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The Candy Emperor of Chocolate
Have you ever saved a chocolate bar in your pocket and found yourself grabbing something sticky and gooey minutes later? Well you have none to thank than Forrest E. Mars Sr., the inventor of M&Ms. He introduced his version of European candy to the US. Not only did Mars invent the creation, but he also built a chocolate candy empire that would become M&M®/Mars, Inc. which would be one of the companies that dominated America. He is known for his famous brands.
Mars was born on March 21, 1904 in Minnesota but was raised in Canada with his grandparents at the age of 6 due to his parent’s divorce. His father had visions of greatness in the candy trade and abandoned his family to pursue his dreams. As an only child, Mars’ parents began candy making in Tacoma, Washington 1911. He was reunited with his dad when he was invited to work with him after he graduated from Yale. His father, Frank C. Mars, already was running a successful candy business in Chicago. Young Mars was a highly competitive individual with a gift for business
Forrest Mars wanted to expand, but his father did not. They ended up in a fight and he eventually moved to England and took a buyout from his father, along with the rights to sell some of the Mars brands overseas. In Europe, Forrest Mars set up a small candy factory and worked for Nestle and Tobler to learn more about the candy business.
Eventually, in 1940, he moved back to the United States and opened his own food manufacturing business called Food Products Manufacturing. He established the Uncle Ben’s rice line, and later gourmet pet canned foods. By 1952 it sold the country's number one brand of rice. The company adopted the name “Uncle Ben”. Uncle Ben's eventually became the leading brand of rice worldwide, sold in more than 100 countries, with manufacturing facilities in the United States, Australia, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
During his traveling in Europe, it was said that his inspiration came from seeing soldiers eating a candy-coated chocolate while he was behind the lines of the Spanish Civil War during. The candy consisted tiny chocolate pellets surrounded by a sugar shell.
Forrest took his own version of candy-coated chocolate drops and took them to the Hershey Corporation. There he went to Bruce Murrie, the son of Hershey executive William Murrie and proposed an 80-20 partnership. He struck a deal with Murrie, where Murrie would provide some capital, and Hershey would provide chocolate, sugar, and technology. That’s how the name M&Ms came by. It stands for “Mars and Murrie”. At the time, stores reduced their stock of chocolate in the summer because of the lack of air conditioning
At the period of time, World War II was developing, and chocolate would be rationed during that period. His candy helped soldiers and were immediately liked because of the candies’ ability to travel well and withstand high temperatures and because they were easily packed energy snacks. The war eventually ended in 1945 and M&M's became available to the public again.
After the war, Forrest Mars bought Murrie out and took ownership of the M&M brand. In 1950, the company began imprinting an “m” on each candy and began heavy national advertising. Today, Hershey and Mars are archrivals in the American candy market.
Peanut Chocolate Candies were introduced in 1954 and the black M&M imprint was changed to white. That was the same year the famous slogan 'the milk chocolate melts in your mouth--not in your hand' was first used. The company also began television advertising using cartoon characters. By 1958, demand for M&M's had surpassed 1 million pounds per week. Since production increased, Mars constructed a new plant in Hackettstown, New Jersey.
In 1967 Forrest Mars merged his business with the Mars Company owned by his father and took over operation of the new company after his father’s death. Mars was already the largest food packer in the world with subsidiaries in Europe, South America, and Australia—it acquired Kal Kan Foods, Inc. in 1968. With the help from Mars, Kal Kan expanded by adding a second canned pet food plant in Columbus, Ohio, and a dry pet food plant in Mattoon, Illinois, while expanding into Midwestern and eastern markets.
His company also started MEI (Mars Electronics International) which began operating in Britain in 1969 and expanded to the United States in 1972. MEI was responsible for the introduction of electronics to the vending machine industry. In addition to serving the vending industry, MEI also provided products for use in pay phones and amusement parks. MEI had marketing and sales offices throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, and the Far East.
After all his success, Forrest Sr., retired from Mars in 1973. Before turning operations over to his children, he relocated company headquarters from Chicago to McLean, Virginia. He left his sons, Forrest E. Mars, Jr., and John Mars, to take over the family company as co-president and in 1983 his daughter, Jacqueline Mars, as president. His children had been legally barred from selling the company without his consent until his death. Among other things, he continued to look in on the business and to call his sons on the carpet for any problems he detected. In his retirement, Forrest, Sr., started a candy business named Ethel M. Chocolates (after his late mother) to produce premium boxed chocolates. Ethel M. Chocolates soon had sales in the hundreds of millions. In 1988, Ethel M. Chocolates merged with M&M/Mars.
The Mars Company thrived. Hershey Food and Mars fought historically to hold the number one spot in the U.S. candy market. Today, Mars is the 2nd largest candy company after Hershey. Then came the sugar scare of the 1970's, which noted that sugar kills. Candy sales decreased dramatically. Mars in particular fought back, not so much by going upscale, as many chocolatiers did in the, but by continuing to push healthy associations with athletics. In 1984, for example, Mars paid $5 million to have M&Ms and Snickers bars declared the official snack foods of the 1984 Olympic Games. Mars took the top in the early 1980s and by late in the decade had pushed its market share 14 percentage points ahead of Hershey. By 1985 industry analysts noted that the two companies were neck and neck. The Company introduced Bounty Bars, Combos, Holidays M & M's, Kudos, Starburst, Skittles, and Twix Cookie Bar.
The company added yet another fad as well. It added frozen snacks to its repertoire when it acquired Dove International in 1986. The Dove Bar consisted of a hand-dipped ice cream bar with a thick chocolate coating. Other Mars frozen treats included Dove miniatures and ice-cream versions of 3 Musketeers, Milky Way, and Snickers bars. Mars was very successful with its 1990 introduction of peanut butter M&M's, which took a toll on Hershey's number two-ranked Reese's peanut butter cups. It launched 12 new products in 1991, including a dark chocolate candy bar from Dove, mint and almond M&M's, Milky Way Dark, and Peanut Butter Snickers
With numerous internationally recognized brands, including the top-ranked Snickers, Kal Kan, and Uncle Ben's, Mars enjoyed a unique recipe for success. There were questions about Mars’s future stability. It remained unclear who would assume control of the company. John and Forrest Mars, Jr., had trouble through three presidents in the first four years in the early 1990s. But Forrest Sr. was keeping close eye on the company. When the company's performance in 1992 disappointed him, he arranged a meeting with the chairman of Nestle S.A. to orchestrate a buyout. However in late 1992, Mars began testing Mahogany, a line of premium chocolates, in Germany. The candy was relatively expensive, with a small box of eight truffles costing almost $4 and a 50-gram chocolate bar selling for more than $1.
“MARS INC. is the black hole of the packaged goods universe -- so powerful and large that it influences all the other objects in its system. Mars is composed primarily of candy, pet food, rice, and electronics sold in more than 25 countries by about 50 business units. Four of the ten biggest-selling chocolate candies in the U.S. are Mars brands. Snickers is by far the most popular chocolate bar, though it has been slipping, and M&M's peanut and plain are in third and fourth place. Milky Way is eighth. Beneath that chocolate shell is the world's largest pet food company, which generates a Saint Bernard-size $3 billion in sales.”- (Article from FORTUNE Magazine 1988)
He was known to have a volcanic temper. “He was so obsessed with perfection that he once flew into a tantrum when he purchased a bag of M&M's and noticed the legs on the ''M'' were missing.” (The New York Times. Judith Newman 1999) Nevertheless he inspired the respect and loyalty of his workers with his attention to quality, contempt for administration and willingness to pay up to three times his competitors' wages to get the workers he wanted.
Sadly, the founder of the Mars Inc. died in Miami on July 1, 1999 due to natural causes. Today, the Mars family is one of the richest in the world. M&M/Mars employs 30,000 worldwide with sales of more than $13 billion per year.