Soft Hearted: Caramel M&Ms are a hit in movie theatres
While caramel candy has always been a favorite confection for the consumer, it has competed with chocolate for the top spot in the candy connoisseur palate. Mars Chocolate has made every effort to solve that decision-making dilemma by introducing Caramel M&Ms this May. This introduction has been years in the making and Mars says it is one of the “biggest launches in its history.”
As reported in Fortune magazine, Hank Izzo, VP of research and development for Mars, states, “Based on testing, consumers love the concept of M&M Caramel, scoring higher than any M&Ms brand variant ever.”
These M&Ms are microscopically bigger than the original M&M candy. These little characters have a “soft heart” and a chewy consistency surrounded by the stiff candy shell. Caramel M&Ms also come in the same variety of colors as the original M&Ms and are equally polished. “Like all M&Ms, they also taste great with popcorn!” the company asserts.
Jeff Peterson, account manager, theatre/concession for Mars Chocolate, represents the cinema channel and is enthusiastic about the rollout of Caramel M&Ms. “The Caramel flavor is one that is both on trend now and is also a traditional flavor, especially in the theatre space.” He adds, “Like the movies, M&Ms Caramel is a fun and exciting experience.”
“Theatres that rolled out Caramel M&Ms include AMC, Regal Entertainment Group, Cinemark and many other circuits ranging in size and screen counts,” Peterson reports. “M&Ms Caramel has been a hit in cinemas, with almost all of the top U.S. cinema chains carrying it when it was first available. Our top theatre customers are creating excitement in the cinema space by promoting it heavily.”
Chris Parker, concessions manager at the Paradiso Cinema in Memphis, TN, describes his sales: “We sold nearly two master cases in seven days. This candy is very well received by the customer.” Parker notes that his theatre “offered discount coupons of 50 cents off at the box office, and this led patrons directly to the concession stand as a value proposition. Not only did they buy the M&M Caramels, but they also may have purchased other concession items that were not on their mind when they got to the theatre.” He continues, “This could explain why we have seen an increase in per-capita sales as well.”
There is a specific science behind the production of the newest addition to the M&M family of morsels covered by a hard, sugary coat. The process of making the delicate but delicious round confection involves the creation of a “lentil”—a bean of caramel that can be coated with chocolate and then covered with the M&M candy. The difficulty in the process is explained by the softness of caramel, which must be coated by chocolate while the chocolate maintains the proper consistency without melting or impairing the caramel drop. Mars engineers have spent years testing the texture of the chocolate, since the center of previous M&M varietals has always been sturdy or hard. The center of the Caramel M&M is soft and presents a challenge for the chocolate to hold its posture; the supple caramel would not allow the chocolate surrounding it sufficient support until now.
Mars Chocolate was so confident in the neoteric concept that it built a new plant in Topeka, Kansas at a cost of $2.2 billion, specifically for this venture and brand. This investment of time, money and talent proves that M&M Caramel will become a permanent addition to the M&Ms portfolio, not just a seasonal or limited edition. M&Ms Caramel has had fantastic success so far, creating excitement for moviegoers in theaters as well as fantastic sales at the concession stand.
While the latest trends in food consumption are led by “spicy,” Caramel M&Ms prove that blending flavors continues to dominate the next generation of movie patron preferences.
Larry Etter is senior VP at Malco Theatres and director of education at the National Association of Concessionaires.