Mars Wrigley has unveiled marketing and NPD plans for the year that include a scientific spin on its Wrigley Extra Food Creatures, the first-ever blue Skittles and new brand positioning for struggling Starburst.

The company said its focus for 2011 would be on "adding some big noise" to existing confectionery lines, rather than introducing new SKUs. The 12% sales decline that hit Wrigley Extra Gum in 2009 slowed to a 0.2% dip to £137m [Nielsen] last year thanks to the success of its Food Creatures campaign, which kicks off with a new series of TV ads next week.

Backed by an £11m media investment, the new push sees the return of the pH curve diagram, made famous by Wrigley ads in the 1980s. The aim is to communicate to consumers that chewing Extra sugarfree gum after eating helps neutralise plaque acids.

"It is an evolution of the marketing message," said Wrigley sales director Duncan McCulloch. "In 2010 we kickstarted Extra's transition into being a brand that offers wider oral care benefits and in 2011 we will take it to the next level with the pH curve."

Away from gum, Wrigley hopes to build on Skittles' 11% growth to £18m [Nielsen 52w/e 29 January 2011] by introducing a "mystery" blue flavour to packs for a three-month period from next week. An on-pack competition, supported by Facebook ads, will ask consumers to guess the flavour. It will be followed later this year by a TV campaign for the entire brand boasting "a fun twist on reality".

Skittles' sister brand Starburst had a more challenging year last year with sales slumping 18% to £21m. "It had too many flavour SKUs and we were not brutal enough about reducing the range," said McCulloch. "Centring Starburst's marketing on 'fruit-bursting flavour' had been too summer-based and seasonal."

The new activity, breaking this spring, would focus on "family gatherings and playfulness" to give it more of an all-year-round appeal. Starburst wrappers will also feature challenges on the inside to make the sweets more suitable for kids on long car journeys.