‘Would you believe, if I told you there’s a Mr.Mars?’ – I was standing at the checkout counter of a supermarket, which is when I overheard two teenagers standing right behind me. I smiled to myself, thinking that they must be discussing some superhero novel.

While I was walking out, a brief look at their shopping cart told me that it was packed with Mars Bars and M&M Chocolates. Later that evening, I found myself engrossed in the story of a ‘Candy- Man’ that very few people know of.

Did you actually know there’s a Mr. Mars?

The ‘Notoriously Private’ Chocolate Empire of Mars Inc

Mars Inc is a company that has a long-standing reputation for avoiding the spotlight. Everyone knows about Mars bars, M&M Chocolates, Twix, Milky Way; but not a lot is known about the family dynasty that has been guarding the secrets of this chocolate empire.

Author Joel Glenn Brenner was researching for her book ‘ The Emperors of Chocolate’ and she was inquiring about a company representative of Mars Inc. She had a very simple question – ‘Who is the president of Mars Inc.?’ You’d be surprised to know the response she received “I’m sorry, I can’t give out the names of our associates.”

However, of late, the owners have started out on a mission to bring Mars Inc. into the daylight. They realized that in order to embark on an aggressive growth journey and to stay ahead of competitive pressure, they need to share their story.

After all, the story of one of the oldest family-owned businesses in Greater Washington, one of the largest privately-owned companies in America and the owner of some of the most recognizable brands in the world, should not remain a mystery.

Read: How “Dairy Milk” became India’s most loved chocolate brand?

To add, Mars Inc. is not solely a chocolate giant, as most of us know it as. It controls almost 20% of the US cat and dog foods business, with brands like Iams and Whiskas. It has it’s strong presence in the veterinary care business through the acquisition of the animal hospital chain, VCA Inc.

Given their recent goals on sustainability and diversity, the company has realized that it’s not enough to just ask ‘ What you can do for Mars’, they also need to answer the question ‘What Mars can do for you’.

However, though the family has started shedding their anonymity, they emphasize that one thing is always going to remain private, the company itself.

The family is 100 percent committed to keeping the business private, and we spend a lot of time engaging the family to that end. The notion of subjecting ourselves to shareholders who would be nameless and faceless, and not to mention have a different set of goals and aspirations for the business than we do — there’s just no reason we would want to subject ourselves to that.

Stephen M. Badger, former Chairman of Mars Inc. (Source)

The Magic of Milkshake and Mars Chocolate Bar

The earliest known products of the Mars legacy were Victoria Butter Creams and Mar-O-Bar, back when Frank Mars used to run a modest confectionary business in Minnesota.

However, it was Forrest Mars, Frank’s son who turned it into a billion-dollar empire.

The story started with a simple chocolate milkshake from a local café. Forrest Mars had been drinking a chocolate malt drink at a nearby café when the idea of putting a chocolate malted drink into a candy bar crossed his mind. He discussed it with his father and that’s how Milky Way was born.

Soon after its launch, the Milky Way was huge, bringing in more than $800,000 sales in the first year.

Mars: From Local to Global

Soon after the success of Milky Way, Forrest Mars moved to Britain following a conflict with his father. In an attempt to capture the British chocolate market, he started producing a close replica of the Milky Way, called the Mars Bar.

Though the foundation was similar, Mars Bar was a very distinct product now from the very beginning. It was tailored to the British taste, with a creamier milk chocolate and a sweeter toffee filling.

That was not it! Another masterstroke from the candy man was to market the Mars Bar as ‘food chocolate’. This was the time when Britain was in the post-depression era, and eating was commonly associated with nutrition and not fun.

Read: Top Brand Mantras and Principles of Brand Management

How do you market chocolate candy against such a backdrop? Mars started promoting its bars as nutritional – it was not sweet, but a food. The eggs, the milk, the butter all made for a wholesome nutritional treat.

The Sweet Military ties

If you have to arrive at a consensus about the sweet that took United States by storm, I bet that would be M&Ms. So how did Mars get the inspiration for the candy “that melts in your mouth, not in your hand”?

One version of the story says that Forrest Mars conceptualized M&Ms when, during the Spanish civil war, he spotted an off duty soldier eating a lentil shaped, candy-coated chocolate. He realized that the US soldiers, during World War II needed a sugar-coated non-melt ration. This created a massive market for the M&Ms.

In 1947, Mars began producing M&Ms for the masses, as the soldiers, now back from the war started missing their favorite treats. M&Ms soon became an instant hit in the United States with its non-melting proposition in the hot summers.

The $130b Family Dynasty

The stories till now might make you believe that Mars Inc. is solely a chocolate empire.

Well, you’d be mistaken if you think so. Currently, Mars Inc. has four major business segments – Mars Petcare with brands like Pedigree and Whiskas, Mars Wrigley with brands like M&Ms, Snickers, Orbit, Mars Food with brands like Ben’s Original and Dolmio, Mars Edge providing data-driven nutrition solution.

The Mars family sits on top of a $130 billion delicious empire making them one of America’s wealthiest dynasties.

They’re based in a dark, hidden building,” says Jan Pottker, author of a tell-all book about the Mars family, Crisis in Candyland. “It’s simply incredible — rather than being proud of their company, they don’t want to be noticed.” (Source)

The fact that you are reading all these about Mars Inc. here goes to prove that they have certainly come a long way from their days of secrecy which went to such an extent that a popular joke said that they were making bombs and not bonbons!

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Averi is a strategy enthusiast who believes that behind every big or small business decisions, there lies a powerful story. She takes keen interest in economics, psychology and all things art and literature. Professionally a fixed income product strategist, you'll find her either with her violin or a book in her free time.

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