Candy Industry Senior Editor Liz Parker recently talked to Mario Natarelli, managing partner, MBLM, the "brand intimacy agency." MBLM is dedicated to creating brand relationships that drive performance, engagement, and return.

Natarelli spoke on Hershey's new plant-based oat chocolate confections, including its chocolate bar and Reese's varieties.

Liz Parker: What do you think about the new chocolate, from a branding perspective?

Mario Natarelli: We are seeing in the U.S. more and more brand variations migrating from Europe or with clearer ingredient sourcing and less environmentally harmful. Products that originated in this market are now circling back to this market, providing consumers with more choices. This is great news for those with dietary restrictions or those looking for nutritional or environmental benefits.

From a branding perspective, Hershey is using "plant-based" or "oat made" as the dominant signal on the packaging with new trendy, eye-catching colors and secondary patterns. The overall effect is an adequate product extension with impact and clarity. 

It is interesting to note that the packaging is increasingly being encroached upon with certification claims of various kinds, which tend to crowd and add noise to the brand's aesthetic presence. 


LP: This is Hershey's first venture into a vegan product. What do you think prompted the brand to embark on this?

MN: Several factors played a role, including an opportunity to expand the market of consumers to those with dietary or environmental concerns, competitive trends from niche brands and healthy snacks, and success from their efforts in Europe or other markets.


LP: Can you talk about MBLM's Brand Intimacy 2022 Study? How does it work?

MN: Our annual study ranks brands based on emotion. We use emotional science and AI to measure which brands are building strong emotional brands with customers and what we can learn or apply from the findings.

In our last study, Hershey's ranks 177th with a quotient score just slightly above the average.


LP: Do you think we should expect to see more [plant-based] chocolate from companies like Hershey's or other large industry companies in the future?

MN: Established brands of every kind will continue to find ways to expand or tailor their products to wider audiences. Those that succeed will tap into areas of demand ahead of their competitors without diluting or damaging what the brands stand for. Like most things in business and life, if you aren't evolving, you're dying.