“If innovation was a game, the Mars plant in Cleveland would be my pick for MVP,” remarks Hank Izzo, vice president of research & development for Mars Chocolate North America. “We have passionate site R&D associates there, a well-equipped pilot plant in the factory and a great partnership with manufacturing. These factors combine to create an unstoppable team.”
Mars takes the innovation game seriously. As a privately held, family-owned company, Mars has incorporated innovation into its business plan over the years. The differentiating factor is the high level of integration and teamwork.
Cross-functional collaboration is what transforms a new concept into a successful reality at Mars.
“One of the most difficult parts of innovation is scale-up and delivery of the winning product design,” Izzo explains. “This final stage is critical, and it is where a great partnership between R&D and manufacturing is an enabler to success.”
The product development typically begins in Hackettstown, N.J., home to the company’s chocolate research and development center. But the Cleveland plant, which dates back to 1955, often plays a major role when it comes to testing product launches on a mass production scale.
Thus, when Mars was getting ready to launch M&M’S Pretzel, there was little doubt as to where final production runs and testing would take place. Given that the company had been working on the development of M&M’S Pretzel for some time, the stakes were raised a bit higher for Plant Director Todd Farrell and his Cleveland-based leadership team. When the green light came on late last year, it did so with an accelerated timetable.
“Once there was agreement on the capital expenditures plan, we were given a limited time to develop the process and determine equipment needs,” Farrell says. “It was a pretty aggressive target.”
“Whenever you introduce a new sized center [for a new M&M’S variety], you’re introducing a new density into processing, which demonstrates different behavior,” he explains. “There are significant adjustments that have to be made along the way.”
And while the company did have experience in producing limited edition M&M’S Mint Crisp Chocolate Candies, which are somewhat similar to the pretzel centers, modifications had to be made in the chocolate spraying process as well as the final coating process.
“It’s the rolling of the product that’s key to the final appearance,” he asserts.
Fortunately, when it comes to imprinting the iconic M&M’S logo on the pretzel variety, the company was able to take advantage of technologies that had been developed for almond and crispy varieties of M&M’S.
Meeting the six-month deadline proved critical for the product’s marketing (see sidebar) campaign, particularly when the extraordinary success of the rollout necessitated an immediate move to a four-shift/seven-day production cycle.
Within the first five weeks, the company already had sold 50% of its sales expectations for 2010. Fortunately, in engineering the line, capacity requirements were incorporated into the design. In meeting the accelerated timetable for launch, Farrell credits his management team and those on the plant floor for recognizing the realities of the retail and manufacturing landscape.
“The start-up curve on Pretzel was second to none,” Izzo says. “This is a reflection not only of great teamwork, but also dedication and passion in Cleveland to ‘get the job done.’”
In a way, the successful launch of M&M’S Pretzel actually typifies the company’s philosophy toward innovation, investment and market insight. By doing so, it can take advantage of breakthroughs in technology and automation.
As a result, Mars Chocolate North America initiated a program to make all of its manufacturing facilities “high-performance plants.” At the Cleveland facility, the process began in August 2008 and was completed by July 2009. The results were impressive.
“We improved our efficiency by 20% and reduced our cost structure,” Farrell says. “Such efforts improve our competitiveness, making our facilities more efficient, thereby helping to ensure the continued operations of our factories in North America.”
The initiative not only aims at improving efficiencies and reducing costs, but looks to sustain those efforts. Many of the components of the system incorporate familiar lean manufacturing principals: defining the work; effective communication across all levels, from plant employees to internal departments; monitoring efficiency rates; quick resolution of underperforming lines; and continuous improvement.
But there’s another element that goes beyond stats, meetings and e-mails; it’s leadership.
“We hold each other accountable at all levels,” Farrell explains. “We want to demonstrate that continuous improvement is sustainable over time.”
Those improvements don’t merely apply to existing lines; they apply to future lines, as well. As Farrell points out, in the past, Mars Chocolate North America - after doing its market research - would come out with a new product and develop lines that satisfy the entire market.
“Today, we prefer a smaller, more regional approach for new product launches,” he says. “We’re looking for more versatility and flexibility. We want to be able to make changeovers quickly as we react to consumer feedback.”
A classic example of such versatility can be seen in not only the aggressive timetable set for the M&M’S Pretzel launch, but also in the shift from Fling bars to 3 Musketeers Truffle Crisp bars.
Launched last spring as a limited-edition product available only in California, Fling was specifically marketed to women. The new chocolate bar touted its “naughty but not so naughty” attitude, intertwining the decadent appeal of rich chocolate within an 85-only-calorie serving. The bar, which featured a whipped chocolate truffle filling that sat atop an airy crispy, cookie-like layer, had its fans, and the company saw a new opportunity.
As a result, by slightly tweaking the formula and providing it with a recognizable brand name, Mars was able to relaunch it as the 3 Musketeers Truffle Crisp bar.
Although it’s a bit early to dub the relaunch a complete success, current indicators suggest that the new marketing campaign, coupled with the power of the 3 Musketeers brand, has provided the company with yet another success story.
Once again, part of that stems from the manufacturing end. The line didn’t require any significant changes to ramp up for 3 Musketeers Truffle Crisp bars.
Like M&M’S Pretzel, initial sales of 3 Musketeers Truffle Crisp are going strong, a situation that’s easily handled given the performance characteristics of the line.
Noting that world-class standards for operational efficiency hover at 85%, Farrell recognizes that there’s still room for improvement at the Cleveland facility. And while he says there are times certain lines at the facility hit that number periodically, consistency on all fronts remains paramount in achieving such a level throughout the year.
As the first North American confectionery site to receive FSSC 22000 certification, an international standard for the food industry that incorporates a management approach with the best food safety practices, the Cleveland facility looks to maintain a leadership role beyond just new products.
“The associates in Cleveland have been a real ‘innovation asset,'" remarks Izzo. “From product design and pilot plant trials to engineering and delivery of new assets and a skillful and swift installation, Cleveland has an All-Star Team.”
At a Glance
Mars Chocolate North America
Headquarters: Hackettstown, N.J. Sales: $4 billion Employees: 4,500
Products: Chocolate bars, ice cream, moulded chocolates, panned chocolates, chewy candies, chocolate wafers, extruded items, granola and savory snacks
Brands: Dove Chocolate, My Dove Chocolate, M&M’S, MY M&M’S, 3 Musketeers, Combos, Twix, Snickers, Marathon, Milky Way, Kudos, CocoaVia, Generation Max, Munch
Plants: 7 (North America): Albany, Ga.; Chicago; Cleveland, Tenn; Elizabethtown, Pa.; Hackettstown, N.J.; Waco, Texas; and Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
Cleveland, Tenn., Facility
Plant Size: 696,960 sq. ft.
Products: M&M’S, 3 Musketeers, Twix
Lines: Four M&M’S production lines, two Twix lines, one 3 Musketeers line
Output: 375 million M&M’S daily
Management Team: Todd Farrell, plant director; Tanya Bowles, human relations manager; Zakhary Bush, baked value stream manager; Chad Evett, environmental tech; John Jackson supply chain performance manager; Suzanne Lake, nut value stream manager; Dina Moran, activity manager; Mack Phillips, milk chocolate value stream manager.