Why the customer is the boss – Life in Mars

In 2019 Bill Heague found out he was going home. He’d applied for – successfully as it turned out – for the role of general manager at Mars Foods Australia. It was to be a full circle homecoming for the University of Newcastle alumni after making his bones overseas for almost four years at Mars’ businesses in the Czech Republic and Ireland.
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Aussie favourite MasterFoods hits milestone

MasterFoods is a brand that has been a staple in Australian households since 1945 when it was registered by Henry Lewis. Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, MasterFoods, now owned by US-based family business Mars, still resonates with Australian shoppers. And it’s not by chance, according to general manager for Mars Food Australia Bill Heague.

“You will see a lot of older products have come and gone and had their moment,” he said. “Where MasterFoods has been different is that is has been consistent in setting the scene for flavour and introducing new cuisines and cultures to Australian households. As well as having great tasting products, I think it is that ability to have the consumer at the heart of everything we do, listen to them and change with them, that helps keep MasterFoods current. Our products will change with the tastes and lifestyles of our consumers.”

Mars Food Australia is also a manufacturer that thinks it’s important to look within Australian communities when developing new products. This is one reason it conducts a lot of its R&D locally.

“One of the great things about MasterFoods is that all but a few products are locally manufactured. We’re an Australian brand, which means we get consumer insights from Australians for Australians,” he said. “We work with local customers and advertise locally to consumers as well. Having the ability to shape what that looks like is a great job to have – you can see the value chain end to end.

“We have a great team of local product developers who are passionate about food. One of the favourite parts of my job is that we have a test kitchen onsite at our head office and factory in Berkeley Vale on the Central Coast in New South Wales. We have meetings that start with us talking business, then we’ll split into teams and start cooking meals together. We are a business that practises what it preaches about the benefits of cooking and sharing a meal together.

“It can get a bit competitive when cooking and people ‘go rogue’ and add different blends of herbs and spice to outdo one another. But, that is the great thing about what we do. We bring people together over food, and have fun while we do it.”

Heague has spent time overseas working for Mars in the Czech Republic and Ireland, and he knows that to move forward, a company such as Mars and brands like MasterFoods cannot stay stagnant. They have to move with the times.

“Over time we have pushed into different categories. Marinades was one of the first expansions,” said Heague. “Then we went to squeezy bottle sauces and then into recipe-base pouches after that. Very recently we’ve gone into Indian cuisine. We listen to consumers and we want to know where they find interests and where can MasterFoods provide that bridge for people to explore flavours of the world – get multi-cultural in their kitchens – in a way that suits their lifestyle and is easy to do. We always ask ourselves, how can we give people confidence to explore with flavour, so we encourage them to cook and share dinner with family and friends? We are always looking at other roles MasterFoods can play in the grocery aisle.”

With the proliferation of private brands by the big retailers Woolworths and Coles, how does Heague see the future for a brand like MasterFoods?

“It’s about being able to keep our brand fresh and current, and to distinguish ourselves not just by flavour and accessibility but by what we stand for – making dinner time matter,” he said.

“And if we ever forget that, and don’t execute well in that space and bring our purpose to life around dinner time, we leave ourselves exposed and risk not being the choice shoppers make and put in their baskets.”



Mars’ Heague returns home to take up GM role

Mars Incorporated has appointed a new general manager, Bill Heague, to lead Mars Food Australia.

Heague originally joined the Mars company in 2008 as sales manager for Mars Food Australia, the manufacturer of food brands such as Masterfoods, Uncle Ben’s, Dolmio, Kantong, Promite and Seeds of Change.

Following a successful five-year stint with Mars Food in Australia, delivering continuous growth and gains in market share, Heague relocated to Europe to take up the role of Market Director, Multisales, for Mars in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In this role, which was part of the newly formed Central Europe cluster, he played a central part in the transformation of the cluster and the integration of Wrigley into the Multisales business.

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Heague has managed Mars’ Irish Multisales business since 2018 in a challenging business environment which included managing the uncertainties generated by Brexit.

Heague said he is thrilled to be returning home to Sydney and taking up his new role with Mars Food Australia.

“I’m a foodie at heart and very excited about the major advances and significant challenges we are seeing in the food industry, both in Australia and around the world, and the innovation that our business can bring to the table,” Heague said.

“I’m a firm believer that dinner time matters, and we know that finding opportunities to cook and share meals with family and friends is good for both physical and mental wellbeing. It’s the foundation of our business, side by side with providing healthy, easy, affordable and tasty meal options.”

Heague will take up the new role from today, 1 November 2019, and is currently in the process of relocating back to Australia. He will be working out of Mars Food Australia’s head office and manufacturing plant at Wyong on the NSW Central Coast, and its satellite North Sydney office, from 13 November 2019.

Australian food start up selected for accelerator program

The Australian Superfood Co has been selected to take part in the Mars Food Australia’s inaugural Seeds of Change Accelerator program.

Hayley Blieden, founder of The Australian Superfood Co is thrilled to have been chosen as one of six start-ups to participate in this prestigious program.

“We are so excited to work with Mars to increase awareness and accessibility of Australian native ingredients. Having access to their team of experts will enable us to fast track growth and build a healthier, more sustainable food system,” she said.

The Australian Superfood Co was one of 224 national applicants. TASC was chosen as one of the 15 finalists and then as one of the six start-ups selected for the Accelerator.

TASC will receive a grant of up to $40 000 and will undertake a four-month program to tackle business challenges and to increase business growth.

The SEEDS of Change Accelerator is designed to help early-stage Australian food-focused start-ups fast-track growth and build a healthier and more sustainable future.

READ MORE: Finnish startup makes alternative protein from carbon dioxide

The finalists have access to an extensive support system to help them become the next generation of food businesses transforming the way Australians eat and share meals. The Accelerator program also offers a series of face-to-face workshops and access to a team of expert mentors and advisers from within the Mars business and across the wider Australian food innovation network.

Hayley Blieden and Ralph Wollner produce a range of food products from Australian native bush foods such as native fruit powders, herbs, and spices, fruit and granolas. As well as having their own product range, they supply ingredients to food, beverage and beauty manufacturers as well as chefs, cafes and bartenders. Their goal is to increase accessibility and affordability of Australian native produce to enhance respect for Australia’s indigenous culture and foster the local food movement.

“By increasing awareness, accessibility and affordability of Australian superfoods, we aim to increase demand and encourage Australians to cultivate our own native plants rather than import foreign varieties. In supporting local communities and growers we wish to refashion what is currently a cottage industry, into a booming trade,” said Blieden. “Aboriginal people have been generous in sharing their knowledge and expertise about the bounty and treasures of their native land.The Australian Superfood Co aims to enhance respect of the traditional practices and culture of Indigenous people and to promote their communities through the growing awareness of Australian Superfoods.”

How much does food contribute to Australia’s economy?

Australia’s food and grocery manufacturing sector is in many respects the quiet workhorse of the national economy. Australia’s largest manufacturing sector comprises companies that typically take produce from the farm and transform it into food and the consumer goods that every Australian needs every day. Fundamentally, the essentials of life.

While this industry has built a strong reputation for quality, safety and environmentally responsible production, its importance is further realised when you examine its contribution to the communities in which these companies operate.

For Northern Victorian regional economies, the food and grocery sector contributes $12 billion in annual output and makes the largest contribution. It employs 21,500 Victorians and pays $119 million per annum in tax – more than any other sector. The sector’s contribution to regional communities is even greater when you take into account the supply chain linkages for example through local farming, engineering and transport jobs that the sector stimulates.

These are impressive numbers, with major global companies like Fonterra at Stanhope, Mars Pet Care at Wodonga and Nestle at Tongala through to small, local companies like Beechworth Honey driving jobs and local economies across Northern Victoria.

The far more urban region of Western Sydney has also emerged as a food and grocery manufacturing powerhouse, generating $17 billion in output per year and $138 million in taxes.

The sector employs 24,400 workers whose wages and salaries pump $1.9 billion into the local economy annually. On average, workers can earn up to $80,000 a year.

Western Sydney’s current population of 2.1 million is expected to grow by a further 1 million people over the next 18 years, and it is critical to ensure jobs are available in the same areas in which people live.

While manufacturing has had a bad rap of late, we still make things in this country, with the highest quality standards. There is no doubt Australia’s largest manufacturing sector is being challenged by input costs, which are rising on everything from commodities to labour to energy; and seven years of continuous retail deflation.

Looking ahead, as Australia’s food manufacturing sector relies so heavily on Australian farmers, shortages caused by the drought will have considerable flow-on effects for food processors through increased input costs. Given the challenge posed by ongoing retail price deflation, this places greater stress on jobs and investment in manufacturing.

Yet this sector is incredibly resilient and is worth backing, because we have a globally competitive edge. Our “Clean and Green reputation” is the envy of the world and it enables some companies to get premium prices for value-added food and beverage products in growing export markets.

Northern Victorian food and grocery manufacturers exported over $2.1 billion last year, and Western Sydney $2.5 billion (a growth of more than 10 per cent from the previous year) showing our trading advantages in ensuring our products are served up on Chinese, Japanese and Korean dinner plates.

The ability to fully capitalise on these advantages is not going to happen without an ongoing push for trade competitiveness, a stable regulatory environment and reform to drive down input costs. Importantly we also need to look at ways to encourage these companies to continue to invest in their manufacturing plants and people.

Australians have long been proud of making things and now is the time to get behind what we are making in our regions and cities alike.

The AFGC has recently launched a public affairs campaign to do just that – demonstrate the true value of the $131 billion food and grocery industry to all levels of government and the Australian public.

Built around the central theme We’re from here, the campaign message is: Australian food and grocery manufacturers and processors play a key role in Australia’s communities and economies in which they operate. This is being dissected further into the areas of quality, choice, jobs and engagement with the community – all of which are key drivers of our sector.

Mars to label savoury products ‘Eat occasionally’

Mars will add new labels to savoury products that do not meet their own nutrition criteria.

The label ‘Eat occasionally, once a week’ will be added to brands such as Uncle Ben’s, Seeds of Change, Dolmio, Miracoli and Masterfoods. This latest initiative is a part of the company’s Global Health and Wellbeing Ambition, which aims to increase the nutritional value of Mars products.

Some products which contain high levels of salt, sugar and fat – such as pestos and lasagnes from the Dolmio and Miracoli range – will not be reformulated so as not to compromise the authenticity of their recipes, according to the company.

However, the company has stated their commitment to reducing the salt, sugar and fat levels in their products, aiming to turn ‘occasional’ products into ‘every day’ products.

The food giant has also set itself the target of cutting sodium by 20 per cent by 2021, and reducing sugar in some sauces and light meals by 2018.

A list of occasional products will be available on the company’s website in the next few months, and the new labelling is due to be rolled out within the next year.

Mars Food promotes healthier eating

Mars Food Australia have voiced their goal to create and promote healthier food choices for consumers. Today the brand announced their new global Health and Wellbeing Ambition, which involves increasing the nutritional value of their products, improving labelling and encouraging healthy eating among families.

Some of the key initiatives of the Ambition include reductions in sodium and added sugar, labelling to highlight the difference between ‘everyday meals’ and ‘occasional products’, and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in products.

The company also seeks to make their products more accessible around the world and build awareness about the benefits of cooking and eating healthy meals at home.

General Manager of Mars Food Australia, Hamish Thomson, said that as the makers of some of Australia’s most-loved brands, the company has a responsibility to help Australians consume more balanced diets.

“We believe we have significant responsibility to be transparent about our products and to help consumers make informed choices. The Health and Wellbeing Ambition will guide our product development to continue to improve the nutritional content of our portfolio and provide consumers with more information to help make informed, balanced choices,” said Thomson.

“Our ambition is to deliver one billion more healthy meals around dinner tables around the world so that we can make a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our consumers. This is – and needs to be – a long term strategy to drive real change.”

Snickers recalled as plastics found in chocolate bars

Mars, one of the world's biggest food companies, has recalled chocolate bars and other products in 55 countries after a piece of plastic was found in a Snickers bar in Germany, according to a Reuters report.

All of the recalled products, which include Mars, Snickers and Milky Way bars, were manufactured at a Dutch factory in Veghel, a Mars spokeswoman said on Tuesday. They were sold in European countries including Germany, France and Britain, and in certain countries in Asia.

"We cannot be sure that this plastic was only in that particular Snickers," a spokeswoman from Mars Netherlands said. "We do not want any products on the market that may not meet our quality requirements, so we decided to take them all back."

It was not immediately clear how much the complex recall would cost the company, which is unlisted and therefore does not disclose detailed financial information. The spokeswoman declined to comment on financial implications of the recall, which is the first to affect the factory.

Mars Netherlands said it was working closely with the Dutch food safety authority on the matter, according to a statement.

The recall affected all Mars and Snickers products, Milky Way Minis and Miniatures as well as certain kinds of Celebrations confectionery boxes with best-before dates ranging from June 19, 2016 to Jan. 8, 2017. Those dates may not be the same in other countries, the spokeswoman said.

Mars Australia is officially a ‘Great Place to Work’- again

For the fourth year in a row, Mars Australia has been recognised as being one of Australia’s best workplaces by the BRW Great Place to Work Awards, being ranked as the 15th best place to work in the country.

The awards are Australia’s most highly regarded annual study of workplace excellence, identifying the top 50 Australian workplaces in terms of culture.
Sylvia Burbery, General Manager at Mars Petcare Australia said it is the company’s five core principles that distinguish and underpin its success in Australia.
“We are proud to be recognised as a great place to work. We believe our values and our people are integral to our success, which is why we have an unwavering commitment to creating a distinctive culture that is collaborative and energetic. In doing so, we are able to drive our business forward, and benefit communities,” Ms Burbery said.
From dynamic office floor plans that encourage collaboration to team cooking classes and the opportunity to bring pets to the workplace, it is the culture across all Mars business segments that was highlighted by the award. The company has also been credited for its wellness programs as well as local and global volunteering opportunities.

“After 100 years of global success, nearly 50 years of success in Australia and creating hundreds of products that have become household names, we’re still a private, family-owned business. Our story and our vision are an important part of our identity, and that inspires our Associates each and every day.

“Ultimately, people want to work for a company that inspires them, that fosters innovation and creates an engaging work environment, and that’s why people come to join, stay and grow with Mars Australia,” Ms Burbery said.