It’s not as if Tracey Massey wasn’t familiar with chocolate; after all, her previous position at the company was that of chief financial officer for Mars Chocolate Global, a position she held for several years. And it’s not as if she was unfamiliar with manufacturing; Massey, who has a degree in chemical engineering, ran a pet food plant for the company when she took a job in Mars’ U.S. operations in 2001.

But as Massey related to Candy Industry Magazine’s editors during this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo and in a subsequent interview, in taking over as the head of Mars Chocolate North America (MCNA) more than a year ago, there was still much to learn about the job as president.

“What surprised me when I came in was that we needed to be even more customer focused,” she says. “We have always been very brand and consumer focused and the biggest change we are making is further driving customer centricity throughout our business.”

But how does one tackle such a challenge? Well, for Massey, it meant going out and meeting with customers — lots and lots of customers.

“As the former global chocolate cfo, it’s not always easy being a sales person,” she says with a knowing smile. “It’s really all about building those customer partnerships, working with them, understanding their business, and you can’t do that from a desk. So I must have seen, this year, 100 customers.”

But it wasn’t just about meeting customers. As Massey points out, customers represent only one of MCNA’s three key stakeholders; there are also consumers and associates [employees]. Consequently, she’s spent time listening to both as well.

And what about those learnings?

“What’s clear is that people love our brands, and love our products,” she says. “Demand is strong. The areas that we need to focus on even more are innovation, flexibility and responsiveness.”

At the same time, Massey also believes that the company needs to tell its story about the commitment MCNA has already made to its stakeholders. It’s a commitment that’s become very visible during the last few months — as evidenced by announcements of a major expansion at its site in Topeka, Kan., as well as the addition of production capacity at its Albany, Ga. plant, which produces the newly launched goodnessknows line of snack bars.

Those investments accent Massey’s points about being more responsive and more flexible.

“For the past 100 years, we’ve committed to making our products where we sell them,” she says. “We have nine manufacturing plants in the United States, which produce 95 percent of all our products sold in the United States. When you count our facility in Canada, together, those 10 plants account for 99 percent of all products sold in North America.”

Moreover, Massey realizes that one of the key ways to improve flexibility and responsiveness is by further investing “in our existing factories.” As she points out, the United States in general has manufacturing facilities that are larger than most in the Mars global network.

“They are already quite efficient, but we’ll need to increase our investment to further improve flexibility and responsiveness,” she says.

Consider the Elizabethtown, Pa. facility, which houses the company’s Dove Chocolate Center of Excellence. Christened in 2008, the $70-million addition to the existing 300,000-sq.-ft. plant features a four-story cocoa processing building as well as a 60,000-sq.-ft.state-of-the-art moulding facility.

Unlike most of the major chocolate manufacturers in the United States, Mars continues to process cocoa beans into chocolate. It’s all about ensuring quality as well as taste, which comes by a signature blend that’s produced from beans roasted and processed in Elizabethtown.

“We make our chocolate from beans to bar,” Massey says. “We are very selective in how we meticulously source our cocoa beans to ensure we consistently achieve the flavor profile that our consumers love, and truly differentiate our products. We certainly make sure that our chocolate is the best quality. As the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer, we know how to make the best tasting chocolate.”

Carl Freeman, site director at Elizabethtown, echoes Massey’s assertion. “This is a core competency for us. We have better control in producing our signature chocolate liquor. Within our roasting operations, we have the ability to produce more than one recipe. Moreover, we have a research and development chocolate lab on site, so we are also in a continuous learning process.”

That learning process extends toward the company’s moulding area, where there are dedicated moulding lines for the production of Dove products, and more housed in the adjoining production plant. At the time of Candy Industry Magazine’s visit, one of the lines was turning out Dove Promises Caramel Milk Chocolate pieces, while another was producing Dove Milk Chocolate Singles bars. And, an additional line was focused on pumping out Dove Promises Dark chocolate pieces. 

Thanks to a lean manufacturing philosophy, the facility remains in a continuous improvement mode. More importantly, it’s not a top-down directive. Rather, it’s from the plant floor up.

“Our associates run it themselves,” Freeman says.  He cites a repetitive flexible supply initiative — a management tool that focuses on fixed and repetitive cycles of production versus excessively long production runs — which significantly reduced changeovers while maintaining Mars’ stringent quality standards.

But it’s not just about efficiency, although waste within the Center of Excellence is near zero, Freeman says.

“We have a focused sustainability program that measures our usage of water, air, gas energy and steam,” he explains. “It is designed to help us understand every value stream.” He cites how the facility has been able to minimize the energy load when the plant is not running weekends in relation to the energy required for that downtime.

Given her background, Massey fully understands manufacturing’s role in the business as well as the economies involved.

“We have 4,000 associates, the bulk of them involved in manufacturing,” she says. “They are responsible for ensuring product quality and food safety. My goal is to continuously visit all 10 factories — and I’ve recently been to Henderson, Albany, Chicago, Waco, and Burr Ridge  — every year and reinforce to our associates how important they are to our business.”

What’s also important is emphasis on innovation. Massey also realized that Mars needs to be even faster when it comes to product development.

“We know, from all of our experience, around the world and everywhere, consumers are very loyal to their favorite products. We call it repertoire, but what will happen is, I could ask you the question, ‘What are your three favorite products?’ and you could probably roll them off. So what they do is they build their repertoire over time and they tend to always go back to their three favorite products,” she explains. “So they’ll go and try new things — it’s a category where people like new stuff— so they’ll try something new and then they’ll go back to their favorites. But, if you don’t have the new, they’re less likely to come into the store.”

To that end, Massey says the company has some fantastic innovations coming down the pike.

“Our R&D associates are the best in the world,” she asserts. “Consumers tell us they want more choice, healthier options, but not to sacrifice taste or quality. We plan at a minimum in three-year cycles and are already talking to our customers about what they can expect. Most of those innovations will involve products under 200 calories. Our R&D associates do a nice job of being able to balance between better-for-you and fantastic taste.”

It’s something that MCNA has been focused on for the past three years, when the company announced it would reduce all of its chocolate products to 250 calories per serving by 2013. It also was the first to commit to front-of-pack labeling, doing so in 2008. And just recently, the company indicated it was in favor of the Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to include added sugars in all labeling.

“We believe the consumer comes first,” Massey says. “When you look at our five principles, we say the consumer is our boss. It’s one of our first principles, the quality principle. We always do what’s right for the consumer,” she explains. “So what we do is say, ‘What do we need to do to make sure our consumer is happy?’ Consumers want more choice, they want more transparency, they want to know what’s in their products. It’s the right thing to do. It’s important.  We believe that consumers need to know what they’re eating. From our perspective, the more information we can give them, the better. As a result, we believe it’s our responsibility to do so.”

Massey also believes it’s her responsibility to lead by example.

“I believe in managing by walking around,” she says. And she’s also proud of the fact that — thanks to Mars — she’s been able to have both a career and a family. Massey has three children, ages 22, 19 and 13.

“I’ve never had to make a choice between one or the other; I’ve always had the full support of Mars,” she says.

Massey admits that having a manufacturing background proved helpful in developing her career at the company. Still, as she reiterates, “Like so many wonderful leaders I have worked with at Mars, I’m happy to be a role model for our associates as an example of how a woman can make it without having to give up having a family. And I’m happy to say that whether you look up, down or sideways, we have a diverse mix of associates at the company.”

And a dynamic female leading them.

See also: One on One with Tracey Massey, President of Mars Chocolate North America


At-a-glance: Mars Chocolate North America

Headquarters: Hackettstown, N.J.

Sales$7 billion (Candy Industry Magazine estimate)

Employees: 4,000

Manufacturing plants: 10

Products: chocolate bars, moulded chocolates, panned chocolates, chewy candies, chocolate wafers, extruded items, snack bars, granola and savory snacks.

Brands(Produced at Elizabethtown): Dove Chocolate (Promises, Large  Bars, Singles), 3 Musketeers, Milky Way,  American Heritage Chocolate

Elizabethtown Management Team: Carl Freeman – Site Director; Jodi Woleslagle – P&O Manager; Pat Jolin – Filled Bar Value Stream Manager; Bhumika Lunyal – Industrial Products Value Stream Manager; Joel Zook  - Interim Moulding Value Stream Manager; Abdoulaye Traore – Quality and Food Safety Manager;  Christine Cobaugh – S&F Manager; Jason Henery – Lean Implementation Manager; Julia McCarthy – Industrial Engineering Manager;  Gregg Martell – Supply Chain Improvement Manager;  Lynne Germer – Site Administrator