Are My M&Ms a Glimpse into the Future?

My M&M’S created new opportunities for personalization at Mars Direct.

By Mike Pehanich, Plant Operations Editor

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Mars is a company of iconic brands and category-leading products such as Snickers and M&M’S. But nothing in the organization has generated the excitement of the Mars Direct venture brought to fruition with the 2004 introduction of My M&M’S, personalized printed versions of the candy-covered chocolates available in 17 of the 22 M&M’S candy colors. The concept this year advanced with the personalization of Dove premium chocolate wrappers with 17-character, three line print capability.

“The business model of ‘make-to-order’ is extremely different than what Mars does as a core competency,” notes Jim Cass, general manager of My M&M’S. “All the functions are handled within Mars Direct so we can focus entirely on this business.” Customer care is absolutely critical to the success of the operation.

“If we don’t get it right, the customer will find me – and I hope they do,” he says. “We must have exceptional execution every time. We must get orders through the system that are personalized and addressed in 24 to 36 hours.

“We have a craftsman mind-set,” he continues. “Every order is unique. We punch an order up to 10 times during manufacturing. Everyone assumes full responsibility and accountability. Every person in the organization can reject a product if it doesn’t meet their standards of quality, and we recognize that these can be very subjective standards as every order is different. It all goes back to the ‘Quality’ principle of Mars. We hold it in the highest esteem.”

Automated equipment is used to screen product, principally for size. Rigorous standards are applied to product color and shell quality. All Mars workers are also responsible for visual inspection of product.

The business also rests on an e-commerce business model: Orders are handled almost entirely over the Internet. Cass credits increased security in e-commerce transactions with growing consumer comfort with online transactions.

The company has leaped tremendous hurdles to make Mars Direct operations work and has invested heavily to create the assets to bring the operation as close to perfection as possible. “I can’t overemphasize the importance of training,” says Cass. “It is everything.”

The creativity of Mars employees has also been critical to its success. “Four years ago, a group of talented R&D associates came up with the idea of putting a personalized message on M&M’S,” recalls Cass. “Because they had such a pioneering spirit, the company challenged them and a group of engineers, logistics folks, IT personnel, manufacturing people, Web site developers and marketing representatives to develop the printing, coating, fulfillment, logistics … the whole works, and to do it in 90 days! And in less than 90 days, they had fulfilled their first order.

“Everyone knew it was a good idea, but to see it come to fruition with that pioneering spirit was inspiring.”
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