It seems like everyone has a favorite version of Reese’s. Many find that the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is the perfect chocolate-to-peanut-butter ratio. Others, like me, love Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs for the greater peanut butter ratio. Whatever the preference, most of us Reese’s-lovers also get excited to try new textures and flavors, like the salty, sweet, crunchy combo in Reese’s Big Cup with Potato Chips, which were introduced last year. And that’s the beauty of the Reese’s brand, which dates all the way back to the 1920s to founder H.B. Reese; there truly is something for everyone. That unmatched love of the classic Reese's Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup enables our team to innovate as much as we do. In the role of Senior Director of Innovation at Hershey, I love leading a team that’s always on the lookout for that next intriguing combination.
When thinking about innovation at The Hershey Company, one of our guiding principles is it must have a purpose. In other words, we don’t dream up new takes on existing products just for the sake of it; we do it because it’s an opportunity to solve something for the consumer. It’s not uncommon for me to ask my team, “Even if we can, should we?”
Take Reese’s Minis, for example. In the early 2000s, we had the idea of creating a shrunken version of the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. But we hadn’t really come up with the “why” behind it, so the idea languished. Then, a participant in a consumer focus group revealed that he loved eating Reese’s products throughout the day, but he never ate them while commuting, because the packaging made it difficult to eat while driving. In that moment, we saw a new opportunity: creating a Reese’s consumers could pop on the go. That consumer insight — along with advances in technology — pushed us to create Reese’s Minis. In the years that followed, we made York Minis, Rolo® Minis and Kit Kat Minis, too, and they’ve all been successful additions to our portfolio.
About five years ago, we sought to test another hypothesis. Is the standard Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup the perfect balance of chocolate and peanut butter, or might consumers want to try a product with a different ratio? We came up with our Chocolate Lovers and Peanut Butter Lovers promotion, offering cups with a higher ratio, respectively, of chocolate and peanut butter. It unlocked a whole new consumer insight for us: there’s more to the Reese’s brand than just one expression of chocolate and peanut butter, and consumers are excited to try new and different versions.
Those are just a few examples of Reese’s innovations over the decades, but they reveal some important ways we’re meeting different needs for our engaged, enthusiastic consumer base. Through our research, we know Reese’s fans like different textures and taste profiles. We also know that they are increasingly interested in what I like to call the “snackification” of their candy, meaning combining elements of snacking and confection. That brings us to our latest Reese’s innovations, including Reese’s Big Cup with Pretzels and Reese’s Big Cup with Potato Chips.
The idea for the latest Reese’s Big Cup varieties came about in an unlikely place: 30,000 feet in the air. I’d just attended a meeting with a retailer partner and was flying home with my colleague, Shawn Houser-Fedor, Senior Director of Confection R&D. We were talking about the Reese’s Big Cup and its potential for unlocking innovation. Shawn and I were playing a game of “what if.” “What if we were to put inclusions inside the Big Cup?” we wondered, pondering the different items that could go in there, like different salty snacks. Since the Big Cup has a higher ratio of peanut butter, there’s some room to play with what goes in it without messing too much with the chocolate and peanut butter balance consumers love and expect.
We thought we might be onto something, so we took the notion to a brainstorming meeting back at Hershey, where our team dreamed up all the potential inclusions: pretzels, flavored corn chips, cheese-flavored chips, even potato chips and more. From there, the R&D team developed prototypes we could offer consumers.
Creating Reese’s Big Cup with Pretzels was the most straightforward, since we were already making Reese’s Dipped Pretzels. The potato chips, on the other hand, were quite a journey. We went through 15 or 20 different brands of chips — from big names to wholesalers — crushing them and mixing them into the peanut butter to find the right match. The chip we ultimately selected kept its salty snap, even when embedded in candy over time.
The consumer response affirms that it was all worthwhile. The King Size version with potato chips has been the #1 Innovation SKU to start the year. In November 2022, the Reese's Big Cup Stuffed with Reese's Puffs cereal will also be available nationwide for Reese's brand fans. Combined with the always beloved, always high performing Reese's classics, the innovation has helped bring the Reese’s brand to another record year.
When it comes to new ideas, like Reese’s cups with potato chips, there’s no “lone inventor.” Dozens of us work together to come up with these ideas, to test them, to package them, to deliver them and to continue talking to consumers about them. At Hershey, innovation happens anywhere and everywhere — in hallway conversations, brainstorming meetings and, of course, on airplanes. There’s never a dull moment when you continually look for ways to surprise and delight consumers.
In my 26 years working at The Hershey Company, I can honestly say that one of the hardest lessons learned is that we're not out to reinvent any of our brands because they all stand on their own quite well and consumers love the classics. Instead, we want to enhance our products in ways that give consumers new ways to enjoy their favorite products.
The latest innovations in Big Cups are the perfect example. And we’re not done yet. We’ve learned repeatedly that the passion that Reese’s lovers have for the tried-and-true favorites give us permission to come up with new ideas, textures and flavors. And my team is thrilled to keep listening, keep talking and keep dreaming up new combinations of this beloved classic.
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