As COVID-19 suspended social obligations, the mint category — driven by consumers’ need to freshen their breath — faced a variety of challenges.

But Ferrero, maker of Tic Tac, says an emphasis on innovation, as well as strong marketing and social media efforts, helped the brand push past pandemic-related sales declines to become the category leader.

Candy Industry recently spoke to Dan Cutchin, vice president of marketing at Ferrero North America, about Tic Tac’s recent innovations, the role pack size played in serving consumers’ shifting needs, and the brand’s trip to space.

CI: How would you characterize Tic Tac’s performance before the pandemic?

DC: Prior to the pandemic, Tic Tac was performing well as the No. 2 brand in the category. Brand sales and overall performance were steady with a variety of products on the market, as well as marketing efforts promoting them.

CI: When did the brand start seeing changes in sales? Why do you think that happened?

DC: At the very beginning of the pandemic, almost every brand saw a downturn. In fact, at the height of COVID, the mint category declined nearly 50 percent versus the prior year. 

We started noticing that at the end of April 2020, Tic Tac sales started to increase, and we became one of the fastest-growing brands in the category. This can largely be accredited to our new innovations, including Big Berry Adventure, our licensing partnership with Coca-Cola, our bottle pack formats, and our refreshed marketing approach, where we’ve stepped up our social listening efforts and efforts to highlight the brand’s role in culture.

In December 2021, we officially became mint category share leader (IRI Scan Data TTL MULO+C 26 week ending April 24) and have sustained that position ever since.

CI: What did Tic Tac do to try to boost sales during and after the pandemic?

DC: During the pandemic, we released new innovations that specifically met the needs of our consumers.

Big Berry Adventure, one of our fruity flavors, was released in September 2020. While fruity flavors always performed well for us, we found that there was an increased demand for fruity flavors from our consumers. With that new flavor, we met that demand by introducing two new fruity flavors in the same pack. 

We also prioritized our successful licensing partnership with Coca-Cola and our bottle pack format helped drive sales. We found that during the pandemic consumers were looking to stock up, and the bottle pack was appealing since it is larger and features more individual mints than the single pack. 

This past holiday season we launched Tic Tac Naughty & Nice, featuring Candy Cane and Cinnamon flavors. That offering was No. 1 in velocity among all competitive holiday products (IRI Scan Data TTL MULO+C 4 week ending Jan 2).

We also dug deeper into cultural relevance. For example, with space being a trending topic, as well as increased sightings and coverage of a Tic Tac-shaped UFO, which was dubbed the “Tic Tac UFO,” we used that as an opportunity to connect with current and new fans. 

The Tic Tac UFO vessel – designed and launched with the company Sent to Space – featured a screen that displayed tweets from consumers to make refreshing connections with any aliens who happen to be out there watching. It launched Aug. 6, 2021, traveling 121,099 feet into space for 175 minutes, carrying 100 packs of fan-favorite flavors with phrases meant to inspire connection in space. Each pack also had a custom emblem noting that these special packs made the trip to space. 

In the first four days of tweeting about UFOs alone, @tictacusa generated 2,500 more engagements than the previous month, quadrupled its engagement rate, and attracted hundreds of new followers. Hundreds of fans sent Tic Tac their messages to be displayed on the Tic Tac space vessel, and the effort was covered by many media outlets.

That effort also helped create sustained improvement across the brand’s social channels, beyond the campaign. Throughout the campaign, and since its completion, post reach across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook is up 114 percent versus the previous period, while total social impressions increased over 31 percent and total engagements are up almost 100 percent.

CI: Are there any other innovations Tic Tac has introduced recently that you’d like to highlight?

DC: Tic Tac recently released Tropical Adventure which features four delicious fruity flavors: Pineapple, Mango, Banana and Passion fruit. 

We will also launch Tic Tac Strawberry & Cream in early 2023. Strawberry & Cream is a delightful mix of fresh and sweet strawberry flavors. 

CI: How does pack size play into boosting sales?

DC: Tic Tac is one of the only mint brands with a bottle pack in wide distribution. During the height of the pandemic, consumers were seeking bottle pack options to stock up, and Tic Tac was able to fill that need.

Currently, as people are getting back to being active, single pack offerings are starting to see an uptick in demand. We are proud to offer consumers both sizes to fulfill their needs.

CI: How would you characterize Tic Tac’s performance now?

DC: Tic Tac is currently the mint category share leader and is outpacing category growth. While the brand was a solid No. 2 prior to COVID, this marks the first time that we have been number one in at least several years.

Tic Tac is reaching more homes than any other mint brand and can be found in +11 percent of households across the country (IRI National Consumer Panel: Total US All Outlets 52 week ending March 27).  

Our social presence is also growing, with a 139 percent increase in brand engagement and an 11 percent increase in overall reach from 2020 to 2021 (Relevance Radar, filtered for U.S. only, English only. Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook).

Between our innovations and marketing efforts, our performance is extremely strong, and we look forward to sustaining and building on this momentum. 

CI: As we return to our “normal” lives, what would you like to see happen in the mint category?

DC: Additional innovations and partnerships to continue to rebound the category following the pandemic. Tic Tac has a lot of exciting upcoming innovations and marketing plans, and we look forward to unveiling them in the months and years to come.

CI: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

DC: Tic Tac recently launched a new campaign, “Take A Ride on A Tic Tac,” that brings the unique experience of eating a Tic Tac to life. The campaign, created in partnership with our creative agency Translation, features artists, illustrators, and musicians that do an amazing job expressing through their work how Tic Tac can create refreshing moments.