The Mars R&D Award is our signature, global program recognizing outstanding contributions that have delivered business impact. With more than 500 nominations, we’re introducing you to our final 12 recipients across four award categories.
A chemist by trade, Allison Faig spent her early years at Mars working to develop ink and flavor technologies for our famed chocolate treats.
But her role quickly evolved, and she was tasked with delivering innovative experiences. Or what some may call the ever-evolving world of “eater-tainment.”
So how did she help ensure a century-old brand stayed relevant? We sat down with Allison to talk about a project that now offers our consumers a sweet experience like never before.
Question: Tell us about your role.
Answer: I’m in the Mars Retail group, a very small group within Mars Wrigley. In the broadest terms, my team works to answer one simple question: “What does innovation mean?”
Four years ago, I worked in Ink & Recipe, developing new inks for our products. But I started working on projects aimed at delivering unique experiences to our consumers. And that’s where the idea for the M&M’S® Café in Berlin was created.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the café.
A: The Mars Retail group is great at retail. They’re great at creating a fun, colorful and engaging experience around retail. But historically it’s been very merchandise-focused. And to stay relevant in an ever-changing, social media-savvy world, we had to think about the consumer experience a little differently. And we saw a huge opportunity to break into the food service industry.
We looked at external retailers already offering the interactive, immersive café experience in their stores; Target has Starbucks, Ralph Lauren has Ralph’s Coffee. Market trends show a huge demand for grab-and-go desserts, this “eater-tainment,” social media-worthy food experience. And it felt like that would be a natural extension of the M&M’s brand.
Q: Tell us about your award-winning project.
A: Once we realized there was an opportunity to incorporate innovation into the retail experience, my team really got to work.
We had no idea how to build a café, what menu items to include, how to run it. So, we started ideation workshops to really understand what our consumers want. Desirability, feasibility, viability. Over the course of two years, we slowly started to answer these questions.
The last thing we did was forecast future scenarios, think worst case possibilities like supply chain issues. This proved to be hugely beneficial when COVID-19 hit. Now, we obviously couldn’t predict a pandemic, but we had embraced an agile mindset and were ready to pivot.
And then, ultimately, we were able to deliver on our original goal – opening the café!
Q: Was there anything unique about this project?
A: We’re a small group within Mars Wrigley. And that meant we had to rely on a lot of external partners. It was an opportunity to really build our knowledge.
Q: What do you love most about your work?
A: I love solving complex problems; it’s what drives me. Applied research is an opportunity to do a lot of different things: problem solve; innovate; drive action. R&D is one of those fields that starts with an idea but comes to life through the scientific method and becomes this tangible thing. As it applies to something like M&M’S, it’s about delivering new flavors, new colors, healthier options and solving how best to do that.
Q: Why is R&D so important to Mars?
A: To me, R&D is about unlocking future potential. It’s the opportunity to solve problems and apply action. Bringing these ideas to life can do so much for Associates, consumers and the business.