The caramel flavor was introduced to the M&M line in August 2001 in five markets including Miami, Los Angeles and San Antonio, and heavily backed by Spanish-language advertising.
The product launched with a spot by Masterfoods Hispanic agency Zubi Advertising, Coral Gables, Fla., in which a doctor tries to hypnotize Dulce de Leche M&M's by swinging a pinwheel-like swirl of chocolate and caramel colors before their eyes. The M&M's turn the tables and hypnotize the doctor, telling him not to eat Dulce de Leche M&M's that talk.
But Dulce de Leche M&M's did not develop a large following even though caramel is a popular flavor with Hispanics. According to a company spokesman, research showed that most consumers, including Hispanics, preferred existing varieties and viewed Dulce de Leche as a special-occasion purchase.
He said Masterfoods may offer the Dulce de Leche M&M's on a seasonal basis linked to Hispanic holidays such as Cinco de Mayo. The company will also look to develop new platforms for the flavor, possibly in the ice-cream segment, where it has done well for other brands, including Haagen-Dazs. But while marketing of mainstream brands such as M&M's and Twix will continue to reach out directly to Hispanics, the company will focus the bulk of its Hispanic-targeted new-product efforts around a Mexican candy company called the Lucas Group that Masterfoods acquired last spring.
"The relationship with Lucas allows us to bring more products that appeal to Hispanic consumers to the U.S. marketplace," the spokesman said. Masterfoods will use its extensive distribution system to extend brands already popular among kids and teens in Mexico more widely to U.S. consumers, since about two-thirds of the U.S. Hispanic population is of Mexican descent.
Masterfoods has not made a final decision on which Lucas brands-among them Felix sour fruit, Skwinkles licorice and Lucas hot and spicy candy in flavors popular in Mexico like tamarind-to launch beyond existing markets, including Texas, California and Chicago.
Relying on authentic Hispanic brands to drive sales among the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. is increasingly common. PepsiCo's Frito-Lay in May announced a snack line targeted at Hispanics and developed in partnership with Pepsi-owned Mexican snacks marketer Sabritas. Frito-Lay worked with Sabritas to choose Mexican brands familiar to Mexican-American and Latino consumers, including Sabritas Adobadas-tomato and chile potato chips-and Crujitos, cheese-and-chile flavor puffed-corn twists.
An agency has not been chosen for the Lucas brand advertising, which will initially target general consumers and then Mexican Americans.