Mars' criticism of a possible relaxation of the rules on what defines a chocolate product in the US would appear to show the company has for once rightly predicted consumer opinion. With a growing consumer trend for premium snacks and a desire for authentic foods, a move into cheaper chocolate production could have prompted a consumer backlash against the company.
Mars has stated that it will continue to produce its chocolate products using cocoa butter and real milk, rejecting proposals by the FDA to relax the laws to allow chocolate to be made with the cheaper vegetable oil and milk substitutes.
Mars' statement on the issue could be interpreted as a PR move by the company, as it promotes Mars as being in touch with consumer attitudes towards confectionery products, particularly regarding authenticity and product quality. With sales of premium quality snacks increasing, particularly dark chocolate lines, Mars would be foolish to start bringing out chocolate lines which contain cheaper ingredients that would degrade the taste and marketability of its products.
Mars' statement follows an incident where the company displayed less insight into consumer opinion. In May this year, the UK division of the company was forced to reverse its decision to use whey made from animal derivatives in its chocolate, following consumer petitions against the move, backed by the Vegetarian Society. Its focus on quality rather than margins, as demonstrated by its rejection of proposals to relax the laws about what determines a chocolate product, shows that the company is determined not to make another misjudgment over consumer attitudes.
One of the company's criticisms of the move to relax such laws was that it would harm its taste profile, with cocoa butter and real milk being key to the taste and texture of the product. This is particularly apt given that consumer tastes are changing, with consumers displaying a growing preference for dark chocolate, which relies on cocoa butter to provide most of its flavor. Mars has already responded to this changing taste, bringing out a number of dark chocolate lines in 2006 to capitalize on this. These included dark chocolate M&Ms and a dark chocolate version of its Dove brand.
Mars' recent criticisms appear to show that it wants to continue moving into more premium chocolate production, rather than introducing cheaper lines, in a bid to capitalize on the growing consumer trend towards premiumization.