With its late appearance on the calendar this year, consumers have had more time to prepare for Easter.
Those extra weeks of prep time are nothing compared to the time Mars Wrigley’s head of seasonal marketing Chris Brody has spent getting ready for the holiday. At the United States’ largest confectioner, they’ve been preparing for this Easter since 2016.
The most important part of getting the stage set for Peter Cottontail’s big day is spending time with consumers, 87% of whom are expected to purchase Easter candy, according to the National Retail Federation.
“Last year at this time, I was walking the stores with (shoppers),” Brody told Food Dive. “I was going into consumers’ houses and looking at how they display ... Easter blend M&Ms in their candy dishes, for instance, or Dove chocolate on the table. Or look at what's missing, and what they would like to be celebrating, … but weren't able to.”
Brody focuses on candy for all holidays at Mars Wrigley. He said that Easter is right behind Halloween in terms of the importance confections play in celebrations. According to NRF’s statistics, retail sales of Easter candy are expected to total nearly $2.5 billion this year. And without a doubt, a large chunk of that money is going to Mars Wrigley, which owns some of the top confectionery brands — including M&Ms, Dove and Starburst.
For a holiday like Easter, there’s a delicate balance between time-honored traditions and new innovations that consumers are open to trying. Brody said candy-filled Easter baskets, home displays of chocolates in pastel colors and kids’ egg hunts have always been popular. For Easter egg hunts and candy displays in general, jelly beans are popular both as fillings for plastic eggs and colorful displays.
Innovation in Easter candy tends to add a new wrinkle to popular traditions, but not radically changing or replacing anything that has been beloved for generations. For example, Brody said Mars Wrigley tries to keep its Starburst jelly beans new and interesting. This year it is launching two-flavor Duos.
The popular pastel M&Ms are also getting a bit of a refresh. Brody said there’s been a rise in consumers wanting to give Easter gifts to other adults. So the confectioner has repackaged the candies into a gift jar, suitable both for adults and for an Easter basket as well.
Mars Wrigley also is trying something completely new this year, based on the tradition in other countries of smashing candy eggs on Easter morning. Exclusively at Walmart, Mars Wrigley has made Shell Smashers — hollow chocolate eggs to smash, with M&Ms or mini Snickers or Twix bars inside.
Brody said it’s already shaping up to be a good Easter season, which is always helped by having several favorite brands in its mix. While Mars Wrigley is already planning Easter 2020 — which will be slightly earlier in April — Brody said the company will take feedback and data gathered from this year and apply it to the future.
“We'll see some of the similar trends happen. We'll definitely learn new things this year. ...[We] definitely want to make sure that we're on our game ... [and] still give people enough opportunities to celebrate with the brands they love.”