Life just got sweeter for Fiona Dawson. It is now two months since Mars announced it was acquiring Wrigley for $23bn in a move that will make it the biggest confectionery company in the world, and Dawson, as MD of Mars UK, one of the industry's most important players.

Not that she was exactly a wall-flower beforehand. As well as the day job, the toffee Revels-loving 41-year-old is vice-president of the Food and Drink Federation and an outspoken chair of its Sustainability and Competitiveness Steering Group - not to mention a busy mum and aspiring pop idol. "I'm obsessed with the karaoke game Singstar," she laughs in one of her first interviews since the Wrigley deal was announced. "I have competitions with my five-year-old son. When I'm standing with the microphone in my front room I show no mercy."

Fortunately, Dawson is equally single-minded away from the mic. Mars to the core, she joined its graduate scheme straight from university and, save for a two-year stint with Pepsi in the early 1990s, rose through the ranks to become MD of Mars UK in 2005. Aside from her love of chocolate - "I raid the Revels production line at 9am every morning" - she puts her longevity down to a strong affinity with the Mars culture. "It's a family company. We've got three generations working in our factory, people that are just Mars through and through."

That affinity extends to her US bosses. "Mars Corporation puts great trust in you to do the right thing, which is hugely liberating," she says. "I talk to our global president relatively frequently but it's on an informal basis."

There's clearly been plenty to talk about in the wake of the Wrigley announcement. "We're incredibly excited by the deal," says Dawson. "This is not about synergies, this is about maximising growth opportunities. If anything, it's going to allow us to become even more focused because the sugar brands such as Starburst and Skittles will transfer over to the Wrigley business, allowing us to concentrate on our core chocolate and confectionery brands."

She emphasises the point further. "This is absolutely not about rationalisation. Actually, it's the opposite. We've recently invested £60m into our main plant in Slough and I'm sure when the transition happens we'll invest in the Wrigley business as well. We see huge growth opportunities in confectionery."

Functional confectionery is an area Mars is watching "very closely", according to Dawson - in the US its CocoaVia brand claims to be leading the revolution in heart-healthy snacks. The Wrigley deal also gives the company a market-leading position in the attractive chewing gum category. But where the UK is concerned, Dawson insists that Mars will always primarily be about its iconic chocolate brands.

"Some of our brands have been around for 75 years and we need to make them as relevant today as they were then," she says. "From a category point of view it's about bars, bitesize and blocks and we still see great growth and share opportunities within those categories. It's very easy to get seduced by exciting new trends that distract your business because they are new and exciting and fresh. It's much harder as a business leader to make what you already have seem as fresh and relevant. That's our challenge and that's where I see growth."

Mars remains the UK's bestselling chocolate bar and the hugely successful launch of Mars Planets has kept the brand at the forefront of consumers' minds.

Although the health police may have consigned the Mars a Day slogan to history, the brand itself maintains strong associations with an active lifestyle. "Big brands have a very specific point of view and the Mars brand and attitude has always been rooted in Work, Rest and Play."

Dawson stresses the need for each brand to have its own 'voice', whether through a tie-up with Sex and The City as with Galaxy - "it's about the modern woman, but it's also aspirational" - or Mr T's comeback as the face of Snickers. This summer, the Mars brand will give away 100,000 free footballs as part of its Mars Balls Gets People Playing campaign, the follow-up to 2006's successful Believe rebranding. The lack of home nation involvement in Euro 2008 has not dampened Dawson's enthusiasm for the campaign. "This is about grass roots, getting people involved, taking part in competitions, having a kickabout while having some fun at the same time," she says.

Dawson believes extensions such as Planets are vital to growing the top line. She concedes that genuine NPD is challenging in such a mature category and admits the prospect of launching another powerhouse brand in the Mars or KitKat mould diminishes with time. "The track record of innovation in confectionery is that it is very difficult to launch a sustainable piece of innovation into the marketplace. I think if you're looking for a big bang innovation you've got to be pretty confident before you put significant assets behind it.

"We've got a rigorous innovation programme that we go through before we back any major piece of NPD and we spend the rest of our money on continuous innovation in areas such as packaging, making sure ingredients are as up-to-date as possible and tackling the nutritional challenges that come our way."

Mars has vowed to remove all trans fats from its chocolate confectionery products by the end of this year and was the first global company to stop marketing to children under 12. Dawson herself is a firm believer in reformulation and has a pragmatic approach to the challenges posed by advertising bans and the obesity epidemic.

"In the main, consumers understand the role of confectionery and they appreciate that it should be as part of a treat and a reward. You could argue that the food industry has not been recognised in all quarters of the media for the great work it's done in terms of product reformulation, portion size control and active lifestyle messaging."

This is Dawson wearing her FDF hat. She is passionate about environmental issues and plays a leading role in steering the FDF's work on sustainability. "I firmly believe that every company needs to embrace the issues that climate change poses. This is not something that is counter to business needs. It can actually serve not just the good of the climate but equally the good of a business. In the long term it's good for the bottom line."

Dawson admits she is ambivalent about carbon labelling - "when you've got something the size of a Mars bar, you've got to think practically about the kind of labelling you'd put on a pack" - but a firm supporter of GDA labelling - "we've seen it to work, we've seen it inform people, there's a depth of understanding it drives and we're very supportive of that".

As a private company, Mars may avoid the level of scrutiny afforded to publicly listed rivals, but it doesn't make life any easier, insists Dawson. "People say, oh you don't have the pressures of the stock market, but it comes with its own pressures. We are as financially driven as any other successful global company and we're pretty tough in terms of the targets we set ourselves and the challenges we set."

Of course, there are downsides. "I had to turn down going to the Sex and The City premiere because I have a 'two evening work commitments a week only' policy," says Dawson wistfully. "I was there playing cricket with my boys thinking I could have been on the red carpet with Carrie Bradshaw." Then again, who cares about Sarah Jessica Parker's wardrobe, when you've got the key to the sweet cupboard?n