More than 75 million samples were handed out at stores and other venues to whet consumers' appetites for the toasted rice center candies housed in M&M's famous candy shell.
"M&M is an American icon, and people expect big things from it," says Michael Tolkowsky, 42, VP-marketing and licensing for M&M/Mars.
The call paid off big for Crispy, which according to yearend data from Information Resources Inc., commands a 1% share of the highly fragmented $3.4 billion (chocolate, non-seasonal) candy business.
Mr. Tolkowsky, a 13-year veteran of M&M, wasn't worried about consumer acceptance of Crispy since it had already sailed through rigorous consumer test markets. Retailers were also game to find room on crowded candy shelves to house Crispy, thanks to the marketing campaign and M&M's reputation.
"My biggest obstacle was making sure we could make them fast enough. Consumers really got behind it," he says.
Mr. Tolkowsky was confident that Crispy would augment, rather than cannibalize, existing M&M sales. However, even he wasn't ready for the lift Crispy providing the entire franchise.
"It was our biggest candy launch ever, but it also fueled a 12% sales growth rate for the entire brand; four times the rate of growth in the category," he says.
Crispy helped push M&M's total share to more than 6% of candy volume.
Crispy isn't the first extension of M&M. First introduced in 1941, there are now varieties such as almond, mint and minis. Also, the introduction of new colors, including consumers' choice of blue, has kept the brand updated. Next up will be a combination pack of plain milk chocolate, peanut and Crispy in a ready-to-use bowl -- a perfect snack for next year's Super Bowl.