2017) from the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands mapped out the transformations that the food industry will face in the years to come. In my opinion, three of these transformations will push the food and retail industry to new territories:

  • The digitalization of the economy and the availability of big data – especially in the retail sector - can help us understand how we can nudge consumers to make sustainable choices. Digitalization combined with sensor technology and artificial intelligence will give us scientific insights on nutrition, metabolism etc., which will spark innovations in the food sector.
  • Personalization: New sensor technology and nutrition insights will help us develop food solutions for specific population groups and individuals, such as products which promote blood circulation, sport performance, and products which offer pleasure and contribute to a healthy diet.
  • Globalization: Global warming, climate change and a growing population will have a big impact on integrated global food chains and sustainable sourcing. Globalization also endangers the access to reliable information, which could ultimately misinform our consumers. Guaranteeing safe and qualitative food products and transparent information is crucial to maintain trust in the food industry.

These three trends are complex on their own: the impact of new nutrition guidelines and the launch of new products on the global food chains should be fully understood to prevent any unintended consequences on the sustainability and quality of our products. To this end, I very much welcome initiatives which are bringing companies and NGOs together (e.g. MARS’s support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or the Consumer Goods Forum ‘Collaboration for Healthier Lives’ programme).
Lastly, I think the world of retail will change dramatically – ‘Marketing Week’ published an interesting article from Mark Ritson on the 11th of October on the disruption of automatic ordering through new digital tools and how it is changing the consumer experience and shopping landscape completely.

Rob Verhagen will be participating in the panel discussion during the Health & Wellness session at the Fi Europe 2017 Conference on Wednesday, 29th November 10:50 –14:00.