Value, partnership and peanut M&M’s: BJ’s Wholesale Club aligns with Mars

NRF 2024: Understanding the role of consumer insights in cultivating customer loyalty and profitability
Fiona Soltes
NRF Contributor

Value was the name of the game during a Sunday afternoon panel discussion with executives from BJ’s Wholesale Club and Mars Inc., and not just in terms of consumers getting the most for their money. The leaders also spoke about mutuality, creating an environment in which everyone wins.

Apparently, that valuable environment includes a lot of peanut M&M’s.

“I challenge you to find better product than peanut M&M’s, by the way,” said Bob Eddy, BJ’s chairman and CEO. The 62-ounce jar of the candy is not just a Halloween bonanza; it was the club’s second-best selling SKU last year, with strong sales all year long. It’s also Eddy’s favorite, as well as his family’s.

Eddy joined Anton Vincent, president, Mars Wrigley, North America & Global Ice Cream, Mars Inc., at NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show to discuss the significance of strategic partnerships. Axios senior journalist Hope King moderated the discussion.

Boston-based BJ’s, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, has 242 wholesale clubs, opening about 10 per year. It also has about 7 million members and almost $20 billion in sales, aiming to provide consumers “tremendous value on the brands that they love,” Eddy said.

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As for Mars, it’s a family-owned company with about $50 billion in sales globally. It is the largest confectionary company in the world, as well as the largest pet care company, ranging from animal nutrition to animal health care, including diagnostics and veterinary services. Mars also has a burgeoning food business. As a purpose-driven company, Vincent said, “We’re really in business to make the world a better place.”

Start with value

Eddy and Vincent discussed a variety of areas of alignment, with value at the top of the list.

No matter what happens with inflation or consumer spending, Eddy said, “value always wins. So that’s my job, to make sure that we have the right partnerships, the right products, the right procedures to be able to offer that value.”

Eddy and Vincent agreed that consumers increasingly connect their values to their transactions.

“As we take care of the families that depend on us, there are all sorts of constituencies within that, right?” Eddy said. “First and foremost, our members — what do they say, what do they feel? They want the best quality product, but they want responsibly sourced products as well. That very much resonates with us. Taking care of our supplier relationships is another one that’s important. If it’s important to Anton, it’s important to me.”

One-on-one engagement

BJ’s spends significant time in its consumer data, Eddy said, and BJ’s and Mars have had a “tremendous partnership” in figuring out how to engage consumers in the way that they want to be engaged. That has included, for example, a dedicated Halloween microsite, where shared customers could find exactly what they were after.

“It isn’t just handing anyone a coupon any longer,” Eddy said. “It really is understanding how to interact one-on-one with members. That’s been an incredibly powerful movement over the past few years.” The goal, Vincent added, is to make sure it’s not a disjointed experience. And it’s not just about selling a product once; it’s about consumers continuing to buy Mars products from BJ’s.

Driving innovation

The leaders also touched on tech and innovation; BJ’s, for example, incorporates robots for checking stock and prices, as well as AI-powered automated pick paths. Most of the club’s members use the company’s app each time they’re in the store, finding savings, discovering product locations and even checking out. It’s all about saving members time in addition to money, he said.

As for Mars, Vincent said the company is incorporating AI to drive efficiency in its more than 14 plants in North America. It also is in the process of converting its content creation to dynamic content optimization, allowing the same basic message to be used in many more ways to meet the needs of different audiences.

Additionally, BJ’s and Mars have collaborated on retail media, “being able to understand what particular members want and interact with them on a one-to-one basis,” Eddy said.

“You just focus on what your customers want,” he said. “I know my customers want fantastic brands at wonderful value, and they increasingly want a more and more convenient format.”

Vincent noted that Mars doesn’t think in terms of quarters; it thinks in terms of generations. “We think very much in the long term,” he said, with the view that investments the company makes today will mean fundamental changes in the future.

Watch clip: Leaders at BJ’s Wholesale Club and Mars discuss delivering value and connecting with consumers at NRF 2024: Retail's Big Show.

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