Chocolate gets new foothold in Shanghai

Updated: 2014-08-15 12:11

By Jack Freifelder in New York(China Daily USA)

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The per capita consumption rates for chocolate in China still pale in comparison to some overseas counterparts, like the United States and Europe, but with the launch of a new megastore Mars Inc is hoping that people in the world’s second largest economy begin to develop a bigger sweet tooth.

"Chocolate is a growing category in China and M&M'S is the largest candy brand in the world," Brian Schiegg, general manager of the Mars Retail Group, said on Thursday. "The color and fun of M&M'S transcends all geographies and the minute you walk into our stores you get a unique opportunity to see and touch the brand in a personal way."

On Monday, Mars Inc opened its first M&M'S World store in Shanghai, the company's first flagship store in Asia, and the operation has already created 130 new jobs.

Nearly three-quarters of a million people have already visited the 1,600-square-meter facility (roughly 5,300-square-feet), and Schiegg said "the positive reception so far gives us great confidence".

"Since the store's soft opening about seven weeks ago, the response has been tremendous," Schiegg said. "With more than 300 million visitors each year, Shanghai and East Nanjing Road present a fantastic opportunity to connect with both local residents and regional and international tourists."

Schiegg said the opening of the Shanghai storefront also represents the strong growth of Mars products both in China and throughout Asia, adding that M&M'S was already among the "top five chocolate brands in China".

Mars Inc, founded in 1911 in Tacoma, Washington, is one of the world's leading global candy companies. Now based in McLean, Virginia, the company also makes a number of well-known brands, including Snickers, Skittles and Starburst. The Shanghai site is the Mars Retail Group's fifth international M&M'S World store location.

With two full floors devoted to the colorful chocolate candy, customers at the new location can choose from a wide variety of M&M'S merchandise, including backpacks, M&M'S-themed cellphone covers and kitchenware, as well and Shanghai- and China-centric products like specialty mugs and t-shirts.

Patrons can create their own blend of M&M'S from a mix-and-match menu that includes 22 colors and three different varieties (milk chocolate, peanut and almond).

The centerpiece of the new store is the "Great Wall of Chocolate" - the world's largest M&M'S candy wall.

Clarence Mak, president of Mars Chocolate China, said in the Monday press release that the opening of M&M'S World Shanghai represents Mars' "significant investment and commitment to the Chinese market".

Mak also said the attraction was a "new, engaging way" to increase the popularity of one of the world's largest confectionery brands.

Lawrence L Allen, a US-based author and commentator who formerly worked as an international business executive with both the Hershey and Nestle, two leading chocolate manufacturers, said Mars' presence in the Chinese market is bolstered by the success of the company's Dove Chocolate brand, which accounts for "about 30 percent" of the chocolate that's sold in China.

"In 1978, you had a billion human beings who had never seen, touch, smelled or tasted chocolate, and they had zero brand awareness of any of the multinational chocolate companies," Allen said Thursday in an interview with China Daily. "Over the next 25 years, Mars, Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle and Ferrero Rocher — the world's great chocolate companies — beat a path to the China market to introduce chocolate to Chinese people."

"That 'chocolate war' was ultimately won by Mars, not with Snickers or M&M'S, but with the Mars' Dove brand," he said.

Allen, who is also the author of a 2009 book Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds and Wallets of China's Consumers, said opening a thematic store in Shanghai is a "good start" but Mars should look to expand to more cities as a way "to build brand awareness and create a loyalty" among China's growing chocolate consuming audience.

"In my experience Chinese people react to chocolate pretty much the same way that people anywhere do," he said. "And if China continues on its annual growth rate, China will eventually become the largest chocolate market in the world. It may take 20 or 30 years, but they'll get there."