Inside Mars Wrigley’s ‘bold ambition’ to create a $1.1B ice cream business

While Mars Wrigley brands such as Snickers, M&M’s, Twix and Milky Way are best known in confections, the company is moving aggressively to expand its presence in ice cream — an “untapped opportunity” for the more than 100-year-old company, according to to a top executive.

“We have the runway to grow because we do have some of the best brands on the candy side that we believe are very applicable in the ice cream business,” said Shaf Lalani, general manager for Mars Ice Cream.

The company first entered the ice cream space in 1986 when Mars bought Dove Bar. It introduced its Snickers to the frozen category four years later — the first Mars brand to make the move. Today, its Mars Ice Cream division is an integral part of its future even though it is a much smaller business compared to the parent company’s multibillion-dollar candy operations, Lalani noted.

Shaf Lalani

Permission granted by Mars Wrigley

Mars Wrigley has a “bold ambition” to triple the size of its ice cream business to $1.1 billion in sales globally by 2024, according to the company. It said the US market where it gets the lion’s share of sales in the frozen category “is critical to our success.”

Mars Wrigley has been on a hot streak. Last year alone, sales in the $6.5 billion US frozen novelty business jumped 5.8%, according to Nielsen. Mars Ice Cream doubled that dollar sales growth percentage.

Mars Wrigley said it has the top brand in a slew of frozen novelty categories, including in convenience stores with Snickers Ice Cream Bar, sandwiches with M&M’s, and non-dairy in Kind Frozen. Meanwhile, sales for its Twix ice cream bar have risen 20% annually for the last two years, according to the company.

Mars Wrigley, ice cream

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Retrieved from Mars Wrigley.

Mars Wrigley, which is privately held, declined to provide more specific figures on sales for ice cream or its growth rate in the category.

Lalani said the CPG’s diverse ice cream portfolio allows it to reach consumers depending on their needs.

Dove is situated in premium, for example, while M&M’s and Twix are more mainstream. Those avoiding dairy can turn to Kind bars, pints and smoothies. For now, the company doesn’t expect to bring other candy brands in its portfolio into ice cream, or take one defining brand attribute, like Kind in non-dairy, to something like Dove.

“Not to say we wouldn’t look at other options, but we have no plans on changing our products today,” Lalani said.

Mars Wrigley’s ice cream brands benefit from the widespread popularity of its candy staples that have been on the market for decades, he said.

“Consumers have grown up with those and in a lot of cases, it’s new to them when they find out we make ice cream,” he said.

While sales and brand awareness for Mars Wrigley’s ice creams have been climbing for years, Lalani said many people are still unfamiliar with them. To bridge that gap, the company has been investing more in innovation and new digital campaigns online for brands such as Snickers. It recently spent money to market its M&M’s ice cream sandwiches for the first time in 13 years.

More than 30 years after entering the ice cream category, Mars Wrigley is still making its frozen treats at a 145,000-square-foot facility in Burr Ridge, Illinois, and will be for the foreseeable future. Earlier this year, it announced it would invest $50 million in the plant to keep up with future demand.

It also has announced partnerships with Walmart, Kroger, Instacart and doordash, among others, on e-commerce efforts to get their frozen products into the hands of more online shoppers. Digital sales for ice cream at the company soared 70% last year, Lalani noted.

Ice cream “is an untapped opportunity,” he said, noting that people who try their frozen treats often become repeat customers. “We have some runway in front of us to continue to grow and get into more households and get people to try us.”