As executives at Mondelēz International pondered a “transformation” for its 114-year-old Toblerone chocolate brand, it didn’t take long to coalesce on a strategy: double down on what makes the brand unique in a crowded field.
“We’ve just taken this very kind of challenger disrupter, don’t stick to the rule approach to everything,” said Nick Rees, chief creative officer and partner at Bulletproof, who helped Mondelēz make the changes to Toblerone.
While Mondelēz is best known for producing Oreo, Ritz and Triscuits in the U.S., a big part of the global snacking giant’s presence is in chocolate and premium offerings. In the last few years, Mondelēz purchased Clif Bar; Hu, a maker of snacks and chocolates made from simple ingredients; and cookie maker Tate’s Bake Shop to deepen its U.S. presence.
At the same time, Mondelēz closely scoured its portfolio for ways to modernize some of its better-selling brands such as Toblerone and Milka chocolate. It announced in December it would sell its developed-market gum business, including brands such as Trident, Dentyne and Chiclets, in developed markets for $1.35 billion.
Brittany Quatrochi, an analyst at Edward Jones, said Mondelēz’s goal is to keep its brands top-of-mind for consumers by incorporating redesigned packaging, ingredients changes or shedding light on the company’s efforts to increase its sustainability.
These changes, she said, are especially important in today’s environment as Mondelēz and other food companies increase the price of their products; having something new or novel gives the product added value for the shopper and makes consumers more likely to buy.
”You’ll continue to see them kind of put that investment behind these brands to keep things fresh and to keep it new and to help drive sales growth,” Quatrochi said. “Ultimately, that's what all of this does is that investment, it benefits the consumer and gets them more engaged with the brand. That helps drive sales growth and growth as a company long term."
What motivated the biggest brand shift in decades
Toblerone, which was created in 1908 in Switzerland by Theodor Tobler, has built its longevity on having a chocolate brand that eschews the shape, taste and packaging of its competitors. And for the most part, it’s worked.
In addition to its distinct triangle shape, Toblerone has a crunchy, smooth and chewy texture different from other chocolates. It also has a ubiquitous presence in airports and other travel establishments that generates widespread recognition among consumers — roughly 73% of people in the U.S. have heard of the brand, Mondelēz said.
But despite the high level of familiarity, when shoppers are asked to name a chocolate brand that they are thinking about or want to purchase, the percentage plunges to 3%, according to the company.
Mondelēz’s decision to give Toblerone its biggest refresh in the last three decades was built largely on building brand equity, increasing its visibility in stores and expanding the times during the year when a person might consume or gift it.
Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Christmas remain lucrative consumption holidays, but Mondelēz wanted Toblerone to play a bigger role during other times, too, such as birthdays, local celebrations and everyday snacking occasions.
For years, conventional brands received much of the attention through the industry, but premiumization as a whole has infiltrated many facets of food and beverage. Chocolate has proven to be no different. Mondelēz saw a chance to win in the premium chocolate space by changing Toblerone’s packaging and reshaping how the company marketed the brand at stores and promoted it on social media.
Even as Mondelēz overhauled Toblerone, the company was careful not to disrupt what the brand stood for or its heritage. Instead, it wanted to build on its key strengths. It’s a big reason why the changes occurred exclusively on the outside of the package. Mondelēz was adamant that it wouldn’t alter the taste, texture or appearance of the Swiss chocolate.
A chocolate that became ‘too corporate looking’
Before they even started the refresh, Rees and others dug into the brand’s iconic heritage by looking at ads in books, posters and other materials to see how Toblerone has been portrayed in the past — how was the confection described, what colors were used on the packaging and how did the Swiss mountain on the packaging look.
One thing instantly stood out: years of subtle changes to the graphics on the packaging had caused the brand to shed some of its uniqueness and nuances. It had simply become “too corporate looking,” Mie-Leng Wong, senior vice president of global brands at Mondelēz, said in an interview.
To bring the chocolate brand back to its roots, the snacking giant modernized the packaging and went back to the more original typography. It also enlarged the Toblerone brand name so it spilled over the edge of the triangular package.
An image of a wedge of the triangle-shaped chocolate was placed in the center of the Toblerone name on the packaging that purposely covered up the E and the R in the brand’s name; a move typically shunned in marketing circles. The carefully choreographed design served to bring the chocolate front and center and underscored the brand’s disruptive perception, Rees and Wong said.
The new package launch so far has shown signs of paying off and given Mondelēz confidence that it will be successful in other markets, Wong said. In the United Kingdom, where the new packaging was first launched in the third quarter of 2022, the brand has posted “significant premium market share gains,” she said.
The updated Toblerone packaging is scheduled to make its way to U.S. shelves in the third quarter of this year.
Adding bulk to ‘light’ buyers, improving taste
While Mondelēz eschewed changing the chocolate in Toblerone, the global food company took a different strategy with the first major renovation of its Milka brand in a quarter century.
Aiming to create an even creamier and more chocolatey Milka taste, the company explored different recipes and mold shapes. It was a risky move, according to Amy Tay, Milka’s senior director, given the 121-year-old brand’s widespread popularity and recent success.
Milka, whose name comes from the combination of milk and cocoa, has been among the better-performing chocolate brands for Mondelēz. The confection, which gets 95% of its sales in Europe, is growing double digits annually while posting market share and household penetration gains, according to the company.
But Mondelēz wanted to increase buying rates among so-called “light” buyers, defined as those buying Milka just once or twice a year, to complement its core group of hardcore consumers.
“This was one of our biggest, bravest, boldest projects ever,” Tay said. “It’s a big move, and big moves can work in our favor but we can also have eggs on our faces. We had to be careful.”
Mondelēz spoke to about 8,000 consumers in 10 different countries to get a feel for their preferences on taste, quality and their perception of Milka chocolate. It found the majority of respondents, especially younger shoppers, wanted a softer, creamier, melt-in-the-mouth experience with less sugar. The company also found that, when possible, shoppers preferred ingredients that were sustainably sourced.
Mondelēz went about incorporating these changes, settling on a recipe that cuts down on the sweetness and included more cocoa to give it a chocolatier taste. A logo touting the company’s Cocoa Life program — which addresses environmental and human rights challenges and improves the livelihood of farmers who grow cocoa sustainably — was moved from the back of the pack to the front where it is now prominently displayed.
The visual identity also was enhanced to reflect the improved taste experience.
Instead of using a rectangular mold to create chocolate with sharp corners and a flat top, Milka switched to one that produced rounder corners and a pillow-shaped top — creating a creamier taste and fostering an image of the brand as gentle and humble. The Milka logo was enlarged and Lila, the brand’s cow mascot, was added to the first piece in every bar.
So far, the signs from the redesign look promising. Sales have trended upwards and retailers have shown a greater willingness to feature more displays in their stores, Tay said. With confidence in the brand among consumers and retailers at an all-time high, Mondelēz said, the company vowed to continue to invest behind the new recipe.
“It’s not a one-stop. We don't talk about it for 10 weeks and we move on to the next campaign,” Tay said. “We’re building on this.”