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The terms "new" and "innovative" are not synonymous - a fact that sometimes gets swept aside by the torrent of new candy products flooding the marketplace each year.

That distinction is well understood at Hackettstown, N.J.-based Masterfoods USA, where the emphasis these days is on thinking big and coming up with initiatives that represent what senior executive Richard Continelli describes as "real innovation."

"We are definitely passionate about bringing fewer, bigger and better products [to market] around our core brands," says Continelli, senior v.p. - sales for Snackfood, Masterfoods USA. "We are trying to develop those core businesses and to drive top-of-mind consumer awareness." Key goals, he says, include offering consumers new choices, attracting new consumers, and moving into new markets.

To better meet these objectives, Masterfoods has decentralized, creating a new organizational structure that splits power among five key business units: Snackfood, Food, Petcare, Ethel M (new "everyday gourmet" chocolates/chocolate lounges) and Health & Nutrition.

In a recent conversation, Continelli shared three key examples of corporate confectionery initiatives that meet the Masterfoods criteria for "real innovation."

* My M&M's. The company's Colorworks program has offered consumers the opportunity to purchase customized color selections of M&M candies for many years. With My M&M's, Masterfoods has taken the customization option to a whole new level. Not only is it possible for consumers to order M&M's in their colors of choice, but new printing technologies allows for individual candies to bear customized messages. My M&M's provides creative ways for consumers to celebrate special occasions and also opens the door to a myriad of creative new retail partnerships, says Continelli.

* CocoaVia. These heart-healthy snacks made with real chocolate are touted by the company for their ability to contribute to reducing cholesterol levels and supporting healthy circulation. Initially marketed only online (at, CocoaVia currently is available in nutrition sections at select Wal-Mart, Target and Walgreen's stores nationwide.

* Ethel's Chocolate Lounges. Masterfoods introduced this new retail concept last year and currently operates 10 sites in the Chicago area. The "chocolate lounges" allow shoppers to pick from an assortment of upscale chocolates, many with fun names and formulations Chocolapolitan and PB&J, for example. There's also room in the shops to sit and linger over a cup of hot chocolate or even to stage a party in some locations.

"What Ethel's is really about is an approachable gourmet chocolate for everyday enjoyment," says Continelli.

Masterfoods' new approach contrasts with that of rival, The Hershey Co., which has achieved growth in recent years via a steady flow of new products, including dozens of limited edition confectionery offshoots from its core brands.

Nevertheless, Masterfoods will not steer completely away from limited edition offerings. In fact, the company is gearing up for a couple next year, including M&M's White Chocolate Pirate Pearls, a custom color blend including white, cream, pastel yellow and light blue candy shell colors, which will be rolled out in conjunction with the Pirates of the Caribbean movie sequel launch this summer. But the limited editions will be restricted to offerings that are truly limited, meaningful and strategic, as in the case of major movie tie-in, Continelli emphasizes.