An insider reveals the secrets behind how the company develops new candy creations.
Tons of new candy gets released on Halloween—candy corn, caramel apple pops, and fun-sized candy bars that you can give out on to kids while they’re trick-or-treating—but Mars Wrigley Confectionery, which produces M&M's, is one of the few companies that continues to comes up with the most creative fall and winter flavors every year. They have pecan pie, white pumpkin pie, holiday mint, and s’mores, just to name a few. So how do they do it? TJ Kanaris, the Seasonal Marketing Director at Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S., spoke with Food & Wine about how he and his team come with new M&M's flavors for the holiday season.
The first step sounds simple enough: Consider what people are looking forward to during the holiday season.
“We spend quite a bit of time thinking about families’ needs,” Kanaris explains. “We think about how we can help families celebrate the holidays.”
Then, Kanaris begins working with so-called flavor houses and his sensory team—a group of people that are “experts at tasting chocolate”—to develop the candy’s final form.
Take one of the candy company’s newest flavors for the fall season, white pumpkin pie. While neither of the flavors—white chocolate or pumpkin pie—are necessarily new, Kanaris says he and his team saw an opportunity to represent a flavor combination that is “underserved within confectionary.” It's Kanaris' favorite flavor that he's helped develop; he says it "takes me back to when I was young, celebrating Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house."
The team has many different types of chocolate to play with as they formulate the new candies, and in this case, decided that white chocolate paired best with pumpkin flavor. But sometimes the testing process can take up to nine months, with many different versions of the candy created along the way. We asked if there were any notable unreleased M&M's to tempt our taste buds, but, for good reason, Kanaris says he doesn’t like to reveal some of the other iterations so that people don't get disappointed that they weren't able to try those flavors.
One of the main drives behind the team that comes up with seasonal and holiday candy is a concept Kanaris called “new-stalgia.” His mission is to help customers find “new ways to celebrate their traditions.” Candy corn M&M's—one of the company’s more divisive flavors—exemplify that idea: By combining an iconic Halloween candy with a traditional chocolate M&M, Mars puts a new twist on fall candy.
“Candy corn is one of those hallmark flavors, a symbol that the seasons are changing. It’s about harvest and Halloween and it’s a flavor that starts in September and goes through to Thanksgiving,” he says.
The holiday season is just gearing up, with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years all on the horizon. Kanaris says that you can look forward to both holiday mint, caramel, and peanut M&Ms, dressed up for Christmas, hitting grocery store shelves soon. As for next year's surprise flavor additions? No hints were provided, but there's a good bet the M&M's team already has a few in the works.